Flavor // You sunk my battleship!

The new Chatterbox welcomes the whole family

Forget the Mommy Wars. You know when the heavy artillery really comes out? When the conversation turns to kids in restaurants.

Otherwise reasonable people take up hard-line positions: “If I can’t take my 2-year-old to Per Se, she’ll never learn to appreciate fine food!” “I should never so much as hear or see someone else’s child in public!”

This is when I duck and cover. As a mother of two young children with fair-to-good table manners, I want no part of that battle. I just want an occasional tasty meal with my family without dishes to wash up afterward. In exchange for that, I obsessively monitor volume levels and the position of two little tushies in relation to their chairs; I sweep up crumbs, apologize obsequiously to servers, and tip like someone’s holding a gun to my head.

At the end of every meal, I realize I’ve been holding my breath.

When the newest incarnation of Chatterbox Pub opened in Southwest Minneapolis this spring, I finally exhaled.

Envisioned as a place where grown-ups can be kids again, Chatterbox is about as child-friendly as it gets. There’s something about an atmosphere where a 30-something fellow patron can shout, “You sunk my battleship!” that allows me to relax a bit. After we settled into the high-backed booth, I don’t think I hissed, “Restaurant manners!” even once.

The extraordinarily long menu — from all-day breakfast to burgers, wraps, pizza, and a smattering of slightly fancier entrees — overreaches a bit. You’ve maybe heard about Chatterbox’s pizzas, but I found them unimpressive: bland cheese and sweet sauce on an unidentifiable crust. Their burgers tend to be overpowered by piles of competing toppings. (I don’t have anything against feta at all, but that’s all I tasted on my Mediterranean burger.)

Where Chatterbox excels is on its kids’ menu — and on its wish-I-were-a-kid-again menu. Too many otherwise respectable restaurants try to pass off boxed mac and cheese and microwaved chicken fingers as a children’s menu. All we want are smaller portions of real food, folks! And that’s what you get a Chatterbox. Here the chicken strips and macaroni and cheese are made in-house and the burger and pizza are (for better or for worse) just smaller versions of the grown-up dishes. Kids also get a choice of sides that goes beyond fries or fruit: broccoli au gratin, green beans (kids love green beans), house salad, and soup. Here’s to treating smaller diners like real people!

For those of us too old to order off the kids’ menu, the good eats are still to be found where the fun is. In one word: frickles. That’s right, fried pickles. Eat them while they’re still palate-searingly hot and crisp, dunked in curry-spiced mustard. In fact, I can imagine an excellent evening with a round of beers and a request for your waiter to just keep those frickles coming. (Chatterbox has five of its own microbrews on draft, including a Belgian-style dubbel, and a unique collection of international bottled beers, as well.)

If you’re hungrier, go for the chicken strips on the entrée menu. Someone in that kitchen knows how to work a deep fryer. The beer batter is light and the chicken is juicy and hearty.

While you’re waiting (and you won’t have to wait long) check out the game cupboard and give a smile to the frazzled mother in the middle booth who’s finally relaxed enough to have a glass of wine while her kids play Parcheesi.