In Dining

How was your IKEA food experience? (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

IKEA's food: the good, the bad and the meatballs

Prior to the IKEA opening in Oak Creek earlier this year, I had been to the Schaumburg location a couple of times in the past 10 years. I remembered really digging the meatballs and so, one of the first thoughts I had when I heard Greater Milwaukee was finally get an IKEA was "mmmmm meatballs!"

But after two visits and sampling the meatballs along with myriad other grab-and-go Swedish dishes, I have very mixed thoughts on the food offerings. During my second visit, I took my friend and colleague Monica Thomas to add another perspective.

Thomas, who lives nearby, has gone to IKEA about a dozen times since it opened to shop, eat and drink coffee. (Coffee is free for anyone who registers for an IKEA Family card.)

Together, we compiled this food / dining service list of "the good, the bad and the meatballs." Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

The Good

The meatballs are definitely on the "good" list, but they get their own category, so first a few less obvious. In general, we found the side items to often surpass the main dishes.

The salads. Sometimes IKEA's food looks pretty but tastes pretty mediocre. The salads, however, are every bit as seasonal and flavorful as they appear. Drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette, this was the healthy high point of our meals.

The seating area. The lines for food get long, but afterward, diners are rewarded with ample seating. Having a group larger than four means pushing tables together, but that works. Also: the natural light and the massive, colorful lighting fixtures create a very warm, fun and welcoming space.

Bakelse Prinsess. This "cream cake with marzipan" is one of those desserts that could easily look better than it tastes. But it doesn't. The cream cake is filled with raspberry and vanilla custard filling that's coated with pink marzipan and a chocolate drizzle. It's a satisfying combination of sweet – but not too sweet – and creamy yet firm.

The soups. Both of the soups we sampled tasted homemade and were the perfect consistency: hearty but not gloppy. The bread was mediocre, grilled to hardness on one side and soft on the other, but really it was just a vehicle to cram more cream of broccoli into my mouth, so it served its purpose.

Grönsakskaka. Not only is it fun to say, but this "vegetable medallion" served with the salmon (upper left in photo) was stellar in moistness and taste. I would eat a bowl of these. The salmon, not so much. (A little too "fishy" tasting for our palates.)

The sparkling water / beverage dispenser. Pepsi, Mr. Pibb, pfffft. This is the kind of "soda" selection that pairs perfectly with Swedish grub. So refreshing.

The bad

A few aspects of our dining experience definitely needed improvement. Such as ...

Long food lines and lack of communication about menu. The IKEA restaurant features "cafeteria style" dining and the line to get at the grab-and-go grub can get pretty deep. It's also a little confusing. Carts to transport trays of food to the dining area are available, but not near the queue, rather on the other side of the space.

Large digital signs showcase the menu items, but do not share which items have sold out, so finally getting to the front and finding out they actually don't have chicken strips or macaroni and cheese anymore can be disappointing – especially for those hangry and under 12 years old.

Lukewarm food. Almost everything we ate during both visits was warm but not hot. Monica Thomas, my guest, mentioned it to an employee who pointed to a sole microwave on a long counter and suggested she warm up her meatballs in it.

"I really don't want to warm up my food in a microwave when I'm eating at a restaurant," says Thomas.

The allemänstratten. These veggie/vegan meatballs were our most disappointing dish. The meatballs were overcooked and lacked flavor and Thomas describes the quinoa side as tasting "like the inside of a beanbag." Oof.

The vegetables. One word: mushy.

The meatballs!

The meatballs are to IKEA what pancakes are to IHOP: The staples and the stars. They are the most celebrated item on the IKEA menu and although both of our plates could have been warmer and they did not have the chicken meatballs that were advertised on signs, we pretty much devoured 'em. Other restaurants have better balls (TWSS?), but for a somewhat quick lunch or dinner and to contribute to the Swedish experience, the comfort-foodie meatballs will always be a must at IKEA.

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