25 February 2007

Memories of New York's Only Chinese-Norwegian Fusion Restaurant

Being partly of Norwegian descent, their was a time when I would treck down to Bay Ridge from time to time whenever I got in the mood for some lefse, lignonberries or fishballs. (Not often, I admit.) On Third Avenue there is a shop that I believe is the only Norwegian food store in Manhattan. It's called Nordic Delicacies and it will sometimes have signs in the window proclaiming "The New Krumkaker Irons Are In Stock!"

The Norwegian population used to be subtantial down here (about 60,000), so much so the local Lutheran churches gave services in Norwegian and a large section of Eighth Avenue was called "Lapskaus Boulevard," named after a popular Norwegian stew. (Fascinating block-by-block map of Lapskaus Boulevard here.) There are still Danish, Swedish and Norwegian social clubs down here, but, by the time I first visited (early '90s), there was not enough of a population to support many businesses. Lapskaus Boulevard was already pretty much taken over by Sunset Park's Chinatown, aside from a Norwegian import gift show (Signy's Imports, a dusty enclave which closed in 2004) and The Atlantic Restaurant.

Even in New York City, where incongruous businesses lurk around every corner, the Atlantic at 8th and 54th was a wonder. It had been one of the major Norwegian eateries. So when the space was bought by Chinese restauranteurs and renamed the Wee Kee, the wail of Scandinavian sorrow was such that the new owner bowed to pleas that he keep a Norwegian menu alongside the new Chinese one. And so came into being, for about ten years, the only Chinese-Norwegian restaurant in, perhaps, the world.

I adored this place. The Chinese menu was just what you would have expected. It may have been good eating; I don't know—I never tried it. I made my choice from the six of seven Norwegian entrees listed on a board hanging above the counter and ate them silently among the few other elderly, stoic Norwegian men. The meals were all made by the Chinese cook, but from recipes carefully taught to him by the former owner of the Atlantic. It was fish pudding, boiled potatoes, and various stews, all truly delicious. I went down especially for lunch about once a year until the Wee Kee was replaced by another Chinese restaurant. There is not a trace the place ever existed now, and nobody around the neighborhood seems to remember anything about it. Sad.

Finding the picture above, dated from the 1970s, counts as something of a miracle. Thanks to the Scandanavian East Coast Museum.


Maren said...

third avenue - Brooklyn - is the place you have to go if you want to find it:)

Maren said...

But I don't think that it is a Norwegian-Chinese restaurant, but it is a Norwegian food store. I also think that it is possible to buy home made food there. BTW - there are lots of Norwegian-Chinese restaurants in Norway C:

Linda Cronin-Gross said...

Just saw this now - many years later. I remember The Atlantic fondly. We used to call it the Norwegian pancake restaurant. We ate there all the time and continued to eat there when it was Wee Kee. Some of the old Norwegian waitresses were retained, too. Still live in Sunset Park, and miss that place.