Vestiges of Norway in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn: Kringler, Firklover, and Knackebrod
When the Norwegians -- and later, other Scandinavians -- arrived in Bay Ridge late in the 19th century, they loved its open countryside and expansive views of the ocean. The Narrows of the Lower Harbor, now spanned by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, supposedly reminded them of a fjord. From the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, Bay Ridge became known as Little Oslo, and by 1930 there were over 60,000 Norwegians living in the neighborhood. Many found work as seaman and shipbuilders in the Brooklyn waterfront.
Sadly, few reminders of their culture remain. Leske's (7612 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-680-2323) is a Scandinavian bakery that's over 100 years old. Nowadays, apart from a handful of Danish pastries, the bakery mainly sells Italian cookies, chocolate éclairs, and frosted cakes. The pecan-studded and frosting-drizzled sweet rolls that originated in Denmark are superb, though, with the kind of just-baked goodness you may associate with foodie artisanal bakeries, and no stinting on the fresh butter. Leading up to Christmas, the bakery prepares such specialties as yulekage (a candied-fruit bread) and kringler (pretzel-shaped cookies covered with granulated sugar).
Norwegian Constitution Day (May 17) is still celebrated in Bay Ridge with a parade. It kicks off this year on May 15 at 1:30 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 67th Street, a neighborhood now mainly Lebanese.