The rethinking of Nordic cuisine has circulated. Kodbyens Fiskebar opened late last year in the hip meatpacking/red light district of Vesterbro, a fashionable restaurant in a former slaughterhouse focusing on pristine Nordic seafood. Aamanns, a sprightly café in residential Osterbro, is making not-your-(Danish)-grandmother's smorrebrod, with organic or free-range ingredients such as pink-centered roast beef with fresh horseradish and crispy fried onions. You can't walk down this stretch of Oster Farimagsgade, aswarm with bicycle commuters, without seeing an Aamanns takeout bag dangling from someone's handlebars.
Even the street food polser — the Danish version of a hot dog – gets a makeover. In the Latin Quarter, look for the DOP (an abbreviation for "organic sausage man") cart next to the Round Tower, Europe's oldest functioning observatory. Here the traditional dyed-bright-red polser and fluffy white bun have been replaced with organic sausages and a sourdough roll made with whole wheat, rye and linseed.
One afternoon I stop at Meyers Deli in posh Frederiksberg — its own municipality in the middle of Copenhagen — to check out the gourmet cafe and market from gastronomic personality and Noma business partner Claus Meyer. The shelves are stacked with row after row of Meyer's line of preserves, juices and barrel-aged vinegars, produced from plum, pear and apple orchards on Lilleo island in southern Denmark. He says he's experimenting with a single-variety cherry vinegar and a pea — yes, pea — vinegar.
He's making wine too, growing grapes on the warmest part of Lilleo — Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Solaris. Some of these varietals, Meyer says, have never been planted commercially in winter-dominated Denmark.
And bread. "We have started a bakery working solely with organic cold-climate grain from the Nordic region, most of it ancient Nordic varieties," Meyer says. "There seems to be a lot of karma around this baking thing."
I don't know if it's karma, but there's definitely a frisson when I walk into chef Bo Bech's bakery on Store Kongensgade, a street lined with chic design shops and restaurants. Bo Bech Bageri, airy and whitewashed, is like an atelier for exquisite bread. The bakery sells one thing only: sourdough bread from a recipe Bech says he developed over several years at his restaurant Paustian v. Bo Bech, which closed this summer. (He's opening a restaurant not far from the bakery next year.) "I fell in love with making something with just flour, salt and water and that's it," he says. I have no knife, I have no butter, so I tear into a loaf with my bare hands.
Copenhagen is blowing past all the expected milestones of a burgeoning food scene: artisanal food products, winemaking, bread baking, coffee roasting. On an unusually hot day that feels more L.A. than Scandinavia, a walk through the Assistens cemetery (where Soren Kierkegaard is buried) leads to the Coffee Collective in Nørrebro, on the same street as Puglisi's Relae. Co-owner Klaus Thomsen is holding court in shorts and T-shirt while his colleague Linus Torsater is calibrating a roaster right in the store. I have a cup of espresso, bright and citrusy. "We roast especially light without it being under-roasted," says Thomsen, whose conversations about coffee are peppered with descriptors such as rose hips and gooseberries.
Meanwhile, beer obsessives are celebrating the debut of Mikkeller, a small, semi-subterranean bar in Vesterbro opened four months ago by cult Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso. He has 15 taps, 10 of them dedicated to a revolving roster of nearly 100 of Mikkeller's wild beers. Some are available only here or released here first, such as Beer Geek Bacon, an elegantly smoky follow-up to Bjergso's Beer Geek Breakfast (an oatmeal stout made with coffee and his bestselling beer in the U.S.). Mikkeller's has so much hygge (the Danish concept of hospitality — pronounced hooga, I'm told) that bar manager Jannick Sahlholdt is here at the six-seat bar drinking a beer — on his day off. Bjergso is sitting outside on the chairs that face this pretty crook of Viktoriagade, around the corner from a part of Vesterbrogade occasioned by a hooker or two.
His foray into extreme beer making might parallel the rise of Nordic cuisine. "I started brewing 20 gallons at a time," he says, "and figured if nobody liked it I'd drink it myself. I wasn't willing to compromise. For too long we put up with cheap product." Mikkeller bar is an extension of his vision. "I wanted a place to present beer in the way I wanted it to be presented."
Along with his beers he serves Danish cheeses, such as one from a small dairy in Jutland. The dried sausages are made for him by a local butcher, using porter, hops or malt extract. But the chips are English. "Our potato chip culture," Bjergso says with a shrug, "is bad."