Don’t try to pin down chef Mark Steuer on exactly what the culinary theme is at Funkenhausen (1709 W. Chicago Ave.), his new West Town spot that opened a little over a week ago. There’s a little bit of German, a little bit of Italian, some French, and some southern BBQ, a combination that Steuer credits to “a mishmash of where I grew up and what my family fed me.” His family also spent summers in Alsace and Bavaria, experiences that led to this eclectic (and already super-popular) menu.
Super-popular isn’t just anecdotal: Funkenhausen sold more than 1400 of its signature pretzels in a single week. “I didn’t just want to have a pretzel with mustard,” says Steuer, so this one is brushed with garlic butter and served with pimento beer cheese and an Alabama white barbeque sauce. The identity behind Funkenhausen has morphed a bit in Steuer’s mind over the last few years. Diners might be familiar with Steuer from his previous restaurants, The Bedford and the South Carolina-inspired Carriage House, and so won’t be surprised that the original concept was much more about BBQ. But Steuer’s desire to recreate the flavors of his childhood eventually moved him to this concept.
Take the “Whole Mess of Chicken.” It’s made with smoked chicken (inspired by Steuer’s Carolina days) and a sauce that’s a take on a classic Alsatian dish, chicken Riesling. “The sauce is literally a memory that I have from a trip to Alsace as a kid,” said Steuer.
The building in West Town used to be a furniture store and warehouse dating back to the 1920s (most recently, it housed a gym). When it was gutted, the original terrazzo floors were discovered underneath four inches of old glue, linoleum, and rubber mats. The gorgeous original beams, which drew Steuer to the space, had to be covered for fire code reasons, so a hanging replica takes their place and gives the restaurant a wide open, vaulted feel.
The menu is meat-heavy, featuring something called a Piggy Plate, a selection of homemade charcuterie made from the scraps of their in-house butchery. Right now, it’s got a country pate with smoked sweetbreads, a bacon and chicken liver mousse, and a “burnt ends” rillete, and will change each week.
Possibly the most fun thing about Funkenhausen are the names of some of their dishes, all the product of Steuer’s punny imagination—the Schwein Chop, the Oysters Hockafeller (made with ham hock, of course), the Sürfentürfen (a combo of kraut, pork belly, scallop and local plums, vaguely inspired by a choucroute garnie.)
Also fun: the price point. entrees meant for two people come in below $30, which makes it the perfect spot for a weeknight supper in the neighborhood. “My goal is I want to be first and foremost a neighborhood restaurant,” said Steuer. “I hope people come back over and over.”