he U.S. is the most overworked developed country in the world, but in Sweden, employees and people in general take a daily “fika,” which roughly means “coffee break.” No matter what you’re doing, you stop, drink some coffee (or tea) paired with pastries and take a moment to contemplate the day. Sometimes these breaks happen twice a day. It’s Sweden’s answer to England’s tea-time, and it’s something the U.S. needs (unauthorized smoke breaks and runs to Starbucks don’t count).
In April, owners Daniel and Angie Connor opened Fika Hus (pronounced fee-ka), their “coffee break room,” on the west side of Covington, generating a rotating chalkboard menu of homemade Swedish pastries, breakfast items, lunch foods and, of course, coffee. The Swedish flag billows outside the quaint café, which looks like it’s straight out of a Scandinavian fishing village.
Before Fika opened, the only place in town to get “Swedish cuisine” was at IKEA in West Chester, but let’s be honest, there isn’t much validity to mass-produced food sold inside a gigantic maze of a warehouse (oddly enough, Fika’s glassware comes from IKEA). Basically, you haven’t tried real Swedish meatballs until you try the Connors’.
It seems random for a couple to open a Swedish joint in Northern Kentucky, but Daniel has roots here. His dad grew up in Kentucky and went to Europe, where he met Daniel’s Swedish mother. Daniel moved to Kentucky from Sweden when he was five, and he’s an interesting hybrid of Swede and Southerner. He’s also an amazing and well-traveled photographer.
Several of Daniel’s framed photos hang on the eggshell-painted walls of the café: photos of giraffes, lions and zebras from his African safaris, photos of the Andes, photos of the military in Syria. Eventually, he’ll showcase locally shot photos and sell his art in the café. Angie is also a part-time piano teacher, with lessons taking place above the eatery.
The pastoral dining room features fresh-cut flowers on every table, a pitcher of cucumber water and coasters with a Swedish Dala horse on them. The Connors make as much of their menu items from scratch as possible, emphasizing foods made with local eggs and dill grown in their garden.
Daniel says it’s difficult to find Swedish groceries around here — Jungle Jim’s has some items — but they’re unable to import Swedish beer yet, so they sell Rhinegeist and MadTree. They serve breakfast all day, including a lox bagel made with salmon, cream cheese and a chive spread. Daniel’s considering curing and smoking his own fish, and on Saturdays they’ve been selling neighbor Wunderbar’s sausages.
When you get your food, it has a minimal presentation. Swedish breakfast is a mix of carbs and protein: The lox bagel ($5) is served smörgås (open-faced), with just two slices of cucumber on the plate (no wonder Scandinavians are so skinny). The Swedish scrambled eggs ($6.50) are mixed with cream cheese and dill, which makes them creamy, not fluffy, and come with a side of toast. The restaurant also offers wraps, those aforementioned Swedish meatballs (served with delicious lingonberries) and Ostsmorgas (slices of havarti cheese on a cracker covered with marmalade).
All of the Connors’ food is quite good, simple and surprisingly filling, but the main reason to stop in is for their pastries. They make several types of pastries every day, and for $10, you can get a sampler of six of them to go or to eat there. The raspberry almond bar has a thin layer of jam, coconut flakes, meringue and almond slivers sprinkled on top; the strawberry cake roll contains strawberry jam swirled inside a sticky and spongy roll; a dammsugare is a chocolate cylindrical two-bite piece infused with liqueur and blanketed with marzipan; the almond tosca has a biscuit-y hard shell filled with a gooey mixture of almonds and brown sugar inside; and the cocoa ball tastes like a Mounds bar, but much better.
As for the coffee, Fika Hus brews Deeper Roots in latte, drip and pour-over forms, and they also brew iced tea. But even though you can get the coffee to go, the whole point of a fika is to sit down and enjoy yourself for a second. So stay, absorb the photos, relax in their shady backyard, peruse their mini bookshelf filled with books such as Catch-22 and Camus — take a break! After getting hopped up on sugar and high-octane beverages, you’ll feel slightly buzzed until it subsides, wherein you will be ready for a post-fika nap.