In an eye-opening gauge of fried chicken's popularity, a plant-based version will be the star of a new south Minneapolis restaurant from the brother-and-sister duo behind the Herbivorous Butcher.
"We're doing this mostly because then we get to eat fried chicken, all the time," said Aubry Walch. "It's the reason that we start everything. We're hungry, and we want to eat certain things. We want to eat fried chicken, a lot, and we trust that a lot of other people do, too."
Herbie Butcher's Fried Chicken is going into the former R.A. MacSammy's Elbow Room (735 E. 48 St., Mpls.) in the 48th-and-Chicago neighborhood hub.
The Walch siblings opened the Herbivorous Butcher (507 NE. 1st Av., Mpls., theherbivorousbutcher.com) in 2016 as a showcase for their always-expanding array of plant-based versions of meats and cheeses. The business grew out of a stand at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, and it was the nation's first vegan butcher shop.
The shop has always had a small ready-to-eat component, and that effort ramped up during the pandemic.
"That was one of our first reactions to get people in the door, and we kept refining and improving the fried chicken recipe," said Kale Walch. "There's a silent joy in doing one thing, and doing it very well. It's been fun, during quarantine, to whittle down the recipe until it's perfect. It's much better now than it was back then, and it was good back then."
For Herbie Butcher's, they're promising plant-based chicken strips that shred like the real thing and are finished with a crispy breaded coating.
"Extra-crispy," said Kale Walch. "Getting the breading right was almost harder than getting the chicken right. But the longer you keep trying, the more likely it's going to work."
The ever-changing list of sides will start with mac-and-cheese, coleslaw and biscuits with maple butter. Yes, there will be fried chicken biscuit sliders.
"We have a master biscuit maker," said Aubry Walch. "She's Alicia Landucci, and she's been working with us for three years. She's bringing her A-game. I've never had a decent vegan biscuit until I had hers. They're amazing, she gets that all-important flakiness."
Also on the menu: shakes and malts, made with full-fat oat milk and coconut milk ice cream, using barley powder for the malts.
"Vegan malts aren't something you come by every day," said Aubry Walch. "The taste test took us back to our childhood."
Sauces will include their version of McDonald's sweet-and-sour sauce ("Because I loved it as kid," said Aubry Walch) and an onion barbecue sauce that's served with the ribs at Herbivorous Butcher.
In another nostalgic move, the chicken strips will be sold by the bucket — with Tater Tots — in various sizes.
"Kale was born much later, so when I was a kid, there were only three of us, and that wasn't enough for a bucket," said Aubry Walch. "So I'm super-excited for this bucket thing."
The fast-casual operation will start with a takeout window, then add counter service and a few inside seats as the pandemic eases. It's a different setup from an earlier, pre-COVID plan.
"We'd been talking about doing a big fine-dining restaurant," said Aubry Walch. "We were super-close to doing it, and then the pandemic hit and I'm glad we had not gone through with it. For us, these micro businesses like Herbie Butcher's are really interesting."
The plan is to serve lunch and dinner, six days a week, and be up and running by late April or early May.
"By then, it'll be warm enough for milkshake season," said Aubry Kale. "We can't wait."