Proper fish & chips in Atlanta - finally
The authentic taste of Blighty
without flying 4000 miles
Ever since we moved Stateside 15 years ago, hubby and I have been dying for proper fish and chips.
Proper as in flaky, moist cod in crispy, golden batter with a generous portion of fluffy, deep fried chips, smothered in salt and malt vinegar, piping hot, wrapped in paper and traditionally eaten with greasy fingers on a day trip to the seaside or on the way home from the pub.
Of course, there’s nothing more British than fish and chips. Cheap, easily accessible, tasty, filling and comforting, this dish is a national institution beloved by Brits since the 1860s when fried fish was first introduced to England by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain. Charles Dickens wrote about "husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil" in A Tale of Two Cities and "fried fish warehouses" in Oliver Twist. By the 1930s there were over 35,000 chip shops across the country. Italian immigrants spotted the queues outside and, sensing a business opportunity, soon set up chippies in Scotland, Wales and Ireland too.
Fish suppers sustained morale through two world wars and helped fuel Britain’s industrial growth. The government bent over backwards to safeguard the supply of fish and chips, which Winston Churchill referred to as “the good companions” and were one of the few foods not subject to wartime rationing. When working-class diets were bleak and unvaried, fish and chips provided a tasty break from the norm. George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier declared fish and chips first among the home comforts that helped keep the masses happy and "averted revolution".
Even today, fish and chips are the quintessential British dish.
“Proper” ones, that is. Not skinny frozen fries with an equally skinny lump of catfish, oven-baked (or even, heaven forbid, microwaved) and touted as “British-style” in too many eateries on this side of the pond. Having had our hopes dashed so many times by this fake news, hubby and I had pretty much given up on ever finding the real deal Stateside.
That was until Chantelle Wright came to Georgia.
Originally from Wales and a lover of chips, mushy peas and gravy since her childhood days (she’s now vegetarian, so doesn't eat fish) Chantelle moved overseas with her family in 2015, finally settling just north of Atlanta. When her husband gave her a deep fat fryer for Christmas, amazingly she didn’t kill him. Instead her mission to bring authentic fish and chips to America was born. “There are so many UK expats living here, we soon became aware of a niche for British food,” she explains.
“I bought the restaurant in early January this year, expecting to open by mid February. It seemed everything was against us. One of my sons fell ill and needed emergency surgery. Once he recovered, we were ready to move along with the business; then boom - Covid-19 hit the world! This dramatically delayed our shipments from the UK, and also trebled our shipping costs. It certainly hasn’t been an easy ride”.
Despite the stress and setbacks of a global pandemic, Wright’s family chippy finally opened its doors in July, and their timing could be surprisingly spot on. The UK’s fish frier’s federation reports that the ’Rona has boosted business as people seek comfort food in tough times. It seems a chip supper is just the thing to cheer us up right now.
“Our opening day was crazy!” Chantelle reports. “We had queues around the building, across the road and in the next car park. The support from fellow Brits and Americans has been incredible. And so many people thanking us for bringing a taste of the UK to America”.
Rave reviews soon reached hubby and I, and with our summer trip home to the UK already cancelled, we were craving a Brit fish and chips fix more than ever. We ventured to the north Atlanta suburb of Cumming to try it out for ourselves and discover if Wright’s chippy really does do it "proper".
Just off the busy Highway 9 from Atlanta, a huge Union Jack flies proudly alongside the huge Stars and Stripes flag outside the restaurant, which is housed in a former bakery building. There is a covered patio area with tables and chairs for those willing to brave the Georgia summer heat and humidity.
Inside, the dining room is modern, clean and well organized for social distancing. In front of the counter, there’s a selection of Brit sweets and treats (Cadbury chocolate bars, crisps and biscuits etc.) for sale. But the main attraction, and the motivation for our 25 minute drive is the hot food menu, which includes steak & kidney pies, battered bangers and of course, classic cod & chips. Side items such as mushy peas, prawn crackers, pickled onions, curry sauce and gravy are also available. I would have loved a cuppa, but unfortunately they had run out of milk and sugar, so we opted for cold drinks instead as we waited for our food to be freshly fried.
And so to the million dollar question - are they “proper” fish and chips?
Well finally, after too many false promises and disappointments over the years, both hubby and I were absolutely thrilled. Everything about our “cod & chips twice” was perfect, and it all tasted just like home. Portion size was not huge, but it was good enough for me. It would have been lovely to see it served on nice china plates, with silver cutlery and even accompanied by a little pot of tea like I enjoyed in Luton last year, but due to Covid restrictions and much to Chantelle’s frustration, she can only offer disposable boxes and little plastic forks for now.
The Wright family certainly has a passion for “getting everything Wright”, as they like to say. Chantelle and son Kelzey trained with The National Federation of Fish Fryers in the UK, they use genuine British equipment and cook from scratch with only top grade ingredients. “Our selected varieties of potatoes and fish are the best of the best! I am a registered importer so all our chippy products are produced in the UK,” Chantelle tells me. She also has big plans for the future: “My vision is to open a new restaurant for each of my sons in the next 12-18 months. After this, we will roll out the business model across America for franchising opportunities”.
As we cleared our plates (erm, I mean polystyrene containers), hubby announced his official verdict - the best fish and chips he’s had in America. He even went back and queued up for a second helping!
Thanks to Wright’s chippy ticking all the right boxes, our quest for proper Brit fish and chips in the USA is finally over.
The Wright Chippy
101 Colony Park Drive