OC’s big pink beauty has new owners, a new menu, and outrageous shakes
IN 1922 Chicago, Ivar “Pop” Coulson invented the milkshake when he added two scoops of ice cream to malted milk. Fast forward one hundred years and the milkshake is in the throes of a renaissance with new over-the-top flavors and piled-high toppings being served up all over the country. In Ocean City, another legend from the 1900s has been reinvented and is bringing the modern milkshake with it.
The Chatterbox Restaurant has new owners, a new adjacent upscale dining spot, new menus, and eight new go-big-or-go-home milkshakes. But from the outside, its iconic pink color and tall neon sign are the same, capturing the attention of those driving into Ocean City on 9th Street like they have since 1937.
“First thing everyone asks me is, ‘are you changing the color, are you taking down the sign?’” said Bill Bonforte, part owner of The Chatterbox. “No. The sign is staying, the neon is staying, but it’s going to be better, different food.”
Bill is part of a team that owns Green Eggs Cafe in Philadelphia, a popular breakfast/ brunch spot throughout the city. They took over The Chatterbox in May.
While breakfast and brunch are his forte, Bill wanted to add a night-time element to his recent venture at the shore. Enter the Betz Room, a separate restaurant on the east side of The Chatterbox where upscale dinners are served.
Chef Geno Betz – who spent the past 12 years working in Philadelphia kitchens, most recently as executive chef at Stateside on East Passyunk – created a seafood centric menu with Italian and Mediterranean influences.
“I brought my experience from everywhere I worked,” said Geno, whose culinary journey also includes stops at famous Philadelphia fine-dining restaurants such as Lacroix at The Rittenhouse and Le Bec Fin. “We have fresh pasta made in-house and a scallop dish that’s a fan favorite. It’s an elevated approach, but one I feel is fun for down the shore.”
The Betz Room menu is simple in its options (there are between four to six choices for each course) but not its variety. Dinners include chicken, seafood, and steak, vegetables, and pasta. The shared plates feature a burrata with Jersey tomato, radicchio, and aji dulce vinaigrette. Burrata is a delicate mozzarella ball filled with a creamy Stracciatella (fresh mozzarella shreds soaked in sweet cream) inside. There’s also grilled baby octopus, oysters on the half shell and a yellowtail crudo with stone fruits, jalapeno, and finger lime to share.
For lunch, The Chatterbox remains a casual beach grill and creamery, much like it was with previous owners, serving up cheesesteaks, cheeseburgers, salads, tacos, grilled cheese, a shrimp po-boy, and the like. There is an outdoor patio on the west side of the building where diners can enjoy their meal al fresco.
Or where they can sip milkshakes as the world goes by.
“We want to really run with something that we feel was missing in the
marketplace, which is those over-the-top, overzealous milkshakes,” said
Stephen Slaughter, the company’s chief operating officer. “The ones that are
Instagram worthy and that everyone wants to take a picture with.”
A perfect example is the Cookie Monster. It’s blue-colored vanilla ice cream blended with whole milk and Oreo crumbles and served in a mason jar rimmed with frosting and crushed cookies, topped with blue whipped cream (in the shape of Cookie’s face) and an ice-cream sandwich. It’s almost too adorable to eat. Almost.
Anyone who’s dined at Green Eggs Cafe is probably used to this wow-factor presentation. The red velvet pancakes deserve a title sequence of their own. They have chocolate morsels and strawberry mascarpone layers and are topped with maple syrup, chantilly cream, and fresh strawberries. The unique French toasts and benedicts also look (and taste) larger than life.
The Salted Caramel Banana Stuffed French Toast is three pieces of thick cut challah bread dipped in a crème brulee batter with salted caramel cream cheese filling topped with maple syrup caramel, bananas, banana chips, and Chantilly cream. These options and more are available for weekend brunch at the Chatterbox.
“We’re making everything from scratch; nothing is pre-made,” Stephen said. “We buy all whole foods and then we prep them. We feel that puts us on a different level because it shows on a plate. It’s something the customers can appreciate because you recognize it when you’re eating it. Go on any of our social media sites or our website and you’ll see tons and tons of pictures of our food.”
These options are available currently on weekends, with plans to expand the menu in the off season.
Added Bill, “We probably have more brunch business in the center city area of Philadelphia than anybody. On Saturdays and Sundays, there’s an hour-and-a-half wait, every weekend, all year long.”
Photos by Katelin Keane.
Find this and more in the August issue of Ocean City Magazine