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Fanwood Chippery is Back in Business

Oh' Brian's Brian Walter re-opens landmark eatery.

The long-awaited return of Fanwood's landmark Seafare Chippery is finally over: the new Chippery, under the ownership of Oh' Brian's chef/co-owner Brian Walter, had its soft opening last week. 

Walter says it was three years ago when he decided to rehab the Chippery. 

"I've grown up eating here," says Walter, who lives in Fanwood and is originally from Scotch Plains. "My father would bring home food from the Chippery for us. I think it's the same story a lot of us in Fanwood share. We have the train station, we have the Chippery – it's all of ours, I'm just manning it right now."

Walter says seeing the circa-1970 South Avenue business so rundown, "although that added to a lot of it’s charm," was a shame. 

"We were one of the people bidding on the property, but we were the only ones who wanted to keep it the original Chippery, so I think we had that in our favor," he says. The business is a joint venture between Walter, his parents, and family friend Deanna Poll.

And keeping close to the original is no easy task. Though he's a multi-business owner and seasoned chef – who worked in NYC for 10 years with big names like Mario Battali, Luc Pasquier and Daniel Or – manning the Chippery could be Walter's toughest gig yet: He is painfully aware of the pressure he faces to get the batter, the fish and the chips to taste just like they did when he was a kid. 

"To hold the reins here is an incredible honor," he says. "I know the pressure is on me. I know I’m under a microscope."

The key to the fish, he says, is using a quality fillet – Atlantic white cod, which arrives fresh daily, not frozen. 

"It's the best on the planet," says Walter. "It's more expensive, which is why a lot of other places don't use it. For three years, we tried every place around and there were only two I would even consider edible. Don’t think your customers are that stupid and you are that smart, when it comes to price over quality."

The batter, which Walter bought the rights to, is also original – though it had to be recreated by food chemists and he had to order 2,500 pounds of it at a time. Because the batter is formulized, it's consistent every time, he says.

"It's a flour-cornmeal mix and it has a beautiful golden brown color," says Walter. "With the sweetness of the corn it works really well with the cod. It's an awesome batter and it's a privilege to have it. Anything we dip in it – corn dogs, jalapeno poppers – comes out awesome."

For frying, Walter goes with peanut oil. 

"It's 100 percent trans-fat free and it's what they've always used," he says.

Each piece of fish features a quarter pound of cod, and the servings come from one piece with chips, tartar sauce and coleslaw (the Cabin Boy - $6.95) and two pieces (the Regular - $9.95), all the way up to family-size (the eight-piece Cruise Pail - $27.95).

The menu also features the fish on a Breadsmith sub roll (made specially for the Chippery) with cheese and tartar sauce – the Fishwich – plus, a Chickwich, batter-dipped hotdogs, and batter-dipped veggies (zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms and jalapeno poppers, for now). 

Other highlights include two soups, which Walter says took 30 different recipes to get just right. The first is the Seafare Crab Stew - a tomato-based soup with crab, veggies and Old Bay Seasoning. 

"Like a Manhattan Clam Chowder, but packed with crabmeat," he says. 

The other soup is a New England clam chowder, which starts with a base of onions and bacon to make it smoky.

For sides, there's the clam fritters – "like a zeppoli but filled with clam" – onion rings, and, of course, the chips. 

"We're using the original round chips," says Walter. "I was considering changing them, but then I tried them again and they were awesome. They are originally from the 70s, too. They absorb vinegar and they're also great in the tartar sauce."

And recreating the original Chippery's tartar sauce was no walk in the park either. Walter had to track down the original producer, Bab's, who have since stopped making tartar, and convince them to make it for him.

"To get it to taste exactly the same took a lot of work," says Walter. "No one will ever realize just how much work."

What's not the same at the Chippery is the space. Walter had to stay in the footprint of the old building, since the business was grandfathered into a neighborhood that's zoned residential. He chose a prefab nautical-themed building that arrived in two pieces. (But before the new building could be placed, Walter faced removing two circa-1920s gasoline tanks from when the property was a truck stop – a surprise uncovered during construction, which set back the opening.)

Inside the small dining area Walter decided to keep it simple, with light blue walls and wood tables, calling the usual net-and-buoy decor at seafood restaurants "so goofy." On one of the walls are framed photos of his wife's father, fishing on ships in Bulgaria. 

For now, the Chippery is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week and will likely be open from 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. till 9 p.m. next week. Because so much of the business is take-out, it can get busy and Walter advises customers to call in their orders ahead. He's planning a grand opening in January and hopes to approach the planning board about adding outdoor seating in the spring.

So far, he says, the reaction from customers has been just what he hoped for. 

"It's been off the charts," he says. "People say 'It's exactly how I remember it. Thank you for bringing it back.'"

The Seafare Chippery, 401 South Avenue, Fanwood, 908-288-7741. Also: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Seafare-Chippery/310778499061345

READ MORE: 

Fanwood's Chippery Torn Down This Weekend

Fanwood Chippery to Open in September

Chippery to Return in March, Neighbors Express Concerns


The Cynic December 06, 2013 at 08:45 AM
I remember the controversy this place created when it first opened many years ago. A restaurant not located in a residential area (not a business district) that stunk up the whole neighborhood with the smell of fried food. All the years when I would drive by the location I would always think.....too bad for all the surrounding families and how did the town zoning board allow this to happen. When it closed down I thought it was a good thing......and that surely the town would not permit such a thing to happen again. Technology that can eliminate such odors (and emissions)....is used by Burger King and others. I hope the re-opening of this place does not stink up the neighborhood again.
geoeag December 06, 2013 at 09:31 AM
Place looks great food is awesome. Keep up the good work Brian. The town needs variety. Hell it could have been turned into another pizzeria or nail salon.
Ed Minall December 06, 2013 at 01:14 PM
I wish the new owners nothing but the best with their future endeavors. However, how did that architecture get approved? That place looks like something out of SpongeBob.
SPmom December 06, 2013 at 04:25 PM
Glad this place is back and better then ever. Brian you have done amazing things for yours and my home town.
gabriel spera December 06, 2013 at 09:23 PM
I called over and over again to order and no one answered the phone. So I went in person. When I placed my order I was told it would take 45 minutes. I left. If they don't have the on sense to at least answer the phone they will never getting business. What arrogance!
avgjoe December 07, 2013 at 08:44 AM
Apparently "never getting business" is the opposite of the what is happening there! It's comical that you would post such a self-centered point of view comment about a new local business in town that will be great for our community. The article indicates to me that there will be a grand opening after the new year and that the place is operating in a "soft opening" phase. Restaurants often do that to work out any "kinks" they may experience. The Chippery should applaud itself and the community who came out to support it in such large numbers just one day into having a sign on the building! Every business should be so lucky to have such interest! I'm sure there will be adjustments made, but in the meantime, I would like to post THANK YOU and GOOD LUCK.
geoeag December 07, 2013 at 08:49 AM
@avgjoe I couldn't agree more. Some people are just plain ignorant.
SPF Proud December 07, 2013 at 01:21 PM
@Avgjoe, well said. When someone takes on the task of reopening a beloved establishment, that is hard enough. But to read about what he did to prepare with all of the recipes and all of the detail, it is amazing. The effort put forth to give people back a part of their childhood and lives is astounding. This man clearly cares about this restaurant and this town. They purposely had short hours for the first two weeks to work all of the kinks out. We should support our local business owners. Especially the ones who have put their heart and soul into trying to recreate what once was a favorite of everyone. I have been in and the food is delicious. Brian, I wish you all of the success in the world. I know I will be back!
Louis Beckerman December 08, 2013 at 08:40 AM
Congratulations, Brian- your entrepreneurial spirit and investment has helped to further energize our business community. We enjoy your other restaurants and I am looking forward to dining at the Chippery. Best of luck!
Stephanie Labbate December 17, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Welcome back!!!!
Donna Blackburn January 01, 2014 at 03:18 PM
Wow - the new redo looks great!! Seems like you really did your homework!! Hope your famous chef friends get to stop by :) Many blessings and much success for the future!!!! I loved the old place also -- will try to make it to the new one -- live in Somerset county currently
David R January 13, 2014 at 02:11 PM
I worked at the Chippery in the 80s when I was in high school, and still remember it like it was yesterday. It was one of the most fun places I've ever worked, (though I did have to change my clothes in the garage before going in the house!) Thanks for bringing it back, and good luck.

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