Jordan Ripley grew up celebrating his Danish heritage with aebleskivers on Christmas morning.
When he went off to college, he brought the special pan used to make the golf-ball-sized pancakes – “apple slices” in Danish – and began introducing the traditional treat, typically served with powdered sugar or jam, to friends. Later, they became a staple of the weekend brunches he and his wife would host for friends and family.
Now they’re becoming the specialty at their new brunch concept.
Jordan and Charlotte Ripley are the co-creators of Brunchkin, a small, pop-up restaurant that’s open one day a week for brunch beginning Sunday.
Seating is limited, and so is the menu, which is gluten-free. There’s room for about 30 to 40 guests at a time, depending on the weather. When it’s warm, diners can sit on the patio. Otherwise, brunch takes place indoors at Batch Bakeshop in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood every Sunday now through early October.
If it proves popular, the Ripleys want to continue running Brunchkin and are ultimately interested in finding a permanent location in a shared space similar to Saranac Commons or the forthcoming Spokane Central Market.
Meantime, the couple will see how the summer with Brunchkin at Batch goes. She will cook, and he will serve.
“We get to do something we both love and have talked about for years and years and years,” he said. “We’re in this 100 percent.”
Charlotte, 30, and Jordan, 28, moved to Spokane about 10 months ago for the quality of life and to be closer to Charlotte’s family. She grew up outside of Leavenworth near Lake Wenatchee, graduating from Cascade High School in 2005 and the Evergreen State College in 2009. Then, it was off to Austin.
“I just wanted to go to Texas,” she said. “It sounded cool.”
Jordan grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He met Charlotte at work at an ad agency. They were friends for about a year before they started dating.
“It was my first job out of college,” he said. “She trained me.”
In 2015, Charlotte went to work for a bakery, waking up super early to put in a shift at the shop before heading to her later-in-the-day job. She kept up that schedule for a couple of months until she quit the ad agency.
The bakery, Thai Fresh, is gluten-free, and Charlotte has celiac disease “so I need to work in a gluten-free kitchen.”
People who have celiac disease can’t eat gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley and rye – because the protein damages the villi of the small intestine and prevents absorption of nutrients from food. A gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment for the disease. Some people are gluten intolerant and feel better when they eat a gluten-free diet.
Charlotte generally uses a special blend of rice, potato and tapioca flours, but adapts her blend as needed. And, “if it doesn’t taste good or better gluten-free, then we won’t do it.”
Charlotte, her husband said, “has all the culinary brains.”
Together, they dreamed of opening their own brunch counter or pop-up in Texas. But, Jordan said. “It’s so hard to break into the culinary scene in Austin. There are new restaurants opening daily.”
So, he said, “We dropped a pin where Charlotte was from and looked anywhere within four hours. On a whim, we flew up here for a weekend, got off the plane, walked into Perry Street Brewing and around South Perry – and knew we could live here.”
They found Spokane to be supportive and liked the sense of community they felt here. They were also drawn to its proximity to not one but several mountains.
“I snowboard, and he skis,” Charlotte said.
He found a job as a marketing manager, and Charlotte began testing recipes and fine-tuning their Brunchkin concept. The name – her idea – is a portmanteau, combing brunch and munchkin. The couple – fans of whimsy, Hobbit holes and “The Lord of the Rings” – were “going for a mystical and ethereal vibe,” Jordan said. (This is where he mentioned the couple went to New Zealand, where “The Lord of the Rings” was filmed, on their honeymoon.)
They thought Brunchkin captured the spirit of their enterprise as well as explained the menu.
Brunch, they said, is one of their favorite meals. In Austin, they would regularly host brunch for groups of four to eight of their friends, and those gatherings would typically last throughout the afternoon, rounds of board games and, sometimes, even into dinner.
“We realized we have a little bit of a magic ability to throw brunch for our friends,” Charlotte said. “Jordan’s an epic host. And I love to cook. I love to cook for people I care about.”
Of course, aebleskivers were the staple at those brunches.
“I can only say about three Danish words,” Jordan noted. But, growing up, “my dad would make aebleskivers assembly-line style. For me, it was the equivalent of that standard American thing of your dad making a pile of American pancakes and running down the stairs to get there.”
As teens, he and his two brothers would have contests to see how many aebleskivers they could eat. “In my prime, I was doing at least a dozen,” Jordan said. “Maybe 15.”
He brought that taste of home to college, where “I would make them for friends as kind of this weird, novelty item.”
The recipe came from his great-grandmother, Laura Petersen, who was born in Denmark. She came to America “a bit before World War I,” Jordan said, and met and married his great-grandfather, Hans J. Brædder, in Nebraska. Brædder came from Nysted; Petersen was from Møn.
She “worked as a cook and would make all sorts of treats for my dad when he was little,” including aebleskivers. “It’s her pan that my dad still uses when he makes them and that, hopefully, one day we’ll inherit, though my dad gave Charlotte an aebleskiver pan of the same vintage for Christmas this last year as a token of good luck for Brunchkin.”
Jordan’s dad recently dug up an old Danish cookbook that Petersen’s sister Gerda made while she was a home economics professor at the University of Nebraska. “Pretty quaint by today’s standards,” Jordan said, “but (it) gives you a sense of what cooking was like 50 years ago.”
Today, he and Charlotte, who’ve been married a year and a half, use his great-grandmother’s recipe – with an adaptation or two.
“We tweaked it to make it gluten-free,” Charlotte said, noting she also uses larger amounts of traditional spices – nutmeg and cardamom – for additional flavor.
Sometimes, she’ll make chocolate aebleskivers. Usually, she’ll make a batch of flavored whipped cream – espresso, for example – to serve on the side.
They began selling their gluten-free aebleskivers and other gluten-free pastries and baked goods – hazelnut coffee cake, flourless lemon doughnuts – at a couple of local farmers markets shortly after they moved here last summer.
They also offer catering as well as gluten-free baking classes and wedding desserts.
At Brunchkin, they plan to offer a Forbidden Rice Bowl – with black rice, preserved lemon, a turmeric poached egg and horseradish-cashew cream – and a granola bowl with turmeric, chai spices, maple syrup, maple-cardamom yogurt and strawberry-rhubarb puree. Vegan coconut-based yogurt will also be available.
A savory staple is rosti potatoes – “like a latke but a little more French-style,” Charlotte said – with a fried egg, feta cream, onion jam and greens with mustard vinaigrette.
Look, also, for salmon quiche with a potato crust, smoked salmon and fresh dill.
In addition to gluten-free baking and cooking, Charlotte said, “We do a ton of fresh herbs.”