The unhappy tale of Chatterbox's happy hour lobster

Chatterbox - Highland Park

The Chatterbox Pub unveiled a new happy hour menu two months ago. It included new food and drink specials, as well as $2 off everything on their regular beer and wine list.

Much of the new menu is familiar happy hour fare: chili cheese fries, pork sliders, pub pretzels. But at the Highland Park and Linden Hills locations, one new item stands out -- a whole live lobster for $14.99.

Yup. A whole live lobster. For happy hour. At the Chatterbox.

Too good to be true? We checked it out.

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Most regulars at any of the Chatterbox locations will agree it's largely the atmosphere that brings them in. Old-school video games from Atari to Nintendo, as well as board games and regular bingo and trivia nights contribute to the mom's basement, kitsch aesthetic.

So it seemed a bold choice for Chatterbox to introduce a whole live lobster -- what many consider a high-brow food item -- to a menu otherwise dominated by pub fare. Indeed, in flavor, price, and portion, everything else we tried stacked up: the house-made pub pretzel, in particular got moans and thumbs up all around.

But the lobster...

Dawn Brodey
The crustacean in question.

It looked, tasted, and smelled rather sad. The tail was tough and rubbery and the meat from the claw was questionable enough to be left unfinished by our party of four. Even dipped in butter -- butter! -- the lobster meat was declined by all. We asked management if the whole live lobster was, in fact, alive recently, and we were assured that the whole lot of them are brought in stunned and are kept alive in the cooler until boiled. A replacement lobster was declined in favor of another sake bloody mary -- which was delicious.

Dawn Brodey
A sure thing: The Sake Bloody Mary.

Management didn't seem terribly surprised by our disappointing lobster experience, but they insisted that ways to improve the preparation of the lobsters are "in discussion."

A member of the dining party later commented, "How good could it have been?"

And maybe he was right. Perhaps ordering a live lobster from a restaurant with no water tank should have knocked our expectations down a peg.

But so be it. New and unexpected offerings are what keep the culinary scene interesting around here. May the risks continue, and in the meantime, go for the Chatterbox pub pretzels with all the gusto of a hungry pack of teens in mom's basement. Leave the lobster for another time and place.

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