“There’s a garbage bag on the door!” Evan Funke laughs, describing his ongoing reaction to the Abbot Kinney pedestrians who meander in asking, “Are you open?”
He is standing in the former bar area of Joe’s, the long-lived Venice eatery that closed last winter after 24 years. It does seem like a dumb question as broken glass from the now boarded-up front window crackles under our feet. Glassware collects dust behind the bar, which is now covered in papers laid out as a sort of vision/Pinterest board of interior design plans.
“Imagine hip Italian grandma. Like if your grandma were Sophia Loren,” he explains, referring to the images that will soon become a reality when the interior of Joe’s is gutted to make way for Funke's new restaurant, Felix.
Wendy Haworth, the visionary behind Gracias Madre and Echo Park’s Winsome, has designed the interior concept, and Funke couldn’t be happier about it. “My cooking is very feminine,” says the burly, bearded and tattooed chef, explaining why the images laid out on the bar are so well-suited for his food.
Toronto-based restaurant group Gusto 54 is teaming up with Funke for the endeavor, which will include an approximately 100-seat dining room and a cocktail program headed by Brandyn Tepper of Hinoki and the Bird. Funke has been working on the new menu with his sous chef, Andrew Naffziger, whom he discovered in Oakland. After dining at Pizzaiolo, Funke made another trip up to scout out the young talent. “I went to his house in Oakland. I drove up just to eat dinner at his place. It was good enough for me to say [snaps his finger], ‘This is the guy.’"
Clearly, there is still a long way to go from here to Felix’s opening, which is now slated for this winter. But the excitement is palpable and the vision is very clear.
"I want to make this pasta program here the most comprehensive pasta program in the United States," Funke explains, pointing to Joe’s centrally located wine room, which still holds many dusty, not-appropriate-for-Felix California wines that they most likely will be sold at auction. He explains that a glass-enclosed pasta lab will take its place.
Funke, who made waves as the pasta-making master at the now-closed Bucato, is excited to discuss how Felix will differ from the previous concept.
“At Bucato, the pasta lab was shut off to everybody, we had glazed opaque glass, so you kinda could see that there were people up there. But this time, I really wanted to make sure that everybody really is a part of this bigger conversation about handmade pasta.”
If you want to know what exactly that conversation is, just ask Funke. He loves to talk about pasta. And when he starts talking, you'll want to listen because you’re suddenly transported to Italy. You're driving through Bologna stopping for Bolognese, then sitting at a cafe in Rome twirling cacio e pepe.
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Despite being a sixth-generation Californian, the chef has found a second home of sorts in Italy, where he has traveled, eaten and studied pasta-making extensively. But expertise in the technical practice of making pasta is not the only thing Funke wants to import directly from Italy to Felix.
“I have a completely different perspective about hospitality. What I want people to feel when they walk in to Felix is warmth, genuine hospitality, conviviality, and just have it be through and through an extraordinary experience, like coming to my house." And the buzzed about no-cellphone photos at the table rule enforced at Bucato will definitely not apply here. "Why would you cut yourself off to free marketing and advertising?"
Funke, who is known for being a diehard handmade-only pasta maker (his famous social media hashtag is #fuckyourpastamachine) will go slightly off-brand at Felix. Roman-style pastas such as spaghetti and bucatini can only be made with a pasta extruder. In order to serve authentic pasta and sauce combinations, such as spaghetti cacio e pepe and bucatini carbonara, Funke will have to use the extruder. “So that’s a fuckin’ bombshell!”
But overall, Funke seems more at home with the concept of Felix and the warm, Italian hospitality it is striving for. "This will be a greater expression of actually who I am as a person.”
1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; Felixla.com.