Cari Taylor-Carlson

Sisu Cafe Offers Nordic, Finnish Fare

And on some nights becomes a steakhouse. It's all a tasty addition to Bay View's dining scene.

By - Feb 6th, 2023 11:05 am
Corned Beef Hash and the Biscuits at Sisu Cafe. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson

Corned Beef Hash and the Biscuits at Sisu Cafe. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson

There’s a new café with a split personality located on S. Kinnickinnic Avenue at the north end of Bay View. You can grab breakfast or lunch to go if you’re in a rush, or, you can linger in this sun-filled room where large east and south facing windows give it a bright cheerful ambiance. Chef and owner Frank Sanchez and partner Ruben Piirainen designed the café to showcase the spare lines of Finnish décor, a look that comes off as clean, classy, and uncluttered. The menu also features several Nordic dishes, not often, if ever, seen on local menus.

To keep it interesting, three nights each week, Sanchez transforms the café, and voila, Sisu Cafe turns into Sisu Steakhouse, a fine dining establishment with tablecloths, candles, live music, and a menu that lists supper club-style options, some with a Nordic twist.

Chef Sanchez and Piirainen opened Sabrosa Café and Gallery on S. Howell Avenue in Bay View several years ago. It was an instant success, and today, Sanchez continues to serve Sabrosa’s delicious breakfast and lunch dishes that have earned him an enthusiastic following.

At Sisu’s daytime cafe, Sanchez has expanded his repertoire thanks to Piirainen’s Scandinavian background, and his Nordic influence includes the addition of dishes like Kaalikaaryleet. This unusual entrée, cabbage rolls filled with a tangy ground beef mix, was served on mashed potatoes that were coated with lingonberry sauce. The lingonberry sauce was a tasty addition, a tart contrast to the basic mashed. The cabbage was fork-tender and the filling hinted of a flavor you would find in a tangy barbeque sauce.

You might expect to see Swedish meatballs on the menu and there they were, tucked into a toasted sub roll that held eight meatballs and a generous hit of gravy. The meatballs were delicate and juicy and with the addition of the gravy, each bite held a collage of gentle flavors.

Another classic Finnish dish, a meat-filled pie crust known as a Pasty, is served two ways. Sanchez fills a Breakfast Pasty with sauteed veggies, cheese, and scrambled eggs, and for the traditional Beef Pasty, he includes ground beef, potato, rutabaga, carrots, and peas. Unlike the pasties I’ve had in Northern Michigan that needed ketchup, this pasty did not require a flavor enhancement.

Another Nordic treat, Danish Cauliflower Pancakes were served with lingonberry sauce and a lightly dressed green salad, mainly arugula. The pancakes held chunks of cauliflower and tasted of their veggies — cauliflower, carrots, and green onions. When I paired a bite of the pancake with a bit of lingonberry sauce, I got a mouthful of traditional Nordic cuisine, creamy and delicious.

For something more traditional, there’s a sandwich menu that includes a Cafe Burger, a Sloppy Joe, a Sisu Club Sandwich, Grilled Cheese, a Ham and Cheese Panini, and my companion’s Chicken Avocado Sandwich. Chipotle mayo, a toasted bun, and exceptionally tender chicken made this a meal my companion would be happy to repeat.

On the breakfast menu, the choices are more conventional with the exception of an Icelandic Yogurt Bowl and Hot Muesli, hot vanilla oat milk poured over house granola. Also on the menu are Buttermilk Pancakes, a Chorizo Breakfast Burrito, an Avocado Smash-Up, a Bagel Breakfast Sandwich, and the aforementioned Breakfast Pasty.

A companion and I found the Corned Beef Hash and the Biscuits and Country Sausage Gravy flawless. The corned beef was cut into small tender cubes that were served with horseradish cream. I offer a warning here to anyone who might be sensitive to the effects of horseradish. It’s mighty pungent, enough to clear your sinuses. It’s also a delicious complement to the corned beef and potatoes in the hash.

Because we added extra lingonberry sauce to our breakfast entrees, there was a small upcharge, but the sauce was a brilliant addition to the meal. It was especially tasty when it was combined with the biscuits that hinted of sage and tasted similar to Thanksgiving turkey stuffing.

Sanchez exudes excitement when he talks about his Sisu Steakhouse. He said, unlike many restaurants that feature steak, he will keep his prices under $40.00 as this is a neighborhood restaurant as well as a destination steakhouse. He offers three steak entrees, Ribeye, Porterhouse, and Bacon-Wrapped Tenderloin, plus Atlantic Salmon Linguine, Roasted Apple Pork Chop, Spatchcock Chicken, and Portabella Mushroom Risotto. Each entree comes with a Specialty Side and if you know Sanchez from his cuisine at Sabrosa, you know those sides will be special. From the bar you can order a cocktail, a single glass of wine, or a bottle from a curated wine list.

If you are curious about Sisu, the definition of the word is posted on the wall. A word found in Finnish culture, it refers to perseverance, courage, and grit.

You will also see a squiggly symbol in several places in the café. It refers to “Hannunvaakuna,” the Finnish symbol of good luck.

“Sisu” and “Hannunvaakuna” are appropriate symbols for Sanchez and Piirainen in their new venture as they bring Nordic cuisine and a steakhouse menu to Bay View.



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