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Queens business cashes in on fish and chips

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The Chipper restaurant that opened two months ago in Sunnyside looks like it sailed to Queens Boulevard straight from England.

It’s not that the ambiance is so faithful to the fish and chips shops across the Atlantic — quite the contrary, the restaurant’s airy, modern styling is a uniquely American spin on a British culinary tradition.

But the building itself resembles a ship.

Sitting at the end of a line of storefronts on Queens Boulevard at 42nd Street, The Chipper looks like the hippest addition to the fleet cruising on its maiden voyage.

The bright white facade gleams above a coat of blue paint that hugs the bottom of the building like a calm sea, while the top of the building is dotted with a line of circular lights, portholes peering over Queens Boulevard. The name of the restaurant — “The Chipper” — runs vertically along the corner edges, needing only a prefix of “H.M.S.” to perfect the maritime analogy.

It’s a setup that unites one culture’s food with another’s sense of style.

“We think it’s kind of a cool place to be, a very traditional food in a very contemporary setting,” said Paul Gallen, 31, who founded the restaurant with business partner, Andrew Morrison, 39.

The Manhattan duo opened the restaurant in December with the idea of importing to New York the fish and chips that are so entrenched in the menus of England and Ireland.

“It’s a taste of home,” said Gallen, an Irish transplant. Morrison hails from England.

“If you’re an American stuck somewhere in the Middle East and a hamburger stand opened, you’re gonna stampede the place. Fish and chips would be a similar icon in England and Ireland.”

For Americans unfamiliar with the fish and chips phenomenon, the simple dish consists of cod or haddock fried to a golden crispiness and sprinkled with malt vinegar, joined by a side of french fries, or chips.

Gallen and Morrison met via relatives who are close friends in England, and they share years of experience in the restaurant business: Morrison is a chef who has cooked in cities across the country, while Gallen used to head the catering service at the Museum of Natural History.

The inside of the restaurant is sparsely decorated, with blue counters wrapped around the walls and square black stools set out for customers to eat on the premises. Although the setup is take-out style, don’t confuse it with McDonald’s and other icons of American fast food.

“The food is of a higher quality than you’d get in a fast-food restaurant,” Morrison said. “You have the convenience of a fast-food restaurant with the quality of a full-service restaurant.”

They say the secret is not the recipe so much as the food’s quality and freshness: They import cod and haddock from British Columbia every day.

The most expensive item on the menu is the hallmark fish and chips combo, which runs $7.95, but other options include a chicken dinner box ($6.95), cheeseburger ($3.95) and batter sausage ($3.50).

Side orders range from coleslaw and Heinz baked beans to onion rings, portobello mushrooms and mushy peas — something Gallen describes as “an acquired taste.”

“In England, that’s a staple,” he said.

Indeed, while Americans who stop in to the Queens Boulevard storefront are rapidly catching on to the fish and chips delicacy, the pair realizes they cannot take for granted the loyalty of hard-core chip fans from England and Ireland.

“The ex-pats are the hardest ones to sell to because they’ve romanticized the idea of fish and chips back home,” Morrison said.

But The Chipper appears to have scored big with folks from the neighborhood’s bustling Irish community, who have visited the restaurant in droves.

“It’s great,” said Mark Atkins, 38, a customer who moved to Woodside from Ireland four years ago. “It’s as good as any place you get — up there with the best of them.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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