When you’re told that a restaurant is supposed to be “fun,” there are a few things you might expect. Like giant murals you’re meant to take pictures in front of, neon signs telling you how to live your life, or an anthropomorphic mouse selling pizza next to a ball pit. But some places are fun without being quite so obvious about it. Funkenhausen, a German-themed spot in West Town, is one of them.
By Chicago themed restaurant standards, Funkenhausen is understated. It looks like a modern German beer hall, with wooden beams, some cuckoo clocks, and a bright open kitchen displaying old-looking cleavers and hacksaws. Music helps the atmosphere, with a just-loud-enough mixture of funk and hip hop playing. The crowd here runs the gamut from groups having a night out, to couples, to solo diners hanging at the bar - but what all these people have in common is that they seem to be really enjoying themselves. And, if they’re doing this place right, eating a lot of pork.
The German-inspired menu changes often, but one constant is that you’re probably not running off to a spin class (or any other vigorous activity for that matter) after a meal here. In other words, this food is pretty heavy. Like the French onion spaetzle (with mornay, caramelized onions, and pretzel crumbs), which is basically a big bowl of delicious German mac and cheese. And the excellent weisswurst, which is topped with a ham vinaigrette that should tip it over the edge into pork overkill, but somehow stays balanced. Speaking of killing, the cider-glazed pork shoulder with smoked onions and walnuts is such a perfect mix of sweet and savory, we want it buried with us when we die.
But some things end up going off the rails. Like the “surfen turfen,” which is fun to say but not much fun to eat. It’s scallops and pork belly, and while the meat is tender, the whole thing tastes too acidic because of the pickled quince, mustard, and kraut puree all sharing space on the plate. And dishes like the roasted sweet potato have so much extra stuff (like pickled mushrooms, mustard green pistou, apple chips, and caramel) that overall there’s just too much going on. Luckily, there are enough strong options on the menu to counteract the misses, and at the very least, the misses are still interesting.
We have to admit, Funkenhausen is a pretty silly name. And considering that they named their brunch menu “Funkenbrunchen,” we’re pretty sure they know it. But that’s a good indicator of the overall feeling of this restaurant - self-aware, not too serious, and kind of funny. That attitude, combined with some very good food, makes this place fun without feeling forced or contrived. So as long as you can say “Funkenhausen” with a straight face, suggest it for the next dinner where you want to have a really good time, and not feel pressure to pose in front of a giant mural of a schnitzel with wings.
Garlicky Pretzel Knots
These are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and come with a beer cheese and white barbecue sauce. You want them.
French Onion Spaetzle
We’ve had a couple versions of the spaetzle here, and this one is our favorite. It’s what we want to eat in the Alps, while we stay in the lodge and watch other people ski. The mornay sauce makes it similar to a mac and cheese, and the caramelized onions give it some nice sweetness.
This is a delicious stew of braised rabbit, lardons, carrots, and cipollini with soft and pillowy dumplings. It’s what we imagine eating inside a cottage from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
Another cute name, but these are really good. It’s (spoiler alert) a play on Oysters Rockefeller, but with ham hock, creamed spinach, and chicharron on top of the baked oysters. Again, though, it’s not a light dish.
Confit Pork Shoulder
We love this. Instead of the pork shoulder being a fall-off-the-bone preparation, it’s firm, but still tender - kind of like the pork version of Tommy Lee Jones. And while the parsnip, apple, smoked onion, and walnut gremolata sounds complicated, like The Fugitive, it all comes together in the end.
The Weiss Wurst
If you live in Chicago, there’s a good chance you’ve had plenty of sausages. And the one at Funkenhausen is outstanding. It’s smooth and moist, topped with a ham vinaigrette we’re officially calling “ham sauce” and some dijonaise that rounds it all out. This is a must-order.
We’re not convinced that this isn’t a case of name before dish. The surf is scallops, the turf is pork belly, and it’s on a plate with kraut puree, spicy mustard, and pickled quince. The scallops are salty, and the perfectly cooked pork belly is overtaken by the aggressive amount of acid.
There are only about three vegetable dishes here, and the charred broccolini is a staple. It’s one of the more overtly Southern-inspired dishes on the menu - with a buttermilk dressing, golden raisins, cheddar, and hazelnuts. It’s fine.
Most of the vegetable-focused dishes at Funkenhausen are still pretty heavy. Including the sweet potato, which is covered in too many things - mustard green pistou (like a pesto), pickled mushrooms, apple chips, and a cider caramel that makes it overly sweet.
Sometimes there’s a schnitzel on the menu. Nothing fancy, just a big fat schnitzel that tastes really good. If you see it, try and capture it. Like Bigfoot.