Matters of Taste:  Evans’ Fish and Chips

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2022

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Fish and chips have been a grab and go British classic for nearly 200 years. The earliest references are found in Charles Dickens’ novels, Oliver Twist and Tale of Two Cities, while the original recipe for batter-fried fish was printed in an 1845 cookbook by Victorian chef Alexis Soyer.

Still, the origins are actually even a couple of centuries older. The chips, or fries, are actually from Belgium, and the fried fish arrived with Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugal. London’s first fish and chips shop opened in the 1860s. Chippies, as the shops are affectionately called, began as the working man’s grub, but crossed all class barriers in time.

During World War II, Winston Churchill referred to fish and chips as “good companions,” and recognizing the role the dish played in morale, did not ration it. As a capper, when the Brits landed on D-Day, they called out, “fish,” to which the response was, “chips,” as means of identifying an ally. It is a worthy legacy for the humble fish and chips.

The combo has staying power and created some iconic sway with Doug Evans. Owner of Jitters Lunchbox, which Evans feels simply fell into his lap, the longtime chef had set his mind set on opening a chippy. Evans’ partner and wife Melodie Platt is Welsh, and her appreciation of the dish and its practical place in a community were instilled by her father.

Evans Fish and Chips opened in late October, but word-of-mouth praise and pics on social media keep the bell on the red shop door dinging with new customers daily.

“I’ve been pleased with the reception of the community,” Evans said. “Everyone has been super kind, and we’re doing more business than I anticipated.”

Located south of the tracks in downtown Flagstaff in Primo Deli’s old spot, the shotgun space mimics a traditional British chippy. The efficient footprint is a bit cramped for seating beyond a short, L-shaped bar, but appeals to take-out customers. Patio seating is in the works. Decked in simple white and steel with sea blue accents and painted board menu with boat cleats, the idea is straightforward—choose from basic items or grab something from the display case and get back to other work at hand.

Like its UK counterparts, the shop also serves late night, post-pint clientele. Close to campus, it is also a growing destination for the college crowd.

This was a new angle for our mountain town, and Evans understood that. 

“This is unfamiliar cuisine,” he said, “so I approached it with a bunch of research, trials and taste-testing with people who know.”

Expats emerged and have stopped in regularly to commend the authenticity.

Evans Fish and Chips’ streamlined choices include the namesake Icelandic cod, shrimp, Mahi Mahi, battered sausage or chicken and chips. The Dorado comes from Evans’ two stints working in Maui, and though most ocean fish doesn’t lend itself to freezing, dolphinfish delivers. Pacific Seafood supplies. In addition, the display tempts with sausage rolls or pies in flaky pastry, which are ready to eat or can be reheated well.

Evans runs a scratch kitchen, and two local industry reliables operate the fryers and stir up sauces. Eric Richards, previously executive chef at Twin Arrows, also manages the shop. Adam Cockrill, with two decades experience of his own, is detail oriented.

Friends and family pitch in as needed, and Evans said, “It’s a bit of a dance back there, but I couldn’t ask for more qualified cooks.”

The batter for fish must be light and crisp surrounding moist, tender flesh. Evans worked to create a dry batch blend that can be mixed fresh as needed. Carbonation is activated with water for an airy coating.

The fries are thickly hand-cut from Kennebec potatoes. They are washed, but not peeled, to save the space and water necessary for a massive tumbler to perform the task. They are soaked, dried and fried at a low temp before the final fry.

Evans was unable to locate proper English sausages, so he stuffs his own. The handmade pies are filled with steak and ale, chicken curry or specials, like Kiwi mince and cheddar. Recipes from British cookbooks are responsible for the flavors, while mushy peas challenged Evans. Marrow peas are used in Britain, but it is difficult to find them or even whole, dried peas in the US. Split peas tend to puree, not offering the textured product sought across the pond.

The sauces complete the dish. Malt vinegar is the standard choice, but a lively tartar, creamy British curry or fired-up red dragon (a nod to the Welsh coat of arms) sauces are also available for dipping.

Unsurprisingly, the cod and chips is the bestseller alongside the steak and ale pie.

“People buy the food, leave, and then, return to tell us how good it is,” Evans said, just as a customer reappeared to rave about the Scotch egg and pies.