Sunday, February 15, 2009


The Chatterbox Pub
4501 France Ave S

Sarah and I live withing walking distance of the original Chatterbox. We love how it feels like a basement from the late seventies or early eighties. We like to get tall Chatterboxes and eat burgers and sit on the narrow patio with our buddies. The Chatterbox is a bar designed for our exact demographic - the Atari generation. You can even play old favorite Atari games while you eat and drink there. It's not unusual to get distracted by crowds of people exactly our age showing off all of those Frogger skills they perfected in basements all over the city when they were small. However, the original Chatterbox has an unfortunate ventilation problem, which even though it has improved over the years, especially in light of the smoking ban, still forces you to leave the 'Box with remnants of it on your clothes and in your hair. No problem. Just take a shower when you get home and have that one outfit you wear to the Chatterbox and wrap it in plastic or dump it in the washer as soon as you possibly can after you get over that tall Chatterbox.

Well, these abatement measures are too much for Rachael, so she's the one who suggested that we try the new Chatterbox at 45th and France this morning. I noticed first that, much like the Chatterbox branch in St. Paul, this place is part of a strip mall. Both of the Chatterbox branches have less basement charm of the original. I hate to sound like a snob (or do I?), but the old garage sale couches and outdated video systems look somewhat ridiculous hooked up to modern flat screen TVs. Like the place in St. Paul, the Linden Hills one is crawling with children. It's not the hip, singles hang-out that our neighborhood place is. So the trade-off: You drive farther to eat surrounded by short people in a strip mall with a much less-authentic rec-room feel, but you don't come home with grease in your hair. Doesn't seem like a fair trade to me, but I may just be loyal to my neighborhood bar, indoor air pollution and all.

As for food, well, I've never loved Chatterbox food all that much. Too bready are their burger buns. Too salty are their fries. Too expensive are their checks. You're paying for the atmosphere more than you are for the food. Case in point, $2.25 for a cup of coffee. Bottomless, but still. It's served in a clear mug (which irritates more than one breakfast club member, but not, strangely, me), and it tastes not nearly good enough to cost almost twice as much as it should. I'm actually happy to pay for the Chatterbox atmosphere, when the Chatterbox atmosphere is people my age playing board games and geekily showing off their outdated video game skills. I'm less happy to pay to watch other people's children eat breakfast or zone out to video games while their parents eat.

Which is not to say that I pay for Breakfast Club outings, but anyway...

So, we had two orders of steak and eggs. ("How is the steak?" "Ehh. OK.") We had two hashes, one chicken and one roast beef. The chicken one looked better than the beef. ("Do you want a box for that [nearly full plate of food]?" "Oh, no that's OK." "Are you done with it?" "Yep.") Sarah had something called cheesy goodness. It arrived looking cheesy and good. Beau and Judy had a couple of sausage breakfast sandwiches served with sweet potato fries. The sweet potato fries were easily the hit of the table. Fingers swooped in for tastes. The fries were crispy and tasted like something you might get at the State Fair. They prompted a discussion: Do you eat them with ketchup? Do you eat them with mustard? Do you eat them on a boat? Do you eat them with a goat?

My favorite part of the meal was my buttermilk biscuit. It was actually all I wanted to eat after a bite or two of hash. I should have just ordered some biscuits and honey. What was I thinking?

OK, onto the grades.

Beau ~ breakfast sandwich with sweet potato fries ~ B ~ He wanted to give it a higher grade, but by the end his stomach felt like it was going to explode. He liked his fries.
Judy ~ same as Beau ~ C ~ She didn't like the sausage. She did, however, have a strawberry mimosa which she enjoyed, but she'd been up all night on call, and if she's not sleeping right now, I'd eat a whole plate of hash.
Rachael ~ chicken hash ~ B- ~ Didn't taste good. Too heavy. She liked the biscuit and Beau's fries. I for one have never seen Beau share fries, so he must kind of like her.
Alex ~ beef hash ~ C+ ~ The fries were good. The biscuit was good. After a bite or two, the hash was not so much what I wanted to eat.
Jimmy ~ steak and eggs ~ C
Sarah ~ Cheesy Goodness Frittata ~ B- ~ Too heavy.
Perley ~ steak and eggs ~ C (with a B+ for the atmosphere because he likes games.)

Perley's line about his meal resonated with more than one of us. He said that his grade went down the more of it he ate. You could argue that a club full of adults should know their own limits. Or you could argue that a restaurant like the Chatterbox needs to lighten up a little bit on the breakfast so we can leave ready to tackle the day instead of wanting to head right back to bed.

P.S. While I am aware that the Linden Hills location is technically in Minneapolis, if you're going to park your SUVs and minivans out front, I'm going to call you Edina. It's only fair.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hair of the Bulldog

Today's post is brought to you by Jill, a regular Breakfast Club member who has never before written a post for us. Please welcome her. We need more writing members around here, especially since Beau lives in Denver, and I have gotten so lazy about writing reviews of late.

Bulldog NE
401 E Hennepin Ave

There is nothing quite so exciting to our group as a new breakfast joint. However, an established joint expanding their menu to include brunch is probably the next best thing in the absence of the former. This is what had brought us to the Bulldog N.E. We walked in to the Bulldog N.E. expecting that the general public would be as excited about this new menu as we were. What we found wasn’t quite crickets but it was close. We helped ourselves to one of several open high-top tables-for-six and basked in the warm sunlight streaming through the large windows facing Hennepin Avenue. The Bulldog quite a charmless place but I suppose it fills a niche in Northeast by being neither a grimy dive nor a polka bar. And as Jimmy became involuntarily hypnotized by the large flat-screen TV that I’m sure has never strayed from ESPN, it dawned on me why this place was so empty: it was noon on Super Bowl Sunday (a “national holiday”) and we are in a sports bar while everyone else was out shopping for chips and dip.

We were brought menus and ice water. We all scanned the menu and all simultaneously either said or thought, “Where is the brunch menu?” My heart sank when we discovered it in the middle of the table, roughly the size of a 99 cent greeting card with 26-font sized words on it. I did not count the number of brunch dish choices but, if I were hard-pressed, I would say there were four. It took about 37 seconds for the group to contemplate their brunch choices and return to scanning the regular menu.

The lip of Alex’s water glass was dirty, and she had a hard time concentrating on anything else, understandably. I was sipping on quite possibly the worst cup of coffee I had ever been served, but then again it arrived in a clear-glass coffee mug, against which I have a prejudice. Good coffee never comes in clear glass coffee mugs. Why is that? The mimosas were gigantic and they must have been good because Sarah was acting uncharacteristically giddy, and even flirting with the waiter. Jimmy was still hypnotized by the TV showing an endless loop of college basketball highlights, a subject about which I know he cares little. Perley was also sipping on the bad coffee wondering aloud why anyone would patron a bar called Whitey’s. Judy was navigating her humongous mimosa and telling us of how difficult is was to give a pregnant dog an ultrasound, you know, with all the hair and all.

We began to order. I needed to go last because, upon hearing that the bacon-thyme maple syrup actually had chunks of bacon in it, I needed to make another choice. By the end three burgers, one BLT, a brunch frittata, and a plate of corncakes (with plain pancake syrup) had been ordered.

The burgers, all made with Kobe beef, were an enormous hit as was the BLT. Sarah gave her meal an A+ and would have given it a higher grade if it were possible (whether this was Sarah or the mimosa talking, we’ll never know). The accompanying French fries were also good. They seemed fresh cut, thick, and not overcooked. The tater tots were also good but everyone agreed that it was difficult to screw up a tater tot as long as your cooking oil was fresh. Alex did not make any direct comments about her frittata but judging from her 75%-cleared plate, she enjoyed it but not enough to exclaim so. My corncakes were okay but I guess I was expecting pancakes made from cornmeal not flour pancakes dotted occasionally with corn kernels. I always tend to order sweet rather than savory breakfast dishes but I really should steer away from pancakes. Like the tater tots, pancakes are not exemplary of a chef’s prowess. To console myself about the poor decision I had made I ordered a glass of prosecco which was easily the highlight of my meal, not counting the conversation about ultrasounding a dog.

The moral of this story is: if you are in the mood for a breakfast joint where you have a hard time deciding what to order because oh-my-gosh everything here is so good, go to Bryant Lake Bowl. If you are in the mood for a good burger and a large screen TV, by all means, go to the Bulldog N.E. because we don’t have enough of those kinds of joints around, do we?