There are many things that I love about the North Country. The lush summers, the ethereal snow-muffled winters, the abundance of outdoor activities, and of course, some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. But I have always, always missed seafood.
For years I’ve bemoaned the difficulty of finding fresh, delicious seafood in the North Country. I had my hopes raised with talk of a seafood truck a little while back; only to have them cruelly dashed when I found out the fish truck was now defunct. I transported dozens of cans of canned wild salmon in my suitcases when returning after holidays at home, hoarded tins of olive-oil packed sardines for bi-weekly pick-me-ups.
And all the while, Chip’s Place was just down the road.
I heard of Chip’s Place through a former professor, Paul Graham, who visits frequently for his seafood fix. Instantly intrigued, I’d been trying to make a trip out to its address in Hannawa Falls for weeks, and finally succeeded this past weekend.
At first glance, Chip’s Place seems like your average gas-station-slash-convenience-store. But the unassuming exterior (long ago Hannawa Fall’s post office) holds a veritable treasure trove of prepared meats and fresh seafood.
Though you will certainly find your soft drinks and requisite convenience store food at Chip’s, the moment you take a closer look, you’ll start to realize this is no regular convenience store. Mixed among the potato chips are local cheese curds, preserves, and pickled eggs. A long counter runs along the far right wall, sporting a glass cooler filled with lunch cuts, fresh meat, and several containers of fresh fish.
I visited early on a Sunday morning, and the place was never empty. A woman picked up a few pounds of ground chuck, a pair of men ordered sub sandwiches (another offering); tourists came in for road snacks. There were three men working the counter, namesake of the business, Chip, included.
Chip has been practicing the art of butchering since 1978, “back when the meat was on hooks, but that doesn’t happen anymore.” In 2000 he opened Chip’s Place, offering basic gas station services plus freshly butchered, prepared meats, salads, and sandwiches. Then when Angelo’s, a local restaurant serving fresh seafood, closed a few years back, Chip worked out a deal with Sysco to truck in fresh fish from the Boston Harbor.
The meat and seafood selection changes weekly, even daily, depending on what the harbor offers and what Chip wants to prepare. Scallops, farmed salmon, clams, oysters, haddock, and sea bass were available Sunday. The oysters were 99 cents each, a real steal considering they often go for $2-4 apiece in restaurants. “Salmon is our most popular product” Chip explains, “we go through pounds and pounds of it each week.”
The meat comes from a variety of sources. The beef is from Iowa, the chicken the northeast, and the pork hails from Pennsylvania. “A local farm wanted to work with us, but the price was twice what I pay for what I have now. I didn’t want to price myself out of business” Chip said. What Chip’s Place offers that you won’t find in a regular grocery store are inventive marinades and rubs. Think Caribbean Strip Steaks, Honey and Garlic spareribs, Toasted Sesame Chicken Breasts, and Maple Steak.
While they’re not quite butchering “on hooks,” Chip’s Place does receive their meat in “sides,” or sections of the animal, and the sides are broken down on site. In the back space I watched a young man carve steaks out of a large haunch of beef. Around Christmas, the store offers shucked oysters, and sees a uptick in traffic during most holidays.
What Chip’s Place is offering is becoming rarer and rarer in an age of shrink wrapped and frozen meat, but Chip has no plans to stop what he’s doing any time soon. For more information, check out the store website.