Through the rain I could see the bright red, white and blue Icelandic flag snap wildly in the wind as I sipped my coffee. Located at the working end of the Reykjavik waterfront, amongst stacks of wood palettes and crates over flowing with green and yellow nets is Grandakaffi. The small breakfast/lunch spot with plain gray floors, white washed cement walls and a weather tight twelve foot wide sun porch was just what I hoped to find as I traveled further and further away from the tourist area on my long, wet morning walk.
Unlike the coffee shops in downtown Reykjavik this one was not use to seeing tourist. As I poured myself a coffee the owner, a square built man with wild, bushy white eye brows and brilliant Nordic blue eyes asked me where I was from. That was followed by a discussion between the owner, his son and myself as to how many states made up the US of A. They were convinced there were 52 and looked at me in disbelief when I declared that there were only 50. Then I tried to pay for my coffee entirely with Icelandic coins but didn’t have enough, when I attempted to make up the difference with a 500 Krona note the son said, “Don’t worry about it. Have you ever had real Icelandic fried fish?” As I started to say no he slipped me a plate of fried fish with a bit of salad – the daily special.
After a while the owner, Runar, joined me at my small table facing the harbor. Although he wore an apron he admitted he wasn’t the cook. He bought the restaurant for his wife, he was a harborman most of his life until his retirement a few years ago. Somewhere along the line he and his wife divorced, she wanted the summer house not the coffee shop. Now he and his youngest son run it. The lads start pouring coffee about 6am then the cook arrives at 8, declares what the lunch special will be and starts cooking.
The entire time I was there not a single patron passed by without saying something to Runar. Intermittently he would leave to help his son and I would visit with the regulars he introduced me to. Dr. Bjorn Stefansson was a local scholar on democracy and voting and Grandakaffi regular. He described the cuisine as “traditional Icelandic man food”.
Runar returned to the table with a bowl of Icelandic Meat Soup for me to try and a well worn iPad. The pictures he showed me of his travels and family were sharp and well composed. Then the soft spoken 70 year old quickly and confidently showed me some of his favorite apps including an impressive translation app that pronounced the phase for you.
The Iceland waterfalls, mountains and peaceful meadows filled with sheep and short, stocky Icelandic horses were all memorable experiences but my favorite one so far has been my visit with Runar and the regulars at Grandakaffi.