229 E. 35th St.
Also Linden Hills and Highland Park locations
Remember way back to 1928? Me neither. But for a taste of that hard-partying, speakeasy era, stop in at Chatterbox Pub and step back in time.
For 85 years the Chatterbox has anchored its corner of East 35th Street with nary a wrinkle—same flag-blue walls and bronze starbursts on the ceiling, same black padded booths with 33 rpm record jackets above them, along with landscape paintings of dubious taste and vintage lamps that were a bad idea in the first place.
Speaking of taste, that’s the one attribute that’s been updated. Consulting chef Justin Greco brings the farm-to-table message to the pub’s tables, calling on locally-sourced provender as the building blocks for prideful scratch cooking: everything from soups and chili to a cache of sweet desserts by the pub’s own pastry chef to burgers ground and pattied by hand, from the all-natural Limousin beef Justin sources from Osceola’s Peterson Farms (the chef goes through close to two whole cows a week).
Oh, and the bar: It’s leaning toward 2014, not 1928, with 50 artisanal beers in the point-and-pick cooler, nine on tap, including five brews created just for the pub, and root beer, too. The seasonal list includes a swell 312 ale from Chicago, an apple-forward hard cider, and burly British chocolate stout.
Burger fans line up (and I’m staking my plate at the front of that line) for the Wild Bleu Yonder number, the most flavorful intersection of elite ingredients in the zip code. The juicy pattie comes stuffed with a mélange of wild mushrooms and topped with even more, along with generous crumbles of bleu cheese, an aromatic cloud of truffle oil and spritz of red wine-balsamic reduction. Plus a heap of slender fries ($14).
I’m a little less crazy about the tuna burger ($13), simply because they take a perfectly wonderful cut of ahi, which I could—I do—eat raw, and grind it up (“Well, it’s a burger,” Greco justifies). Just leave it alone and call it a sandwich, like the yummy-sounding pork and waffle number that reads like pig heaven on a plate. Anyway, the tuna is true-flavored and served with a nice little jolt of wasabi mayo as well as sweet-sour pickled onions. Chicken breast stars in the Hawaiian Luau sandwich, abetted by grilled pineapple, local bacon, lots of nutty Gruyere cheese, and dual relishes of sundried tomato chutney and cinnamon honey-mustard, served with sweet potato fries.
And let me put in a good word for the mac & cheese: a $12 build-your-own bowlful of Cheddar sauced-cavatappi to which you may add up to three ingredients, from pulled pork (yes!) to chorizo, from chili to exotic mushrooms.
The kitchen’s Hellcat Inferno salad (meal-sized, $12) has been around forever, but it’s newly-tweaked. It’s essentially an Inferno-sauced (read: emboldened with tasty peppers) chicken tostada upon a garden basket of goodies, dressed with ranch sauce and red pepper sour cream, along with avocado puree. Delish!
Just here for snacks? Got that covered, too: satiny hummus, house-made from local chickpeas, seasoned with rosemary and Parmesan to go with pub-fried tortilla chips. Hand-battered, hops-scented cheese curds. A soft pretzel gone wild, crusted in Hawaiian black lava salt and served with beer-cheese dip (apps mostly under $10). It anchors the happy hour’s near-giveaway winners like lobster roll, house-made characuterie, squash bisque, fish tacos, and sliders. Plus—I’m coming back for this one—a whole lobster for $12: Talk about charity! Drink specials too, natch.
And I haven’t even mentioned desserts (hint: homemade cheesecake). Or video and board games. And a patio, if summer ever shows up again.