Popular Swedish restaurant is a family affair

Terri Milligan
Special to the Journal Sentinel

Al Johnson was a Marquette University graduate with a criminology degree. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he used the pay he had saved up to open a business in Sister Bay.

Rolf Johnson prepares a batch of Swedish pancake batter at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant.

The original restaurant, opened in 1949, was a combination grocery store and diner.

“Al used a lot of his mom’s recipes from Sweden,” said Kit Bütz, Al Johnson’s marketing and product development director. “The meatball recipe we use is still hers along with our recipes for pickled beets, pickled herring and Swedish pancakes.”

Johnson also met his wife in Door County, Swedish-born Ingert Forsberg, who immigrated at the age of 17.

In 1973, the Johnsons started building the log structure that now houses the restaurant. The diner expanded into a sit-down breakfast, lunch and dinner establishment complete with waitresses dressed in traditional Swedish dirndls.

Of course, the goats grazing on the restaurant roof have become as popular as the restaurant’s Swedish-inspired food.

In 2004, Al Johnson passed away. The business is now run by Ingert and three of their children: Lars, Rolf and Annika.

Al Johnson's lingonberry vinaigrette is a tangy-sweet dressing.

The lingonberry vinaigrette recipe, developed by Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant head chef Freddie Bexell, is offered as a dressing choice for a salad of mixed greens. It also works well in a raw red cabbage and apple salad.

Al Johnson’s Lingonberry Vinaigrette

3 T. sweetened lingonberries

1 garlic clove, minced

1 T. Dijon mustard

1 T. red wine vinegar

½ c. canola oil

½ t. chopped fresh oregano

⅛ t. salt

Generous pinch of black pepper

In a mixing bowl, whisk together lingonberries, garlic, mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in canola oil. Add fresh oregano, salt and pepper. For a smoother dressing, pulse mixture briefly in a blender or food processor. Makes about ¾ cup.

Red cabbage is tossed with apple, pistachios, red onion and dried cherries and lingonberry vinaigrette.

Red Cabbage Salad with Lingonberry Vinaigrette

Red cabbage, tart Granny Smith apples and thinly sliced red onion are tossed with lingonberry vinaigrette to create a raw salad. Finish the salad with dried sour cherries and coarsely chopped pistachios.

8 c. thinly shredded red cabbage (1 medium head)

1 Granny Smith apple, washed, unpeeled, cored and thinly sliced

1 sm. red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 green onions, thinly sliced

¼ c. coarsely chopped unsalted pistachios

⅓ c. dried sour cherries

⅔ c. lingonberry vinaigrette (see recipe above)

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except vinaigrette. Toss with enough lingonberry vinaigrette to just coat. Refrigerate any remaining vinaigrette or serve on the side. Makes 6 servings.

Medallions of cheese-stuffed chicken breast are topped with lingonberry sauce.

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Breast with Red Wine Lingonberry Sauce

This stuffed chicken recipe is from the former Inn at Kristofer’s restaurant, which was located just down the street from Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay. The sauce also works well with pork tenderloin and salmon.


1 t. plus 2 T.extra-virgin olive oil (divided)

1 med. shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

8 oz. goat cheese, room temperature

2 c. plus ⅓ c. bread crumbs (divided)

2 T. finely chopped Italian parsley

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 ounces each)

2 lg. eggs

3 T. whole milk

2 T. unsalted butter

Four (5-inch-long) picks to secure stuffed chicken

Lingonberry sauce:

1 t. extra-virgin olive oil

1 sm. shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

½ c. red wine

½ c. sweetened lingonberries

1 T. balsamic vinegar

1 T. cornstarch

2 T. water

Prepare chicken: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a sauté pan, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic. Sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, shallot mixture, 1/3 cup bread crumbs and Italian parsley. Place chicken breasts on a work surface. Make a deep slit or pocket in chicken along the longest part of the breast. Be careful not to slice thru entire breast. Stuff evenly with cheese mixture. Use long wooden picks to secure stuffing. Line a baking sheet pan with foil. Coat with vegetable oil spray.

In a bowl, combine eggs and milk. On a large plate, place remaining 2 cups breadcrumbs. Dip chicken completely into egg mixture. Roll in breadcrumbs. Set on prepared pan.

In a large skillet, heat unsalted butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add chicken breasts. Cook on one side. Using tongs, turn and continue browning chicken on all sides. Chicken may need to be browned in batches. Place on prepared pan. Roast in preheated oven until internal temperature reaches 155 degrees, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare sauce: In a saucepot, heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add shallot and garlic. Sauté 1 minute. Add red wine, lingonberries and balsamic vinegar. Use a small whisk to combine. Simmer over low heat until reduced by one-fourth, about 5 minutes. Combine cornstarch and water. With sauce on simmer, slowly drizzle in enough cornstarch mixture to thicken sauce. You may not need all of the mixture.

When chicken is done, let rest 10 minutes before removing wooden picks. Slice chicken into medallions. Serve with lingonberry sauce. Serves 4.

Swedish pancakes at Al Johnson's are topped with Door County sour Montmorency cherries or organic Swedish lingonberries and plenty of whipped cream.

Swedish Pancakes

Swedish pancakes all have the same basic ingredients, with variations on ratios. Many a Swedish grandmother will add an extra egg to make them richer or more sugar to make them sweeter. The recipe takes on a personal touch with these additions. This basic Swedish pancake recipe is a great starting point and comes close to Al Johnson’s.

3 lg. eggs

2 c. whole milk

1 c. flour

1 T. sugar

Garnish options: unsalted butter, sweetened lingonberries, fresh berries or sweetened sour cherries, maple syrup or whipped cream.

In a mixing bowl using a wire whisk, combine eggs and milk. Add flour, a little at a time, followed by sugar. Let batter rest 2 hours or overnight in refrigerator.

Heat a large sauté pan or flat griddle over medium-high heat. Coat with vegetable oil spray. Pour 2 tablespoons batter per pancake onto pan. Pancake will be thin. When slightly firm, carefully flip and cook on other side. Pancakes will take 1 to 2 minutes per side to cook. Serve with garnishes of your choice.  Makes 4 generous servings.

Winter is a good time to make schaum torte, here topped with lingonberries and whipped cream.

Al Johnson’s Schaum Torte

Many recipes from Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant have been passed down through generations. Some come from former employees. The schaum torte recipe came from former employee Helen Burress. It has been on the restaurant’s menu since 1971.

½ c. egg whites (from about 3 lg. eggs)

¼ t. cream of tartar

1 c. sugar

1 pint vanilla ice cream

1 ½ c. sweetened lingonberries


1 c. whipped cream

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In clean bowl of a stand mixer, place egg whites and cream of tartar. Using whip attachment, whip egg whites until soft peaks appear. With mixer on medium-high, beat in sugar, a few tablespoons as a time. Continue beating until egg whites make firm peaks when beaters are raised.

Line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper. Place meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe meringue into 4-inch round nests.

Place in preheated oven. Bake 1 hour. Turn off heat. Leave in oven one hour. This allows meringues to completely crisp without overcooking them, which would cause them to brown. Place meringues on serving plates. Top with ice cream followed by lingonberries. Garnish with whipped cream. Makes 4 servings.

Store unused meringues at room temperature in a zipper-lock bag or airtight container.