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At Ikea, a dining room, that is, a place to nosh meatballs and herring

TAMPA

Billy is dead to me. Oh, he's still hanging around, sagging pitifully. He knows his days are numbered.

I'm not saying I don't have good memories. The first time we met, in Prince William, Va., included a wild ride home in a pea-green 1974 Plymouth Duster with shredded vinyl top. He was with me through college, then made four bicoastal moves without complaint.

It may sound harsh, but I've outgrown him.

Billy is the name of the bestselling bookcase at Ikea. Nothing special, really: white or wood-grained laminate, five adjustable shelves set on tiny metal pegs.

More than that first wiry gray hair, or the first time someone who looks like an adult calls you "ma'am," you know you've reached a certain age when your last Ikea piece gets the heave.

Thankfully, I'll never have to say goodbye to Swedish meatballs.

If you didn't have the good fortune to grow up within 100 miles of the big blue and yellow furniture superstore from Sweden, you may not know that each store has a restaurant that serves Swedish food. You spend hours slogging through a maze of room tableaux, filling out order forms for oddly named goods (the Ektorp or the Skarpt), and then, before you pick up your merchandise in the airplane hangar-sized warehouse, you rest your weary feet and eat Swedish meatballs washed down with fizzy Swedish pear soda. Heaven. Ikea has made me a Swedish nutball.

Last week, I went to the press preview luncheon for Tampa's new store, opening today, and there it all was. Jorn Mathiasen, an Ikea corporate chef from Seattle, walked me through the smorgasbord: four kinds of pickled herring, flavored with dill, juniper, mustard and a sour cream dotted with herring roe. Huge wheels of knackebrod (a nubby cracker that was a Viking staple 1,000 years ago) and gravlax from Norway served with a sweet-spicy dilled mustard sauce.

According to Mathiasen, Ikea's restaurants have gotten more Americanized in recent years (chicken Caesar salad and turkey wrap, for heaven's sake) but the most popular items are the gravlax ($4.99), an egg-and-shrimp sandwich ($2.99) and the Swedish meatballs ($4.99), served with deep purple lingonberry jam that is also available in a paint-tub size in the market one floor down from the restaurant. Mathiasen has helped open the restaurants at nearly 20 Ikea stores in the United States, but he says he only trots out the really crazy Swedish stuff like lutefisk (lye-cured whitefish) for the holidays.

"You either love it or you hate it," he shrugs. There are acquired tastes, sure (the Janssen's Temptation, a potato-cream-and-sprat concoction), but a whole American generation has grown up with an occasional dose of those meatballs, chocolate-toffee Daim candies and an array of neon-colored gummy candies.

Come to think of it, I may have moved beyond Billy, my old Nordic beau, but I'm not too big for a small pond of Swedish fish.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs. tampabay.com/dining.

. if you go

Ikea Tampa

1103 N 22nd St., Tampa

(800) 434-4532; www.ikea.com

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

At Ikea, a dining room, that is, a place to nosh meatballs and herring 05/05/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 11:26am]

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