As someone of bat mitzvah experience, I did not expect to find myself in a Midtown church on a weekday morning, especially not when the streets are packed with tourists shopping, making me feel as claustrophobic as when I’m overheating in my puffer on the subway. No, I still did not find God, but I did find cardamom buns — which by my account are much easier to reckon with.
The Church of Sweden, planted just off Fifth Avenue, at 48th Street, has had an attached, humble Swedish cafe, since roughly the 1970s, according to employees.
I had heard about the cafe — which serves pastries like saffron and cardamom buns, plus cinnamon rolls — from TikTok, of course. But when I stopped by, I wondered if it was closed. There’s no front desk, and signage for the cafe is sparse. But the smell of cardamom and cinnamon is all-consuming, like bread crumbs leading downstairs telling you you’re going the right direction.
Open the old church doors at street level, and enter through a dimly lit narrow hallway, with nothing but a few Swedish books on shelves lining the corridor. Follow a staircase with shallow steps down a flight into a windowless basement, and you’ll find a charming fika, with a little over 20 seats at communal tables dressed in red gingham and Christmas lights.
On either side of the narrow room are shelves stuffed with hard-to-find Swedish gummies, in flavors like cassis and licorice, coffee beans, Marimekko-esque aprons, tree ornaments, figurines, and basket-weaving sculptures for sale. At the left of the room, elderly workers can be seen wearing the same, mod floral aprons from the gift shop area, as they take out warm pastries from the oven, to display them on tiered stands by the walk-up counter, with a register operated by someone who said they were a musician for the church.
Here, you can order $4 pastries, which are made fresh, daily. The saffron bun has a snail-like twist, with mellow spicing and a not-too-sweet coating. Honestly, its golden, pull-apart innards, reminded my Jewish-raised brain of an egg challah.
The cafe also serves several, simple open-faced sandwiches — one with shrimp-and-egg salad, another with warm meatballs and beet salad, as well as a smoked salmon version, all $10, all very wet from liberal use of mayo. In addition, find strong Swedish-branded coffee, lingonberry juice, hot cocoa, teas, plus bottled Swedish beers and sodas.
This is by no means the best Swedish food in New York — in fact, I think you can skip the sandwiches altogether, and the pastries aren’t as remarkable as they are at, say, Nordic coffee shop La Cabra. But if you’re in the area checking out a MoMA exhibit, Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park, and/or Midtown shopping, it makes for a line-free, quiet, work-friendly, respite (there’s free WiFi), in a neighborhood that’s otherwise overcrowded, with little room to breathe.
Employees share that this basement location is temporary, and will return to its original home upstairs this spring, following the completion of renovations. In the meantime, stop by this holiday season for an afternoon meeting or snack break, and scoop up stocking stuffers while you’re at it. I’ll be sneaking some of my new sour candy finds into the movies later. Sorry, I’m still a sinner.
The cafe is order-at-the-counter and accepts credit cards, cash, and ApplePay. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday, 12 to 6 p.m.