Alluring dining experiences continue to pop up in Oklahoma, now with a unique addition – Freya: Nordic Kitchen. Nestled in the Center 1 section of Tulsa’s Brookside, Freya offers classic and re-invented dishes and libations from Scandinavia. The project is helmed by Justin Thompson Restaurant Group, which also offers Juniper, Prhyme Steakhouse and Farrell Bread and Bakery. 

“Chef Justin and chef Tiffany [Taylor] have put together such a well thought-out menu, taking inspiration from all across Scandinavia,” says general manager Ashlin Gustin. “Our focus is sustainability, and you see that in everything from food, environmentally conscious wine selections, even down to the recycled paper that our tables are made from. 

Hygge is what we center our service around,” she continues. “It is a centuries-old Danish word that means ‘a sense of intense well-being brought on by a place or experience, emanating warmth, charm and coziness.’ We have been very fortunate to be able to bring this concept to Brookside.” 

Chef and restaurateur Justin Thompson has gifted Oklahoma with a variety of creative, award-winning restaurants over the years, and says the idea of Freya was a long-held dream.

“This concept came out of discussion with Derek Hillman, our director of restaurant operations, during the pandemic,” he says. “We were daydreaming about what was next. This concept was the top of the list; we both thought it was something no one else in town would do and we wanted to introduce Tulsa to a completely different style of food, plus a lot of fun. We were just a couple of guys talking dreams and hoping to make it through the pandemic, to a time when people were dining out again.”

The ambiance for dining is an integral part of the experience, says Thompson. 

“The setting brings a deep sense of comfort and welcoming in the architectural style of Scandinavia, which is minimalist with lots of natural wood and live plants – making it simple, calming and straightforward,” he says. “We also commissioned some art by local artists to help create a welcoming, comfortable space.”

At first glance, Thompson realizes that Scandinavian cuisine may seem unfamiliar. 

“Most people think of weird fish or odd dishes, and that’s not at all it,” he assures. “With any different type of cuisine, there will be the one-offs that get the attention. But it’s the technique of how they make food that makes the difference. Scandinavian countries have colder months and they have figured out how to preserve food with techniques like curing, pickling and canning, and that’s what we’ve developed with Freya. 

“For many Scandinavian dishes, you may already know some like Swedish meatballs, because everyone loves that. One of my favorites, salmon gravlax, is a cured dish, for example. At the end of the day, when you look at our menu, there are things you already know – like halibut or shrimp skagen which is a shrimp salad served on rye toast.” 

Since the restaurant opened in July, Thompson is finding that diners try the familiar dishes first, building trust to the point where, on the next visit, they’ll want to try less familiar and perhaps more interesting entrées.  

“My favorite [dish] is one that has become a favorite of our customers – the grilled elk chop with goat cheese cream, root veggie ribbons and cloudberry demi-glace,” says Thompson. “The dish is a little sweet, tangy, savory. It’s become wildly popular, and I never would have predicted that we’d go through so much elk and that it would become our number one dish.”

For many diners, dessert is the star of the night-out experience, and Freya delivers on that front as well with Swedish cheesecake, honey baked pears with honey caramel sauce, and another menu favorite, kladdkaka – a flourless, gluten-free chocolate fudge cake.

Juniper was the first restaurant Thompson co-owned, he says, but now Freya is “up there among my favorites. People love it. I was recently at PetSmart with my daughter, and a couple told us that Juniper used to be their favorite restaurant in Tulsa, but now it’s Freya. I think that’s because it’s just a warm and welcoming place to be.”

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