The Record

Eating Out on $50: The Chatterbox in Frankford

By Jeffrey Page

Published: Friday, June 29, 2007

“So say you and some friends are up at Skylands Park in Frankford shouting for a minor league team called the Sussex Skyhawks - or maybe looking at antiques down the road in Lafayette, sliding down waterfalls at Mountain Creek over in Vernon, or hiking up the High Point monument in Wantage - and you feel a little hungry. You could turn south for the ride home.

Or you could step into a showy time machine called the Chatterbox.

Try the Chatterbox. After all, how many times in life can you expect to order something called the Big Wazoo while seated in a dining room whose centerpiece is a gorgeous red ’66 Corvette - not a model, the real thing - where there’s a picture of Elvis in 1958 looking young and terrific in black leather, where you hear Chuck Berry singing about Nadine and Carol, and where Patti Page sings about losing her little darlin’ during the Tennessee Waltz?

And as far as $50 for the four of you is concerned? This is not a problem.

For our $45 and change, we got not only four tasty meals, beverages and a dessert, but also a quick trip to the Fifties and Sixties. In addition to that Vette, there was an old race car and a very sexy motorcycle to check out. The music ranged from Chuck to Elvis to the Beatles; Jerry Lee to the Youngbloods. I would have bet Springsteen was next, but I didn’t hear him. But this was still Jersey, so they must play Bruce at the Chatterbox, right? The scores of movie posters decorating the walls included ads for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” showing a vibrant Marilyn and “The Graduate,” “Psycho” and “Love Me Tender.”

No more skating

If all that’s not enough, be advised that on summer weekends you can park and be served in your car by a carhop. The Chatterbox’s carhops used to conduct business on roller skates, but the insurance company cleared its throat, and that was the end of that. Don’t you love insurance companies? Next, they’ll order the Chatterbox to quit playing Chuck Berry - something about his making the heart beat a little too fast and the soul feel a little too happy.

The Chatterbox is enormous. And round. And somehow with all due respect to our fellow Jerseyans in Sussex County, you don’t expect to find a place like it out in the sticks. In Paramus maybe. Or Lodi. But in Frankford? No.

Saturday night is cruise night, when people show up in their shiniest cars and fastest wheels from the Fifties. Some guys have a pack of cigarettes rolled up in their T-shirt sleeves. “People just drive over and eat and hang out for a while. It’s a lot of fun,” says Don Hall, the owner of the Chatterbox. On Thursday nights - motorcycle night - 800 bikers typically zoom over to the Chatterbox to show off their machines. The second Friday of the month is Corvette Night.

All this plus a menu that celebrates the backyard grill - chicken and steaks, burgers and dogs - but that also offers any number of salads and wraps, ribs, pierogies, barbecue and that Big Wazoo, which turns out to be a large grilled kielbasa served on a roll with sauerkraut. You want to spend $43? You can do it. Follow the numbers. Here’s what we had:

  • “Fazizzle” is a word that exists nowhere in the language, so you can give it whatever meaning you like. At the Chatterbox, a Chicken Fazizzle ($7.59) is not esoteric at all but rather breast of chicken served on a roll with lettuce, tomato, and onion, and a nicely tangy barbecue sauce. Why fazizzle? Why not fazizzle? The chicken was tender, the sauce zesty. Plus a refillable iced tea at $1.99.
  • The beef in the grilled steak sandwich ($8.99) was tasty, fairly tender, sliced thin and served on a toasted eight-inch roll that had been touched up with a little garlic butter. It was mildly problematic in that there was far too much bread for the amount of meat placed on it. Which is not to say they stinted on the steak. It was fair enough for $8.99. With a cup of coffee ($1).
  • The garden stacker wrap ($8.59) was a large serving of mozzarella, fresh marinated portobello mushroom, roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomato, and red onion dressed in a tasty basil mayonnaise. And a cup of tea ($1).

Blueberry Hill

With the sandwiches and wrap came a choice of creamy coleslaw, ordinary French fries, fresh fruit salad that was crunchy and cold, potato salad or apple sauce.

  • For the price ($7.99), you might expect the Oriental Shrimp Salad to feature microscopic crustaceans, a blob of mayo and some leftover bok choy. But this lively salad was an interesting melange of greens, Asian vegetables, traditional chow mein noodles, Japanese soba noodles and sections of Mandarin oranges with seven nice-size shrimps and a toasted sesame dressing. Plus hot tea.

We were at $38.15, took a long, hard look at the dessert menu and opted for reason and caution. For $4.99, we asked for four spoons and one Blueberry Hill, which was a warm blueberry crisp, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and blueberry sauce. It was delicious and sweet enough.

It would have been pure poetry if, as dessert was served, Fats Domino was singing his most famous song.

But it was the Beatles with “She Loves You.” And you know? That can’t be bad.”