Nichole Accettola on her first cookbook and happenings at Kantine
Preparing to move with her family for a temporary six-month stay in San Francisco, Nichole Accettola assured her Danish employers that she’d be back. They laughed and replied, “You’re going to sunny California. Why would you come back?!”
Eight years later, Accettola is still here. Kantine, the restaurant she opened five years ago, is holding down the corner of Market and Laguna; it’s now a destination for fans of her cardamom morning buns, tebirkes, and other Scandinavian delights.
Accettola is also setting off on a tour to promote her first cookbook, Scandinavian from Scratch: A Love Letter to the Baking of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which was just released by Bay Area publisher Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House, known for their artfully curated and beautifully produced stable of cookbook titles. The book leans heavily into baking recipes; cookies, cakes, and pastries, and includes the recipe for her popular rye bread (rugbrød). She notes in the book that rye bread is to Denmark what baguettes are to France, and it’s her hearty sprouted version that first gave root to the idea that would become her vision for a kantine (or canteen), the moniker of a traditional Danish casual eatery that serves Scandinavian dishes.
Accettola first started selling loaves of rye bread along with smørrebrød sandwiches at the Foodwise farmers market and developed an immediate following; Scandinavian ex-pats sought out the distinctly Danish loaves, and hungry shoppers devoured the ever-changing menu of open-faced sandwiches, sometimes topped with the classic Danish combination of tiny shrimp and sliced hard-boiled eggs or the obligatory pickled herring in a creamy dressing.
Selling out of rye bread every week at the market assured her that there was a bigger demand for the loaves, and she began to take on wholesale accounts, including Rainbow Grocery, Bi-Rite Markets, and Good Eggs, all the while looking at various empty spaces around the city for a potential restaurant site. Hayes Valley, Noe Valley, the Western Addition—none of them was the right fit for what she was looking for, an airy open space with room for a substantial baking department as well as a kitchen for savory dishes.
It took almost a year and a half until she secured a location next to the Orbit Room at 1906 Market Street and another six months before she hung up her big green sign with the capital K for Kantine. It was an immediate hit, with customers lined up out the door, clamoring for the signature brunch boards where they chose a combination of small dishes from an extensive menu including house-made bacon, a runny egg with spinach cream, beet hummus, tiny shrimp, citrus salad, and more. Add a cinnamon knot or frøsnapper to your brunch board order and you’d be good to go until dinner. Porridges were surprisingly popular, too, especially the savory three-grain porridge with wild mushrooms, kale, and farmers’ cheese, not exactly your typical American breakfast item.
Today the popular brunch boards and smørrebrød are gone from the menu as a reflection of where Accettola wants Kantine to evolve to. She’s decided to expand the bakery offerings, offer fewer made-to-order menu items as well, and reduce wait times for her customers. Making scores of small dishes for the brunch boards each week while keeping a hotline going for the rest of the menu overtaxed a perpetually small kitchen staff who also baked a substantial number of rye bread loaves, cookies, and pastries.
While the weekend brunch menu has been trimmed and wait times have dropped, midweek diners have picked up. The menu is now streamlined to feature ready-to-go sandwiches on sprouted rye buns, which don’t require a plate, fork, and knife as the smørrebrød did, and more baked goods, reflecting the publication of Scandinavian from Scratch. Accettola admits that after spending the past couple of years working on her cookbook, she’s now less inclined towards the culinary savory dishes as a chef, and more inspired by the baking side as a baker, and that is what she wants to bring to the table now, or at least to the pastry case.
Like every restaurant that has survived the pandemic, Kantine has had to pivot multiple times to thrive. Accettola notes that “We like to keep things new and fresh, and this latest version of Kantine is a reflection of where we are right now. The exciting part is, who knows what will inspire us next?”