Tuesday, November 3, 2015

IKEA

1 Ikea Way
St. Louis, Mo.
On The Web

We were very excited about this, we'd been waiting for it for over a year, from the first
announcement that Ikea was opening up a St. Louis location.
It had been nine years, or more, since we'd been to an Ikea.
That one was in College Park, Maryland, about 30 miles north of our house in Calvert County. We went several times during the five years we lived there. It was always more than a mere shopping trip, it was an event. Angel and I are not 'shoppers'. Rare is the casual trip to one or more stores just to browse. Ikea has always been different though.
We'd always stop in the cafeteria and order Swedish meatballs, maybe a sweet dessert.
Then we'd take the tour. We sometimes bought flat pack furniture, but the real delight were the small things, clocks, lamps, office storage stuff, pillows, etc. We'd marvel at the tidiness, efficiency and pleasant forms in the small rooms in the big store.
A casual search around our house, even now, will reveal several Ikea-unique products.
The new location finally opened a few weeks back. We were patient, there was an absolute frenzy for the first few weekends, the crowds made the news.
Ikea was founded in Sweden in 1943, during that cold country's darkest unpleasantness. Most people consider it a Swedish company still, though it is now multinational, headquartered in the Netherlands.

The Place:
Just north of I-64 off of Vandeventer Ave. You can't miss it. The signage and lighting are big and bright.
It was well received when Ikea announced they would be building in downtown St. Louis. There's been a lot of flight and blight in the past several decades. Metropolitan St. Louis has been expanding though, mostly westward, toward and into St. Charles County. This location, just a hop and a skip from the Arch should be a real shot in the arm for the downtown economy.
Oddly enough, Adam had never been to an Ikea. All those trips we made in Maryland, he'd never gone. So we left our house early, around four thirty, so we'd have plenty of time to browse and still get him home in time to go to work. Trying to use Tina-Tina in Angel's SUV proved useless (Her Tom-Tom GPS device tuned to a naggy female voice) since the store's listed address is "1 Ikea Way" Tina-Tina hasn't had a map upgrade in over a year, it wouldn't have a less than one year old road in her database. . . Instead, Adam served as navigator, using his smart phone's GPS and maps. It knew where "1 Ikea Way" was.
The parking lot revealed hundreds of cars, but there were still a few good spots not far from the door.
We went in on the ground floor (1 of 3) and rode up an escalator to two. There was a lady handing out maps and answering questions there. We located the massive cafeteria and got in line. Yes, a line of dozens of people ahead of us. There were poles and ropes set up in an infuriating zig-zag to keep everyone in line in a relatively small area. In the very large dining area there were scores of people and families, from about a dozen or more discernible ethnicities. I remembered this from the College Park store as well, a big draw for a very diverse customer base. College Park is, as the name implies, a big college town. (enrollment 34,000+) "1 Ikea Way" is very close to St. Louis University (enrollment: 13,000+) This is relevant since Ikea's products are made for small, efficient apartments and rooms, which are common up near the arctic circle, not unlike college accomidations. It's a match made in heaven.
Adam's been looking into getting his own place, maybe an efficiency or studio apartment closer to his work. He values efficiency and convenience as well.
The Food:
A no-brainer. For myself and Angel, Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes. She added a side of mac and cheese, I added a salad. We both grabbed a slice of garlic toast, she also pulled out a violently-sweet looking chocolate cake. Adam, predictably picked out the chicken tenders and fries. Also available were some veggie wraps and some salmon dishes. It's not a huge selection, but there's certainly something for just about anyone.
For drinks, I smartly chose the grind-and-brew-right-into-your-cup, coffee. Angel and Adam were stuck with Pepsi products.
We found a table near the big window.
The first bite of the small, gravy'd meatballs sent be back in time and place. . .
I have admired and respected the Scandinavian lands and cultures for many, many years. Even to this day. I'm one year into my 'translated Scandinavian crime novels' theme of reading material.  It all started when I was quite a bit younger and I discovered Sweden's finest export and pop mega-phenom, ABBA.
Yeah, ABBA. You have a problem with that? Well, do you? (pause for a self-empowering 'Fernando'
break)
Actually I discovered them about the time they were breaking up, in the early 80's. I did buy all their albums though. I have since collected everything they ever released, even solo works in Swedish. Also a few documentaries and video DVD's, including a questionably sourced copy of ' ABBA The Movie'. As recently as last Christmas, Angel gave me a coffee table book of photos from the group's heyday.
There is, of course, quite a bit more to Sweden than ABBA, or so I am told, but this was where my infatuation with all things Scandinavian began.
Hmmmm, we've drifted off course here. . . back to the food.
The salad was quite good, though I was disappointed to only be able to find two kinds of dressing, a raspberry and a balsamic. There may have been more. The salad was fresh and crisp though.
The little meatballs were smooth, creamy and delicately spiced. No heat or punch, just mild, comfortable and cozy. They contained beef and pork, but the mix is thorough, not a pairing of flavors or textures, more of a perfect, harmonic blend. The gravy was the same, nothing striking or pronounced, just smooth and mild. This dish makes me think of cold, dark days. . . a plate of comfort, like a cozy blanket for your shivering soul.
The mashed potatoes were not laced with garlic, or cheese, or anything else, just creamy, buttery and
mild.
The serving, at first glance, seemed rather small, especially compared to meat and potato offerings at American-style eateries. . . but the meal was indeed quite filling and satisfying.
I sampled Angel's mac and cheese, smooth and creamy as well, perfectly acceptable without being remarkable.
She shared the cake around, not as violent as it appeared, not overly sweet at all. Quite tasty, especially with the bold coffee. .
Oh yeah, that coffee. . . The dispenser had a touch screen that let me choose espresso or American. . . I picked the latter because I would need to get some sleep sometime during the next week. . .
Fabulous, fantastic, perfect. I even lingered over the cup after Adam and Angel finished and headed off on the tour.
Lingered, lingered. . .  Oh yeah, that reminds me. On the plate with the meatballs and mashed potatoes was a small dollop of lingonberry jam.
Lingonberries are quite common in Scandinavia, they thrive in those northern latitudes. Lingonberry jams are quite simple, just berries and sugar. They are somewhat raspberry-ish, though much less tart. It's not a strong taste. I think most Americans would enjoy it quite well on a biscuit or pancake if it were more common here. So go ahead, don't be afraid, it's not that strong of a taste.
Summary:
I knew what the meal would be going in. My only negative comment would be that the meatballs were not as warm as they could have been. Servings are plated from small steamer baskets, mine had apparently been there for a while. Not really cold, just not quite up to optimum serving temperature.
The place is huge, with multiple seating options, even rows of easy chairs. It's a bit noisy, like a cafeteria or food court, but tolerable being as it is so vast. Everything appeared to be clean and the cafeteria was very well staffed. There was a shortage of dessert options, the lady at the register had said that there were lines for the cafeteria since the store opened that morning. Desserts are time consuming to prepare and bake, so it's quite understandable that those will run out most often.
The prices are more than reasonable. The meatballs and potatoes were $4.99 and the sides just as reasonably priced between two and five dollars. (The cake was $3.29)
On the way out of the store, you can grab frozen/bagged versions of almost everything. We grabbed meatballs and a gravy packet, we also grabbed some of the coffee. Mmmm, it was good.
The whole Ikea experience is amazing. It's more like a tour than a shopping trip. There are interesting little things, kitchen and bathroom gadgets, stuffed toys, mugs, pans, glasses, lamps, clocks. . . We managed to half fill a blue bag. No flat pack furniture this time, but we did see a couple of things we're going to take measurements for.
Highly recommended, better at off-peak times.



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