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Funkenhausen Takes Mark Steuer to His German Roots

Expect pretzels, sauerbraten, and the biggest schnitzel you’ve ever seen.

John Paul Johnson, Mark Steuer, and Robert Diaz   Photo: Richard Shilkus

This fall, Mark Steuer (Carriage House, El Che Bar) plans to open Funkenhausen (1709 W. Chicago Ave., West Town), his take on a mash-up of a German bier hall and a French brasserie. Joining him in the kitchen is former Carriage House sous chef John Paul Johnson; general manager Robert Diaz will oversee the beverage program; and business partner Daniel Boyd is spearheading the design of the former warehouse space. Steuer gave Chicago a preview of what the group’s got cooking.

What does “funkenhausen” mean?

It’s not really a word: “funken” means “the spark” and “hausen” means “house.” We will have a wood-fired grill, and “spark” and “flame” really spoke to me.

What will it look like?

It’s a gorgeous old warehouse space and we’re aiming for the decor to represent both a German bier hall and a French brasserie. The decor will also influence the vibe, [which will be] bustling and lively in an informal way. When I think about a bier hall and a brasserie, I think boisterous and big bottles of beer and people enjoying themselves.

What kind of beer will these people be enjoying?

I will make some German-style brews locally with friends of mine. Wines will also be a huge component [of the drink program], and will all come from Germany, Austria, and Alsace. We’ll do cocktails as well, but that’s not going to be our focus.

What inspired Funkenhausen?

My father was born in Bavaria. He and my mother met while my mother was teaching French in France and my father was in school there. We spent all of our summers visiting Dad’s family in Germany and traveling through Bavaria. I spoke only German until I was three years old, when I told my mother—in German—that I needed to speak English so I could play with the other kids. Between my mom and grandma’s cooking, we always ate a lot of German food.

What will be on your menu?

We will have bier hall pretzels because I love them. Also sauerbraten, which is essentially a sour pot roast. That is something my grandmother used to make. Hers was always ugly and really heavy. I hope she doesn’t read this.

For mine, I want to use a beef rib roast [in place of the traditional beef or pork shoulder] and instead of braising, smoke the meat, almost in the style of a Texas barbecue. I’ll take the liquid and make a nice sauce and serve it with vegetables. Fermenting and pickling will be done in house because that’s typical of German cooking.

Germany has a ton of trout, white fish, walleye, and perch—a lot of the fish that you find in the Great Lakes. Any fish that I ate in Germany was a whole fish, pan-seared or grilled. I’m not sure I will do a whole fish, because everyone seems to be doing that now. But [I may do] a simple preparation with baby vegetables and purée of sauerkraut, with Riesling sauce, and maybe escargots. I want to use ingredients used in Bavaria, tweaked to make it our own.

We are going to do an amazing schnitzel because I love schnitzel. It will be enormous. I want to walk through the dining room [with the schnitzel] and for people to stare and say that’s the largest schnitzel they’ve ever seen.

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