Danish bread and butter: two friends and their Nordic specialties in the “hidden gem of Retiro”
In Denmark for lunchtime it is a classic that they prepare “smørrebrød”, which literally means “bread and butter”. They are also known as “open sandwiches” and have another great peculiarity: they are eaten with a knife and fork. This traditional dish consists of a slice of bread (usually rye) spread with butter and, on top, a variety of cold ingredients: from cold cuts, fish, meat, cheeses, sauces, pickles to vegetables, among many others. At the time of preparation, the diner’s imagination prevails. In Buenos Aires, you can enjoy this culinary experience in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, on Avenida Leandro N. Alem at 1074, at the Club Danés restaurant, where friends Santiago Macagno and Eduardo Marenco delight with their Nordic specialties.
On the twelfth floor of the Denmark building, in the Retiro neighborhood, is located the restaurant that many office workers call “the hidden gem of the Microcentro”. The Danish Club emerged in 1919, but it only opened its headquarters in 1964. Some time later, the culinary proposal was created with traditional and forceful dishes, which with a simple bite recall the land of the origins. True to its style, the living room has a simple decoration: wooden floors and walls in the colors red and white (of its flag) and some commemorative paintings (such as that of Queen Margarita II). Also great luminosity and privileged views of the Río de la Plata.
Santiago and Eduardo were 23 and 25 years old, respectively, when in 1994 the opportunity to take over the club’s concession appeared. Since then they have been steadfast in front of the fires and the attention in the room. Edu has no direct blood ties to Denmark, but claims that he fell in love with their customs and food. “I got to know the country in 1986, at the age of 17, when I did a student exchange program. I lived for a year in a rural town with a local family and went to school. I took advantage of the experience a lot, learned the language and made friends. My Danish “mom” cooked amazing. A dish that marked me and that was the reason why I dedicated myself to cooking is the homemade pork liver pate (Leverpostej) that she prepared every Sunday. There it is an everyday meal: everyone eats it with a slice of rye bread and takes it to school and work. She also made goose, duck, and pork (with a bittersweet blackberry sauce). For lunch, a classic was the “smørrebrød”, with rye bread and butter. I liked the pork carré in thin cold slices with red cabbage ”, he recalls.
After his return to Argentina he longed for the taste of those dishes and their culture. In time, he began to seek ties with the local community and came to the Iglesia Dinamarquesa de San Telmo (located in Carlos Calvo, between Paseo Colón and Defensa). There in the late 1980s, every Tuesday and Friday night, he would meet young people (of different ages) to play foosball, ping pong, dance traditional Danish folklore and cook typical recipes.
At that time, he met Santiago Macagno and they became inseparable friends and partners. “In the Church we divided the tasks, some nights we had to cook for 80 people. That’s when I realized that I was passionate about gastronomy ”, he admits. At the time, they were both summoned to be waiters at the Danish Club restaurant. In the summers, Mrs. Nina, who had the old club concession, settled in Necochea with a bar specialized in “open sandwiches” and the young people went to work for the season. Years later, Edu studied gastronomic French and the possibility arose to display his talent in the exclusive French restaurant of the Alvear Palace: La Bourgogne, by chef Jean Paul Bondoux. Later, the friends also fulfilled another dream: touring Denmark together by bicycle.
In 1994 they had a new opportunity: to apply for the Danish Club concession. “We were young and had only a few years of experience in gastronomy, but we always pushed forward confident that we were going to do well,” says Marenco. At first, many people from the community came until over the years they managed to conquer the passers-by in the area with their proposal. Before the pandemic, 90% of their clients were office workers.
The “smørrebrød” are one of the great stars of the house. The open sandwiches are made with artisan bread with buttered sunflower, flax and barley seeds. They have different varieties: herring; smoked salmon; prawns; homemade liver pate; cheese and Frikadeller (minced meat balls). “The salmon is one of the most requested,” he says and recommends trying a version of blue cheese, raw onion rings, capers and egg yolk, one of his favorites.
Among the hot options stand out los “Meatballs” (pork meatballs) with cream potatoes, pickles and sweet and sour mayonnaise with pickles and also “Hakkebøf”, some minced beef steaks with sautéed onion, brown sauce, natural potato and sweet and sour red cabbage. “The Biksemad, a stir-fry of pork and beef, onions and potatoes, accompanied by sweet and sour beets, buttered rye bread and fried egg is another of our hits since the opening,” says Eduardo.
With the arrival of the pandemic they reinvented themselves with home delivery and put together different tasting menus, the most complete is called “Ålborg” and includes more than twenty ingredients. From fish, such as herring or smoked salmon; pork liver pate; Rye bread; meatballs; cheeses; variety of preserves and sweets, including Danish cookies. “In Denmark, especially at festive times, it is traditional to get together and share different dishes. We wanted to offer a portable version to enjoy at home. The customers found it fun because they felt that they were traveling, for a moment, with the different flavors, ”he says.
To finish lunch, they recommend leaving a place for dessert. A must see is the Danish-style rice pudding with cream, almonds and red fruit sauce. And to accompany the coffee, its iconic Danish cookies. “Santi, all his life he prepared them at home with his mother and we continue to make them with the same recipe. They have a lot of butter and love, ”he assures.
Eduardo and Santiago are proud every time a client confesses that some of the flavors of the dishes they offer are reminiscent of their roots. “Many times when they finish eating they approach excited and tell us that it is similar to the ones that their mothers or grandmothers prepared for them at home. Every time they tell us “how tasty this is”, it pushes us to continue “, culminating and recalling the first time he tasted his favorite dish: pork liver pate