Ask the average American what they know about British cuisine, and their answer will probably include fish and chips. According to the UK’s National Federation of Fish Friers, there are more than 10,000 fish and chip shops in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These shops, which are often referred to as chippies, are the guardians of one of the UK’s most popular national treasures.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHIPPY
Fish and potatoes have long been staples of the British diet, but the idea of combining fried fish and fried potatoes in a delicious moveable feast seems to have originated around 1860. London and Lancashire both claim to be the birthplace of the first chippy, but there’s a good chance the idea developed almost simultaneously in both places.
The Industrial Revolution played a major role in spurring the popularity of fish and chips. The development of steam trawlers led to larger white fish catches in the North Sea, while the rapid growth of railroads made it easier and less expensive to ship the fish across the country. These developments resulted in affordable fish and chip meals for workers in the UK’s rapidly expanding factories, mills, and mines. Fish and chips also became a popular offering in Britain’s seaside towns during this period and remains a classic seaside tradition to this day.
THE CODFATHER’S BRITISH ROOTS
One of the best British-style chippies I’ve encountered on my US travels is The CODFather in North Charleston, South Carolina. It’s owned by British expat Adam Randall. He learned the business from his father, who ran a chippy in Philadelphia for many years. Randall opened the CODFather in 2016 to immediate accolades and moved to larger premises in 2018. Look for the royal blue building with the sign advertising “proper fish & chips.”
You’ll understand the CODFather’s popularity the moment you bite into one of its fresh North Atlantic cod filets, which are lovingly coated in batter and fried to crispy, golden perfection. If fish just isn’t your thing, you can enjoy the CODFather’s house-made sausage rolls and savory pies. Pie options rotate daily and may include Steak & Ale, Steak & Kidney, Chicken & Mushroom, Meat & Potato, Chicken Curry, and Leek & Potato. The CODFather also offers a take-and-bake option for its sausage rolls and pies. Round out your order with hand-cut chips (fries to Americans), a side of mushy peas, and curry sauce or gravy. All it takes is one visit, and you’ll be a fan for life!
Customers will enjoy the striking mural in the CODFather’s dining area, which features stylized depictions of the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, a Doctor Who-style police call box, and a red phone box. The restaurant also has a small pub selling “proper pints” and a pleasant beer garden patio.
ENJOYING THE CODFATHER’S WARES
In typical times, guests head to the counter to place their orders, whether they’re dining in or ordering carryout. On particularly busy days, the line may stretch out the door. Whether it’s busy or not, there’s always a short wait for your food because the fish isn’t cooked until you order it.
Of course, these aren’t normal times, and like most businesses, the CODFather has had to deal with the challenges posed by the coronavirus. The governor of South Carolina issued an order closing indoor bar and restaurant service on March 18. The CODFather already had a robust carryout business, so the transition to providing fresh fish and chips, sausage rolls, and two daily pie choices for hungry curbside customers was relatively easy, with the exception of the sudden burden on the phone line.
As part of the governor’s order, many restaurants were able to enhance their carryout services with packaged alcohol sales. As a result, the CODFather’s customers can pick up British favorites such as Fullers London Pride, Newcastle Brown Ale, Old Speckled Hen, and Belhaven Scottish Ale to round out a truly British dining experience.
A major reason for the CODFather’s success is that it uses only the freshest North Atlantic cod, which is delivered twice a week. Once the governor’s order went into effect, it was difficult for Randall to estimate the amount of fish the restaurant would sell. In mid-April, he noted, “Usually we have plenty of fish, but it’s expensive to purchase, so we have had to cut the orders back a lot just to play on the safe side.”
As a result, the CODFather ran out of fish several times in April and May, which meant closing the restaurant until the next shipment arrived. Once it became easier to estimate customer demand, Randall adjusted his orders accordingly, so shortages are less common now. The restaurant will always post a notice on its Facebook page if it does run out, so it’s a good idea to check before your visit, just to make sure they’re still frying.
A GRADUAL REOPENING
Moving toward something resembling normal service has been a gradual process. Randall tried to keep as many of his employees on the payroll as possible, but in early April he admitted “To be perfectly truthful, it’s rough out there. Sales are down around 60%, and we have some employees sitting home. But we are almost breaking even, and we are keeping people employed.”
The resumption of in-person dining started in early May with picnic table seating outside the restaurant. Counter service started again in mid-May, and the beer garden patio reopened at the same time. Limited indoor seating resumed the third week in May. During that time, the CODFather’s business gradually returned to a more satisfactory trajectory.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
As of this writing, the dining room and pub are both seating at 50% capacity, but the CODFather’s service options may fluctuate over the coming months, depending on what’s happening with the coronavirus. For example, curbside pickup was discontinued after counter service resumed, but was reinstated at the end of June due to customer demand amid the increase in coronavirus cases across the southern states. Check the CODFather’s Facebook page for the latest updates on frying times and dining arrangements before your visit.
Randall asks customers to be patient with his staff, who are juggling a sustained increase in phone orders, stringent sanitation procedures, and evolving state guidelines. So keep calm, stay flexible, and arrive hungry – you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful meal! No matter where you live, you can enjoy a small taste of the CODFather by purchasing logo its shirts and hats (see its Facebook page for details).
DON’T FORGET OUR OTHER EATING BRITISH ENTREPRENEURS
This marks my 12th Eating British in America column for Anglotopia. Over the past year, I’ve featured some wonderful pubs, restaurants, and shops in this column. Most of them are small, independently-owned businesses that are valiantly struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.
I’m pleased to report that businesses like Myers of Keswick (featured in my July 2019 column), the Queen Vic British Pub (August 2019 column), Balmoral Restaurant (September 2019 column), and Tina’s Traditional Tearoom (November 2019 column) are still with us, despite the challenging business environment. They’re all providing a variety of creative options so customers can continue to enjoy their delicious food, and Balmoral, Tina’s, and the Queen Vic have all resumed limited indoor and outdoor dining as of this writing.
The Queen Vic’s new “Keep Calm and Carryout” t-shirt, pictured above, provides the perfect motto for the times we’re living in (you can order one on the Queen Vic’s website). Please support these and other independent businesses as often as you are able so that we can enjoy them for years to come!