The eponymous pastry seals the deal at Danish Express

Brown Derby eggs

LEO’s Eats with LouisvilleHotBytes

You can, and probably do, call it a Danish pastry, but its roots lie in Vienna. Nevertheless, the Danes have made this rich and delicious pastry their own, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one in the Old Country than you can enjoy right here in Louisville at Danish Express.

This quaint St. Matthews storefront occupies a cozy space with big plate-glass windows that make up the entire front wall, facing east to bring in bright sunlight in the morning.

It’s open from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. daily (except Sunday), offering breakfast throughout and lunch at midday. The breakfast menu – including but not limited to the rich, oversize Danish – makes it one of the city’s top spots to break a fast. At lunchtime, it’s still a decent place for a quick meal, but facing much sterner competition, it’s not quite as close to the front of the pack.

A dozen well-worn but sturdy round oak-top tables decorated with baskets of silk flowers fill a room with walls the color of cream of asparagus soup, with a section of bright cream of tomato beneath a chair rail along one wall. There’s an odd blend of paintings of racehorses and food; one appetizing work features a cup of coffee and a doughnut. At the back of the room, a glass case houses the day’s selection of Danish (get there early or your favorites may run out), along with an intriguing collection of cookies and bars.

The breakfast menu features Danish, of course, $2.50 each for your choice of cinnamon, cream cheese, apple, apricot, cherry, strawberry or blueberry. There’s a selection of egg dishes and omelets, mostly in the range of $4.50 to $7.

We arrived at 9 a.m. and found our favorite cream-cheese Danish already 86’d, so we went with a cinnamon model and a table knife to split it. Half of one of these hulking pastries is plenty, anyway – you’ve got to know when to say when. Rich and tender, these babies must be an inch thick, loaded with cinnamon and sugar and finely chopped nuts.

Tomato juice ($1) is served in a pop-top can, but it’s pretty good, with a frozen glass so it goes down cold.

A cheese omelet with bacon ($6) resembled fluffy scrambled eggs more than a traditional French omelet, but it was delicious, with mild American cheese, crisp bacon and plastic tubs of jelly and real butter to go with tangy-sour, seeded Swedish rye toast.

The Brown Derby with one egg and bacon ($5.50) featured a well-poached egg, hot but not hard at the center, atop a thick slice of good homemade white bread, covered with a light cheese sauce. Two pieces of crisp bacon, iceberg lettuce and a thick slice of tomato sat on the side.

A hearty breakfast for two was $18.55, plus a $4 tip for surprisingly attentive service from what appeared to be a single server handling the entire busy room.

I always think of this place for breakfast – the name “Danish” pretty much ensures that. But they offer lunch, too, and our breakfast was so good, we had to come back. The lunch menu features soups, salads and a selection of sandwiches in the $6 to $7 neighborhood.

The Lexington Green sandwich ($5.95) consisted of a thick layer of bright-green Benedictine – more cream cheese than cucumber – with chunks of crisp, smoky bacon, slathered on thick slices of Swedish rye bread.

Soup of the day, vegetable beef ($2.50/cup), was fine. Long-simmered chunks of potato joined chopped celery, onions, green peppers and corn niblets with a few cabbage leaves and tiny bits of beef in a homey mix that reminded me of my grandmother’s version.

The pimento cheese sandwich ($5.95) was just OK. The good white toast was thick-sliced and substantial, but the cook must have suffered from astigmatism: It was unevenly sliced at steep angles, thin on one end and thick on the other, making an odd wedge of a sandwich too thick to bite at the wide end. The pimento cheese was just so-so: Grated mild yellow cheese was incompletely blended with mayo, with only a small ration of diced pimento and no apparent spice.

From the dessert case, a walnut delight cookie and a seductive coconut-chocolate-walnut bar made a fine finish to a filling lunch. The tab was $23.11, plus a $4.89 tip.

Danish Express accepts no credit cards. It’s cash or check only. My advice: Hit a nearby ATM on your way in.
-Robin Garr

Danish Express
102 Cannons Lane
Robin Garr’s rating: 79 points