Here is some of the nation’s best fried chicken. Each piece, dark or white, is encased in an envelope that vigorously crunches then offers rapturous chew, all the while radiating the ecstatic flavor combo of chicken fat and pepper. The menu calls it hot and spicy; but it is comfort food, nowhere near the incendiary heat levels of Nashville hot chicken. Other than catfish a couple of nights a week, chicken is Gus’s only entree; any pieces are available in any combination; side dishes include spicy baked beans, creamy cole slaw, fried rice (!), fried okra and spiced French fries.
Even if you are a culinary purist who considers fried green tomatoes and fried dill pickles a novelty more than a necessary regional dish, you should try Gus’s. The pickles in particular are transcendent, maintaining al dente character inside a crunchy coat which, like that on the chicken, is an elegant balance of spice and lusciousness.
Dining at Gus’s is an adventure, that’s for sure. On a ravaged street the wrong side of Beale, it regularly posts a security guard on the sidewalk so that visitors will feel safe between car and front door. The inside, where mismatched chairs are arranged around a couple dozen tables topped with miscellaneous checked easy-wipe tablecloths, it seems like a chaotic madhouse as customers mill around near the door waiting for their turn to sit. Once seated, you will deal with a staff who are nothing but courteous and efficient.
Note: as of Summer, 2018, there are twenty-four Gus’s locations around the country. It’s a good bet there will be more.
In Memphis, when people talk about Gus’s they get a dreamy look on their faces and I could swear that I can see them salivating at the thought of his fried chicken. After having tasted his chicken, I share their faraway look and their anticipation.
The chicken is hot and juicy with a crispy and spicy crust. I know that there is no such thing as the “Best Fried Chicken,” but while I am eating it I could easily imagine that this is it. The coleslaw is a sweet rendition of this venerable side, but it was a good version, not so sweet that you thought you were eating cabbage for dessert.
While we waited for the chicken, we had fried dill pickles and fried green tomatoes. The crust is a bit thick on both of these but they are delicious, served piping hot; tart and tangy pairs extremely well with the slight sweetness of the batter.
Sweet tea and beer are available for your pleasure.
This was our second visit to Gus’s and it is on our list of places we must visit when we are in Memphis.