EATERS DIGEST: Funk’s Franks, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing turns 17 and ‘All About Gin’

Chicago native Charlie Funk brings the Chicago-style hot dog to Santa Cruz with his food truck, Funk's Franks.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Chicago native Charlie Funk brings classics from the Windy City to Santa Cruz with his Funk’s Franks food truck, glass shortage shocks local wineries, plus this weekend’s beer-filled events.

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We made it to the weekend! Sun’s out, buns out, friends! Hot dog buns, that is. This week, I spoke to Chicago native Charlie Funk of Funk’s Franks about the glories of the Chicago-style hot dog — his food truck’s specialty.

Lily

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing is celebrating 17 years of organic craft beer on the Westside with a weekend of beer releases, live music and pop-ups. Meanwhile, local winemakers are suffering from a shortage of glass wine bottles in which to package their products. Customers could see prices rise on their favorite local wines, while some wineries are considering packaging in refillable bottles, cans and kegs like their friends in the beer industry.

Second Harvest Food Bank has a new CEO, Grubhub’s lunch disaster in NYC and cocktail classes at Venus Spirits — it’s all here in this week’s Eaters Digest.

News

Did anyone have “international glass shortage” on their pandemic bingo card? Further proof that we continue to live in some twisted sci-fi novel, food businesses here and abroad are struggling to buy glass in which to package their products. Last week, Santa Cruz-based Kitchen Witch Bone Broth announced that it will discontinue production of its organic broths and soups due to the shortage, but the problem is far more widespread.

Michael Sones of Sones Cellars, like other winemakers in the area, has struggled to find affordable glass wine bottles.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

This week, I spoke to Santa Cruz area winemakers about their struggles with the glass shortage. Megan Bell of Margins Wine, Nathan Kandler of Thomas Fogarty Winery and Barry Jackson of Equinox Winery said they and local wineries deal with long lead times on orders and low inventory. They also report that case prices for glass bottles rose by as much as 150% over the past two years. These wineries say they can cover the skyrocketing costs only so long. Within a year, you might begin to see the price of your favorite local wines go up. Some wineries, like Michael Sones at Sones Cellars, are offering alternatives like refillable bottles, wine on draft and canned wine.

Food delivery app Grubhub made headlines this week when a New York City promotion went haywire and left a bad taste in the mouths of thousands of restaurants and customers. The plan was to buy everyone in NYC and the tri-state area lunch by offering a $15 voucher during lunch hours. But the onslaught of orders overwhelmed restaurants and delivery drivers, leaving many customers hungry. Unbelievably, restaurants were not given a heads-up about the promotion, which, you know, might have helped.

After a yearlong, nationwide search, Second Harvest Food Bank has found its new chief executive officer in its own backyard, tabbing Watsonville native Erica Padilla-Chavez for the role. She will succeed Willy Elliott-McCrea when he retires in July. Padilla-Chavez has enjoyed a long career in support of public health and human services on the Central Coast, and the Food Bank is excited to have her come aboard. The public will have a chance to meet Padilla-Chavez at the Food Bank’s 50th-anniversary celebration July 21 and at an official meet-and-greet in August. Find out more about the new CEO at thefoodbank.org.

Eat this

In addition to the Sears Tower, Tribune Tower and Wrigley Field, Chicago boasts another iconic institution: the Chicago-style hot dog. Like these other feats of engineering, once you come face to face with a Chicago dog, it’s hard to look away. Yellow mustard, fresh chopped onions, slices of tomato, a couple of spicy sport peppers, a kosher pickle spear, fluorescent green relish the color of antifreeze and a dash of celery salt are all balanced on an all-beef frankfurter inside a poppy-seed bun.

Funk's Franks serves up Chicago-style hot dogs with all the fixin's.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

It’s intimidating, thrilling and somehow, it works. The Chicago dog is crisp and soft, spicy and sweet, juicy and savory. Upon eating a Chicago dog, you discover that each ingredient is integral to the whole. It’s like taking one of those architectural boat tours on the Chicago River where they explain all of the buildings, except the boat tour is your mouth.

Native Chicagoan turned Santa Cruz transplant Charlie Funk explained to me that the Chicago dog is a Depression-era culinary invention. Hot dogs were easily accessible, but they weren’t very healthy, so people “dragged it through the garden” and added whatever vegetable or vegetable-adjacent topping they might have at hand. Allegedly, they dyed the relish its surprising color to “lighten the mood.” When Funk decided to launch his own food business a year ago, he says it “seemed appropriate when we were facing a depressing time to resurrect this thing that got people through it back in the day.”

Funk knows what he’s talking about. As the owner of the food truck Funk’s Franks, he specializes in upscale diner food inspired by his hometown, including the Chicago dog. Funk came back to his roots after attending culinary school, working at Michelin-starred restaurants in Chicago and the haute Blackberry Farm resort in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and draws on his culinary expertise to elevate his hot dogs, fried chicken sandwiches, Italian beef and burgers. He makes all of his sauerkraut, pickles, ranch dressing and sauces, but imports his relish from the Windy City — some things you just can’t mess with, he says. The Midwest meets the West Coast on his dessert menu: The silky, tangy cheesecake is his friend’s mom’s recipe; the brownie recipe is from San Francisco’s Tartine.

The one thing a true Chicagoan would never, ever put on their Chicago dog is ketchup — but Funk says he doesn’t mind if you do. I say, good luck trying to find a place to put it.

Funk’s Franks food truck (say that five times fast) has rolled on from Greater Purpose Brewing, where he’s been parking for the past four months. This weekend, find him at Beer Mule in Watsonville and next week at Beer Thirty in Soquel on Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. After that, find Funk Frank’s schedule on Instagram at @funksfranks.

Events

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing celebrates 17 years of organic ales this weekend. This brewery is near and dear to my heart because I had my very first craft beer — a Swift Street Amber Ale — at SCMB when I was a college student, and worked there in my early 20s. SCMB now claims the title of the longest continuously operating brewery in the county still under the same ownership, so let’s wish a very happy birthday to this grande dame of local craft beer and a hearty congratulations to owners Emily Thomas and Chad Brill. The festivities began Thursday night and continue through the weekend with beer releases, pop-ups and live music every night. See the full schedule of events at scmbrew.com.

Venus Spirits soon hosts two cocktail classes taught by veteran bartender Lindsay Eshleman. The first class, on tequila and agave spirits, happens Wednesday, and it’s already sold out. If you hurry, you might be able to grab a ticket to the “All About Gin” class on Wednesday, June 22. In addition to a distillery tour, spirit flight and guided tasting, Eshleman will guide guests through the distilling process, gin variations and a hands-on cocktail-making experience. Venus Spirits’ Lauren Long assures me that more dates will open soon. Tickets are $60 per person and can be purchased at venusspirits.com.

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