Ikea isn't all armchairs and ottomans.
A hometown location of Ikea is still a novelty—it's sometimes difficult to remember that you're in Polaris and not Pittsburgh as you approach the giant blue and yellow building. It takes minutes instead of hours to visit, which means Ikea has become more than a furniture store for Central Ohioans. It's become a dining (and grocery) destination.
Ikea Restaurant is an amenity for shoppers who might get hangry during a two- or three-hour trek through the 354,000-square-foot store. But it also stands alone as a place for the price-conscious to grab a meal. And just like the store has more to offer than the ubiquitous Poäng armchair, the menu goes far beyond the store's signature Swedish meatballs.
With cafeteria-style service, the restaurant has a giant, naturally lit dining area utilizing the Ikea oeuvre of furniture. The digital menus (which change based on time of day) are simple and filled with colorful, vegetable-laden images. Messages about composting and sustainably sourced salmon offset the fact that this behemoth of a retailer isn't grabbing produce from the North Market. And the menu is composed of entrées that serve all diets, from gluten-free to vegetarian to that of an American child. (Yes, there are chicken fingers and fries.)
Service and food quality are sometimes compromised at the end of the day and during special events. It's not abnormal to hunt the entire dining room to find forks, and this location is still learning the logistics of hosting special events. (A recent Swedish Crayfish Party was nothing short of a mess.) It's best to go during regular hours and stick with what the restaurant specializes in every day.
You can start with Ikea's famous 1-inch meatballs ($5.99). Soft, salty and made with a fine ground of beef and pork, they are served alongside mashed potatoes and topped with a light, cream-based gravy. Steamed green and wax beans and a spoonful of tangy lingonberry jam break through the richness of the plate. A must-have for every visit, the meatballs are also available as a side.
Pescatarian and vegetarian options fill the rest of the menu. When faced with salmon options, go for salmon fillet ($6.99) and the plates of fresh lox, but avoid the dry and flaky pulled salmon sandwich ($4.99). The veggie meatballs ($3.99) are delicious, but are accompanied by a dry quinoa and brown rice mixture with a gloppy coconut curry sauce. Pro-tip: Skip the platter and buy the frozen veggie balls in the Swedish Food Market for home preparation ($7.99).
The sides sing. The macaroni and cheese is reminiscent of the kind found in a school cafeteria, but much better. And the vegetable cake, a sizeable puck of broccoli, leek, onion and potato, is crisp on the exterior and warm and creamy on the inside. It's one of the best things on the menu, and the frozen version ($5.99) tastes the same when served at home.
All in all, Ikea stands on its own as a dining destination and provides a taste of Scandinavia found nowhere else in Columbus.