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Funky Lil' Kitchen
232 King Street
Pottstown, Pennsylvania
(610) 326-7400
www.funkylilkitchen.com

The Funky Lil' Kitchen is true to its namesake. It is certainly "Lil'" - accommodating a mere 28 patrons in the dining area and 18 more in warmer weather in the courtyard out back. And it is definitely "Funky." Housed in a former luncheonette, its charcoal-gray walls, white wainscoting, black laminated tables & black napery, purple accented arches & draperies, and bustling open kitchen seem to scream Greenwich Village or South Street from every tiny nook and cranny. Menus are presented on two sheets of paper - appetizers and entrées, respectively - attached to a clipboard. There's even a black and white blowup of the chef's dog chewing on a giant bone and an oddball clock with a crisscross of knives, forks, and spoons depicting the hours.

But chef/proprietor Michael Falcone's superlative modern American cuisine is the chief reason patrons continue to make the trek to Pottstown, an out-of-the-way former industrial community that is, like the legendary phoenix, still in the process of rising from the ashes. Some might be tempted to say that the food is a tad too modern for this neck-of-the-woods; and to some extent that may be true. But even out here in the culinary backwater, knowledgeable foodies appear to be beating a path to Mr. Falcone's door and, for the most part, he sends them away smiling and satisfied.

The amuse-bouche sets the tone: On one occasion, a thin slice of cucumber with a dab of tuna salad is fairly straightforward; but, on another, a shot glass filled with a wonderful elixir of melon and mint, which also, upon occasion, serves as an appropriate palate-cleanser between courses.

Appetizers present diners with a number of interesting possibilities. In the greenery department, the fresh peach and arugula salad with coucolo cheese ($8.25) is a marvel of contrasting tastes and textures. The peppery arugula is enriched by the sweetness of candied walnuts, peach slices, and a delicate cherry dressing, which, in turn, is beautifully counterbalanced by the saltiness of the cheese and morsels of crispy prosciutto.

Jack's Farm summer squash Parmesan ($8.00) is another seasonal starter that is definitely worth trying. Two thick but tender slices of squash are encrusted with a pleasing combo of panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. In turn, there is a gentle topping of mozzarella and tiara of micro greens. A smattering of crushed tomatoes adds a nice splash of color at the periphery.

And for a bit of Mediterranean flair, don't pass up the mélange of marinated olives ($8.50). Presented in a beautiful ceramic teardrop-shaped serving dish, they are nicely complemented by a rich slab of Taleggio cheese and slices of grilled baguette.

The only appetizer that fell short was the corn cakes ($8.25). These were really diminutive pancakes companioned by Jack's Farm heirloom tomato halves, field greens, and splash of basil oil. But the corn cakes I sampled were slightly on the dry side, and they needed a bit of pizzazz - the basil oil didn't quite cut it - to bring things together into a flavorful gestalt.

Among the entrées, the summer fish stew ($20.00) is a superlative effort. Tender chunks of halibut, tuna, and bass swim to table in a tempting broth awash with morsels of tomato, fennel, and leek and crowned with a luscious chickpea cake. And the seasonings, most prominently saffron and rosemary - both of which can be overpowering if too aggressively applied - are perfectly proportioned.

Continuing in the seafood vein, the sea scallops ($26.00) are also quite impressive. Sautéed to a beautiful golden brown, they are incredibly rich and meaty. Unfortunately, an epicenter of goat cheese and almond oatmeal makes a rather poor traveling companion. The scallops are rich enough of their own accord; what is needed is something to cut that richness, not add to it. The oatmeal is overkill. The dish is simply too much of a good thing.

Meat and fowl, however, are right back on track. The grilled strip steak ($24.50) is inordinately thick but tender, exceedingly flavorful, and done to a turn. A tiara of spinach pesto adds a nice consummatory note, and an addictive caramelized onion and Gruyere potato cake a sinfully luscious accompaniment. And the free-form duck confit lasagna ($22.50) is utterly delicious. Layers of al dente noodles are interspersed with morsels of rich duck, earthy mushrooms, spinach, and Boursin cheese. An absolute winner.

For dessert, try either the peach cobbler ($6.00) - just like mom's homemade peach pie - or the profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream and an embellishment of chocolate sauce ($6.00).

While Mr. Falcone does occasionally overshoot the mark, for the most part his cuisine is lovingly prepared, beautifully presented, and delightfully innovative. If you are at all adventurous of palate, the Funky Lil' Kitchen is surely worth a journey. An absolute gem of a restaurant tucked away in a highly unlikely location.

The Artful Diner
August 2007

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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