No matter how many times I visit Chatterbox Pub in St Paul, I marvel at the large mirror-tiled disco ball in the center of the room. They had me at glitter!
I arranged a meeting with owner Steve Miller, manager Michael Deranek, and Chef Todd Tomanek. It was like sitting down with family, because my partner, Chad, and I dine there a lot.
I ordered a glass of Carmen Merlot from Chile ($6 a glass or $24 a bottle). It’s my favorite red—soft and silky, with bright berry fruit and distinctive black pepper flavors.
I hadn’t eaten up to that point, so I ordered a plate of Roasted Garlic Cheese Bread ($6.95)—incredible toasted focaccia bread, brushed with herb-infused olive oil, and an added layer of slow-roasted garlic, Parmesan, and mozzarella. It’s served with the famous house recipe of chunky marinara on the side—certainly not canned marinara, but an extraordinary recipe prepared on a special day each week.
The decor of all three Chatterbox Pub locations in the Twin Cities is classic retro. If you detect the Goodwill Stores being low on kitsch, this trio is the cause. I swear that my mother’s Home Interior Party wall hangings are now on display at the 800 Cleveland Avenue venue in Highland Park, St. Paul.
Maybe that’s why I feel so at home. With decor from the ’60s and ’70s, unique foods found nowhere else, and the Saturday morning cartoon The Jetsons playing on multiple televisions, I’m childish and happy. When my plate is empty, all I consider is going outside to play.
The food began to arrive by the platters. First up was the “Oh, My Gawd!” Totally Pesto! Gourmet Bistro Pizza (7” $9.95 or 13” $19.75). It’s covered in a special parmesan pesto sauce, topped with sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, and mozzarella cheese. All Chatterbox Pub Gourmet Bistro Pizzas are made with garlic-herbed focaccia crust—light and fluffy, flavorful in the middle and lightly crispy on the outside. Everything is made from scratch. Even the artichoke hearts are marinated onsite. Just like home.
I’m a meat-and-potato man from North Dakota, so a plateful of seasoned sweet-heat Jamaican Jerk Ribs ($12.95 single plate or $16.95 all-you-can-eat) was right up my alley. It was served with sides of roasted red pepper mashed potatoes, buttermilk coleslaw, and a very addictive jalapeño corn muffin. My hands and lips became as hot and saucy as a Tennessee Williams play, so Deranek threw several Handi Wipes my way to get me decent for the next dish.
I listed it as one of the Best Comfort Foods in the Twin Cities last year in Lavender, and it still is: Build Your Own Mac and Cheese ($10.95). Starting with a creamy cheddar macaroni and cheese, you can choose broccoli, bacon, ham, chili, mushrooms, black olives, Italian sausage, spinach and artichoke dip, or grilled peppers and onions. On the side is a herby hunk of focaccia bread. I order mine with everything but the chili and the grilled peppers and onions—really. With a bottle of wine, you’re set all afternoon or all evening, and you don’t even need a date.
I was a bit thirsty, so I ordered from the Chatterbox Speakeasy lager selection. I picked a Thongue Emotion lager ($3 mug or $5 tall glass), which is incredibly smooth, and has lots of spirit.
A beautiful Spinach and Artichoke Egg Skillet Breakfast ($6.75) arrived at the table. It was picturesque—covered with spinach and artichoke dip, topped with fresh tomato and feta cheese, cooked in a cast iron skillet, and accompanied by green onion hash browns and toast. Chatterbox Gourmet Breakfasts are served at the Highland Park location only.
Some of the many other features at Chatterbox: banquet rooms, Sunday Morning Breakfast Brunch, specialty drinks, wine, incredible desserts, and hundreds of board and electronic games. Check out the events calendar online. You can’t miss DJ Bingo!
Miller and his wife opened the first Chatterbox Pub in a former speakeasy at 2229 East 35th Street in Midtown Minneapolis.
As Miller recalls, “The place was rundown, but my wife and I redid it ourselves in six days. Once we opened, we had great support from the neighborhood. It was a great experience”—so much so that he became treasurer of the neighborhood organization.
A new location is opening at 4501 France Avenue South, Minneapolis, at the end of October.
Chatterbox Pub—no matter which venue—is a sensation. To paraphrase the 1976 movie musical Tommy, once you visit, your senses never will be the same.
For more information, call (651) 699-1154 (St. Paul location), or visit www.ChatterboxPub.net.
John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, private events, and culinary vacations to Italy and the Caribbean. Visit www.GardenCounty.info. Check out his “Word of Mouth” Blog under Extras at LavenderMagazine.com.