Oktoberfest is a busy time of the year for Fukenhausen, a restaurant with a menu that mixes German and Southern cooking. Chef Mark Steuer takes a playful approach to blending the two genres, using ingredients like smoked pork belly and sauerkraut puree on the same plate. It’s certainly not the traditional German cuisine that Chicagoans once enjoyed in Lincoln Square or at relics like Golden Ox and Mirabell.
Steuer, who was also behind Wicker Park’s Carriage House, no longer fields the need to pander to the palates of the past. He didn’t always see success with holiday food and drink specials: “It’s a ton of work for people to come in and not get it,” Steuer says. “Now we make it about beer.”
Yes, diners can find a 42-ounce glass boot filled with their favorite beer — it’s half-off, with all drinks, on Thursday, notes new beverage director Dustin Grilli. Usually, about 10 people order them. But since September, Funkenhausen has acknowledged the holiday with a Sunday Barbecue series. Steuer takes a pig-shaped grill on the sidewalk of Chicago Avenue and cooks up pulled pork and different specials. This Sunday, September 25, look for leberkase, which is akin to a hot dog loaf. The menu rotates.
But Fukenhausen reinvented itself in August when Steuer hired Grilli, a bartender who worked with Mathias Merges at Billy Sunday. He made the opening drink list for Gideon Sweet, Merges’ West Loop restaurant. Grilli also worked at Mezcaleria Las Flores in Logan Square. At Funkenhausen, his philosophy is to bridge the gap with drinks like an Old Fashioned Sweet Tea, bringing German and Southern elements together: “There’s not a lot of German cocktails that originated in Germany,” Grilli says.
For the new menu, Grilli left one drink from the past iteration but added all-new beverages (he didn’t want riffs, instead opting for totally new concoctions) Grilli doesn’t feel he needs to disrupt tradition. If folks need to drink beer from a boot, go ahead. But he’s also trying to get folks to try new things. He adds a little bit of German bitter Underberg, a popular digestif, to the Honey Bee, a gin drink. The Terrace Sour features Schwarzriesling, which has a cola taste. Most folks may feel it's a white wine by the name, but Grilli suggests pairing it with Funkenhausen’s confit pork shoulder or spicy fried quail.
There’s also a curious addition on the menu folks won’t find anywhere: a Kraut Back. The idea came from Steuer and friend Daniel de Oliveira, a veteran bartender who’s now an alcohol rep. Funkenhausen goes through so much sauerkraut in the kitchen, the two thought they might as well put some of the fermented cabbage juice in a little boot-shaped shot glass. It’s more refreshing than it sounds.
Funkenhausen’s Sunday Barbecue series will take place indefinitely, or until staff can’t take the cold any longer. Grilli is also preparing to unveil a new fall drink menu. He says temperatures will have to dip under 60 degrees for three-straight days until he feels summer is finished.