Tucked into one of the oldest buildings in Solvang, Bit O’Denmark has been dishing up savory Old World fare for well over 40 years. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the cozy restaurant boasts a tempting menu of Danish favorites, as well as classic American treats.
“There are only three or four places in Solvang that have authentic Danish food,” says Bit O’Denmark co-owner Susie Sorensen, “and ours is like a Danish-European cuisine. We serve meatballs, sausage, red cabbage and boiled potatoes, and we have fried chicken, burgers and lots of good salads, too.
“Some of the dishes are from Danish family recipes,” she adds, “and some our chefs have come up with.”
Also on the menu are Danish-style open-face sandwiches, a platter for two loaded with herring, shrimp, salmon, liver pate and fresh breads that Sorensen likens to “having your own smorgasbord,” and for dessert, aebelskivers with raspberry jam and ice cream. Steaks, fish, sandwiches, seafood pasta and “really good chicken marsala” round out the offerings.
Sorensen’s father, who is semi-retired (though “he still comes in to make sure we’re doing things right”), purchased Bit O’Denmark in 1966.
“Fifty years ago my dad started with a Denny’s franchise in San Fernando Valley,” Sorensen explains. “He came up to Solvang with a partner to look at something else and heard about it.
“It was a restaurant when we bought it,” she continues, “called KP’s, and the owner told Dad, ‘if you don’t have pies, you won’t make it.’”
Despite the fact that they rarely serve pie, the Sorensens’ have made a success of what has become a local institution. They built an enclosed patio, refurbished the interior and maintain the 1912-vintage structure—built to house Solvang’s original folk schoo—as an inviting eatery for area residents and visitors alike.
“We have a fair amount of local customers,” Sorensen says, “people who live in Santa Barbara, San Luis. I think of them as local, because they come in regularly. I always ask where they’re from, because I like to know.
“To me, locals are people who frequent your business,” she adds, “customers who come in regularly, whether it’s once a week or six times a year.”
Those who’d like a taste of Danish culture, as well as the food, need only venture to Bit O’Denmark on the fourth Monday of any month, when a hearty group of Danes meets for lunch.
“It’s a ‘Danske Frokost Klub’ a Danish men’s lunch club,” Sorensen says. “It has been around forever in L.A. and my dad started it here about five years ago.
“They have their schnapps first,” she laughs, “then herring and then they order from a Danish menu. They speak only Danish, tell Danish stories and jokes, sing Danish songs. Dad really gets them all going.”
Bit O’Denmark patrons, even those without a trace of Danish blood, find a relaxing atmosphere warmed by the glow of copper fixtures and the welcome of friendly staffers. Regulars note the same smiling faces year after year, and often find themselves greeted by name.
“It’s nice to have people who’ve been here a long time,” Sorensen says, “but Solvang is kind of like that, where people stay at a job. One of our servers worked here 20 years, and another has been here 17.
“We’re kind of like a family,” she adds, “all our employees. We all pick up the slack for each other.”
Sorensen, who grew up in Southern California, settled in the Valley in 1991. She has traveled to Denmark several times and treasures her family’s heritage, as well as her second home among Solvang’s Danish community.
“I like the history,” she admits, “and knowing my heritage is Danish, knowing where my parents are from. It makes me feel like we’ve been here a long time.”