When Regina Anthony found out the Chatterbox was for sale, she did a double take. It seemed inconceivable that this Ocean City landmark, which opened for business in 1937, was available.
But it was, and the wheels started turning in her mind.
“I wanted to have a piece of Jersey history,” she says. “I knew this restaurant very well, and I had spent many summers in Ocean City with my children. Our roots are here. I felt it was meant to be.”
So Anthony purchased the Chatterbox this winter and lovingly restored the restaurant, which reopened for business in late June.
“Everything had to be replaced,” says Anthony of the extensive renovation. “We took everything down to the studs.”
The exterior of the building also needed work. The architecture is Italian Revival, circa early 1930s, and had beautiful tile work that was falling apart, Anthony says. The color of the building, too, had been weathered from salmon to a “Pepto Bismol pink,” says Anthony. She wanted the color to be as close to the original as possible.
The work should have taken contractors at least six months to complete. But her team worked tirelessly to get the restaurant up and running within three months. “What we did in such a short amount of time was nothing short of miraculous,” she says.
Anthony is passionate about keeping historic buildings intact. “I don’t like to see them torn down and replaced with something modern. It was important for us to keep the Chatterbox basically the same,” she explains, adding that the sellers required the buyers to retain the name of the restaurant.
“We wanted to keep the name anyway,” says Anthony, who treasures the memorabilia in the 120-seat restaurant, which includes outdoor seating. “We kept the original mural on the wall. There’s an original menu, great pictures of Ocean City and the Chatterbox during 1937. These are precious and wonderful to have.”
As you might have guessed, the menu is in keeping with the history of the place. “It’s American comfort food, diner-esque,” says Anthony, who hired RJ Cooper, a James Beard award-winning chef.
“RJ is an iconoclast,” Anthony says. “He’s worked in high-end restaurants (in Nashville and Washington, D.C., among other places) and his philosophy is good American food done really well, which is what we do here. Plus, RJ has ties to Ocean City. His wife was raised there, and he’s known about the Chatterbox for decades. He knows about our philosophy of elevating the food, yet keeping the traditions alive.”
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Together, they crafted the menu and went back to the drawing board a few times.
“The first iteration was too much of a departure from the Chatterbox,” says Anthony, adding that all the food is made in-house, including the pasta. “We had to go back to the restaurant’s roots while not duplicating the original menu.”
For breakfast, you’ll find traditional omelets, pancakes and breakfast meats, such as scrapple. But modern twists feature lemon-ricotta pancakes ($11); a bananas foster waffle with whipped cream ($9); brioche French toast ($7); and an egg frittata, with Jersey tomatoes, goat cheese and basil ($10).
For lunch, the Chatterbox serves traditional burgers, grilled cheese, tomato soup, clam chowder, deviled eggs and an iceberg wedge salad. But you’ll also find contemporary cuisine, such as a New England lobster roll ($19); a rock shrimp roll with lemon aioli and pickled fresno peppers ($18); a crispy young cauliflower sandwich, with romesco and pickled vegetables ($11); and a hanger steak sandwich, with smoked tomato aioli chimichurri ($13).
Traditional dinner entrees include chicken tender Parmesan, a buttermilk fried half-chicken, and fish and chips. Modern takes are macaroni and cheese with lobster and crab ($18); jumbo lump crab spaghetti with fresno pepper, heirloom cherry tomatoes and herbs ($21); and reginette, ribbon-shaped pasta with wild mushrooms, peas and goat cheese ($18).
Desserts feature strawberry shortcake on a buttermilk biscuit with Jersey strawberries and whipped cream ($7), New Orleans beignets with salted caramel sauce ($6) and a milk chocolate-peanut butter bar with pistachio sauce ($7).
Anthony is passionate about making her customers happy and has already listened to their suggestions, one of which was lowering the prices on the menu.
“We get all of our produce from local farmers and our seafood from local fisherman,” she says. “We also use organic (products), and it’s a little more expensive. But our customers complained, and we heard them.
“We will continue to listen to them,” says Anthony. “If there’s something on the menu they want, we’ll add it. I’m happy to hear what they have to say and respond.”
The Chatterbox also owns The Creamery next door, a place where you can get homemade ice cream in a wide variety of traditional and unique flavors — lavender being of them.
T.J. Lavin hosted Nightlife at The Pool Harrah’s Atlantic City
Reality TV star’s from MTV’s hit series “The Challenge” and an American BMX Rider Thomas Joseph Lavin better known as “T.J. Lavin” hosted Nightlife at The Pool Harrah’s Atlantic City, NJ on Friday
Photo: Tom Briglia /PhotoGraphics