If I’ve ever had better fried chicken than I experienced at Gus’s World Famous Hot and Spicy Fried Chicken, I certainly don’t remember it. And I’m sure I’d remember it, right?
Friends, this is fried chicken perfection. It’s served hot from the fryer, flawlessly crisp on the outside, moist and succulent inside. Some people might approach the “spicy” part with a little trepidation. I’d say it has a slow, pleasing kick rather than a jolt of mouth-burning fire.
Nashville style hot chicken is the rage right now, with restaurants as high-end as Ritual and lowbrow as KFC adding versions to their menus as fast as they can. Popeye’s has always had a Louisiana style spicy variety. But it’s at Gus’s, founded in Memphis, where I’ve found the best balance of savory and heat.
According to Gus’s website, “Over 60 years ago in the small community of Mason, Tennessee, Napoleon “Na” Vanderbilt created something amazing — fried chicken that could unite a community. After experimenting for several years in a local tavern, Na and his wife, Maggie, began selling their chicken, sandwiched between two slices of white bread, out of the back door of the tavern.
“Na’s only son, Vernon ‘Gus’ Bonner, inherited Maggie and Na’s priceless recipe and the restaurant they worked so hard to build, literally from the ground up. In 1984, Gus and his wife, Gertrude, reopened under the now well-known name, ‘Gus’s World Famous Hot and Spicy Fried Chicken.’
“In January 2001, GQ named Gus’s Fried Chicken one of the top ten meals in the United States worth flying for. [Today] no matter how many Gus’s locations open or how far across the globe they expand, the entire Gus’s family remains dedicated to [these] recipes and traditions.”
Walking into Gus’s Houston location on Washington, I’m intoxicated by the aroma of fried chicken in the air. It’s a full-service restaurant, so I find a table (there’s usually a crowd) and a very friendly server stops by to answer any questions and take drink orders. I feel right at home.
The menu is divided into Individual Pieces, Snacks and Plates that include baked beans and coleslaw. To me there is no better part of the chicken than a thigh, and I order a 3-piece dark plate — two thighs and a drumstick.
In just a few minutes it arrives, and I am transported. Biting into that drumstick was a revelation. The spice on the skin didn’t get much further than my lips. It’s added with a deft touch. The first bite just made me want to eat more, and more, and more…
About those side dishes. They’re a bit on the sweet side to counteract the spiciness of the chicken. The coleslaw seemed to be a traditional recipe, quite good, but the baked beans were really unique, prepared with molasses and allspice.
I loved my time at Gus’s and plan to return often. If you’re scared of the spice level, don’t be. It’s totally manageable and completely delicious