Here’s a fun fact that has absolutely nothing to do with this piece: supposedly every entrance to the Mall of America is adorned with a mezuzah.
Here’s another fun fact about MOA: The Jewish owners of the mega-mall always like to have at least one kosher food option for its customers.
Up until recently, the only option was Earth Burger, a small stand lost in a sea of national fast-food brands and food court staples. It didn’t stand a chance, closing in November of 2019. It left a gaping hole in the MOA’s dining scene: no kosher option. What would MOA owners Triple Five do?
Well, it just so happens that they own another mega mall – this one in New Jersey and called American Dream. By the way, “mall” is becoming an obsolete word – hence why American Dream has no mall in its official name. And wouldn’t you know it, but American Dream is home to an offshoot of Chickies – the Teaneck, N.J., glatt kosher fried chicken restaurant. Chickies owner Reuven Mozorosky tells me that Triple Five asked for them to take over the vacant Earth Burger space and become MOA’s sole kosher eating establishment.
Opening a new business is hard enough…especially when the Minnesota and New Jersey markets are so vastly different. Throw in a global pandemic and those are the precise challenges facing Chickies as it attempts to gain traction in Minnesota’s largest tourist attraction. So what is Chickies exactly?
To put it simply, Chickies is kosher fast food – minus the cheese of course. And while you can get a pastrami sandwich or some chicken soup or even kishka (on Thursdays), the fried chicken is the point here. I feel a little like Bubba from Forrest Gump, but you can get popcorn chicken, chicken sliders, buffalo chicken wings, chicken sandwiches, chicken poppers, chicken fingers, a salad with chicken, and even a bucket of fried chicken (ala KFC). Regardless of what kind of chicken you order, you’ll also have no less than 15 different sauces to choose from for dipping, smothering, or dunking.
Before I dive into the food, it should be noted that Chickies is located in the original food court, sandwiched (see what I did there) in between Popeye’s and Sbarro’s. The stand is a bit subdued and they may need to better demonstrate what Chickies is in order to stand out from the crowd. Fried chicken sandwiches are hot right now, so this is the time to scream “WE SPECIALIZE IN FRIED CHICKEN SANDWICHES.” And while Chickies is kosher, there is no signage and no indication that this is the only kosher option in the entire place. This might work in New Jersey where there are multiple kosher options and a much larger kosher clientele, but I’m not so sure it will at MOA.
Two things that should work, however, is not only being certified kosher by the CRC but may also be certified halal. According to Mozorosky, the halal-certification is being worked on and, with the Twin Cities’ large Somali population, it’s a smart play. Again though, how this information reaches those who keep kosher or halal is key. At the moment, passersby will have no idea. Also, Chickies is offering free delivery of orders of $50 or more, or for a $7 delivery charge, to anyplace within a 25-minute drive of MOA. If you don’t want to go to MOA during COVID – an understandable consideration – it can come to you.
One very noticeable difference between Chickies and the rest of the food court options is the price of a chicken sandwich. There is of course the kosher meat markup, which is understandable if you know it’s kosher. If you don’t, you might wonder why the menu is generally twice the price of its competitors. With that said, I was surprised that a large chicken sandwich was $16. But then I watched it being made. It’s ENORMOUS – 14 inches, 4 chicken cutlets, and enough to feed 2-3 people. That too sets Chickies apart – and if it was up to me, I would promote this till the end of time! It’s the Mall of America – where large and extra-large are compliments. It’s a really good chicken sandwich led by the chicken – which is not always the case. Sometimes the chicken is overwhelmed by the cheese (obviously not here) or the bun or the sauces. But this one is chicken-forward and quite delicious. I tried the Cap’n Munch – has the chicken coasted in a cereal and pretzel mixture. This sweet and salty combo works well, especially with pickles and a sauce cocktail that complemented the crispy chicken.
The popcorn chicken is exactly what you think it is – little bites of breaded chicken that work with almost any of their 15 sauces. The honey mustard is my favorite for sure. I think my favorite item is the chicken fingers – also coated in the cereal and pretzel combo. These chicken fingers rival my favorites at Raising Cane’s – and being that RC ONLY sells chicken fingers, that’s saying something. I had some wings that were a little too heavy on the breading – but the sauces make up for it. I regret missing the fries as I only read after my visit that they are hand-cut. I have a thing with fries and generally, unless they’re hand-cut, I’d rather indulge in more chicken at a place like this. Chickies’ Teaneck location advertises hand-cut fries, but I’m not sure the MOA location is able to handle that kind of workload. I’ll get to the bottom of it for sure.
Chickies has some serious potential, but it needs to get the word out on its kosher and potentially halal status. It absolutely needs to market that enormous chicken sandwich that sets it apart from the other chicken sandwiches throughout the mall. Under current COVID-19 conditions, it might be tough – but at some point, I can see a costumed Chickies mascot parading around the mall handing out coupons or free samples. If Chickies can do these things, it could be a player. If Chickies isn’t proactive about promoting its uniqueness, I just can’t see how it will be able to compete sharing a wall with Popeye’s.