FUNERAL POTATOES, CHICAGO’S VIRTUAL MIDWESTERN COMFORT FOOD HIT, FINDS A PERMANENT HOME

Funeral Potatoes, one of a flurry of Chicago’s virtual restaurants born out of the pandemic, could be called a late bloomer as four years later its owners have finally found a permanent home inside the kitchen at neighborhood cocktail bar Moonflower in Portage Park.

Founders and chefs Alexis Rice and Eve Studnicka specialize in quirky takes on Midwestern comfort foods. They originally launched Funeral Potatoes as an “emergency contingency plan” amid sweeping hospitality layoffs in March 2020. After years of soliciting customers through online order forms with weekly food pickups, the duo will take over Moonflower’s food service. The debut — on Wednesday, July 17 at 4359 N. Milwaukee Avenue — will be followed by a ticketed launch party on Saturday, July 27 downstairs in Nightshade, Moonflower’s basement bar that focuses on fancy cocktails. Tickets should go on sale on Friday, July 12 on Funeral Potatoes’ Instagram page.

For years, Rice and Studnicka have amassed a collection of dishes they’ve longed to share with customers but aren’t suited to the logistics of their delivery-only business or a one-off pop-up format — customers picked items off a rotating weekly menu. In those cases, “there’s no refinement period and only so much you can do in terms of plating,” says Studnicka. “Being able to source ingredients from people we care about and create dishes that are representative of us that we can continue developing and refining is very exciting.”

The core ethos of Funeral Potatoes, a playful ode to the rustic culinary cultures of its founders’ small hometowns in the Midwest, will remain central to the menu at Moonflower. Dishes like Cornish pasties (renamed “driftless pasties” for the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin) are imbued roots in Studnicka’s hometown of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, touted as “the most Cornish town in the U.S.” It’s a dish “baked into iterations of my hometown’s existence,” she says.

Other options will include the Moon Dog (“We love a corndog,” Rice, originally of Byron, 88 miles west of Chicago, deadpans), a smoked kielbasa from Driftless Prairie Meats swaddled in cornbread beer batter and drizzled with maple mustard, plus kimchi ranch deviled eggs, and dill pasta salad with pickles from Vargo Brothers Ferments. They’re also striving to reconfigure the brand’s eponymous dish — a cheesy, carby, nap-inducing casserole — into a form better suited to Moonflower’s contemporary urban aesthetic, like Funeral Potato croquettes fried with a panko coating.

When they founded Funeral Potatoes in the early stages of the pandemic, a permanent location wasn’t part of Rice and Studnicka’s plans. “Four years ago, we didn’t really have a future in mind, we had survival in mind,” Rice says. “It felt like a gig — okay, hell yeah — we can make a little money doing this until we get back to our normal lives.”

As the years went by and some stability returned to Chicago’s restaurant landscape, the duo grew more serious about a permanent location, but the financial realities of dealing with landlords and contractors forced them to confront a difficult truth: neither founder was willing to take on a $100,000 debut for a retail space, Rice says. The two even started a GoFundMe in 2023. But it was a chance exchange between Rice’s sister and Moonflower founder Marvin Boeving — who happened to be in the market for a chef — opened the door to a less costly path.

Aided by a little Dutch courage, Rice’s sister “made” Boeving follow the business on Instagram, and days later, he wrote to Rice and Studnicka to set up a meeting. “When she gets tipsy, [my sister] becomes a great Funeral Potatoes salesperson,” Rice jokes. “Moonflower kind of fell into our laps. It was like ‘holy shit, this is the crux of getting what we want.’”

Funeral Potatoes at Moonflower, 4359 N. Milwaukee Avenue, opening Wednesday, July 17. Launch party on Saturday, July 27 downstairs in Nightshade; tickets go on sale on Friday, July 12 via a link on Funeral Potatoes’s Instagram.

2024-07-10T20:32:32Z dg43tfdfdgfd