Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, Memphis Tennessee

When in Memphis... if you ever travel to the south, you absolutely HAVE to sample the local food. Your "must have" list should have barbecue and fried chicken as the first two items. If you're from the Northeast US, like me, you've probably had pretty good fried chicken and/or barbecue at some point in your life... but even the best and most authentic in the northeast pales in comparison to the real thing. The place to go for fried chicken in Memphis, according to my contacts there, is Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken - featured on multiple TV shows such as, $40 a Day, Man Vs Food, and Best Thing I Ever Ate. Gus's is the real deal, no hype, no fuss, just the best fried chicken I've ever dug into.

According to the Hearse parked across the street from the restaurant, Gus's Hot and Spicy Fried Chicken is "to die for" - and that seems to be the truth. If you're really into fried chicken, this place needs to be on your bucket list.

This place spares nothing on formality- utilitarian tables, plastic utensils, and stryofoam plates. The menu is no-nonesense- chicken, a few classic sides such as baked beans and cole slaw, and two simple appetizers- fried green tomatoes, and fried pickles. I sampled a little of each- and they are outstanding- a perfect crunchy crust, and tangy soft insides. I've had fried pickles in the north before- but these clearly blow them off the map. The green tomatoes are off the charts as well- they don't have the tang of the pickles, but since they are larger slices, you get more of that great crunchy cornmeal crust, and a meatier bite.

There are a number of the usual drinks on the menu, but the only one you should think about is the sweet tea - traditionally southern, it comes in a colorful plastic souvenir cup that proudly advertises that yes, you visited Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. The tea is the southern classic- yes, you can get it in the northeast, but it just doesn't compare to the real thing where you can taste the quality of the honey. Show up thirsty, because your order of sweet tea means that the wait staff will come around with pitchers of the stuff and never let your cup get more than half empty. They'll give you a straw and a lid as you get ready to pay the check- so they clearly intend that you take a little sweetness home with you.

The main event, of course, is the chicken. I had mine with the standard side orders of cole slaw and baked beans, although you can choose others, such as the collard greens if you want. It's served simply- a three-section styrofoam plate to hold your sides, and your selection of chicken perched on a slice of white bread. I went for what I felt would be a good cross section of the chicken- a wing and a breast.

The crust has a slightly orange hue from the secret blend of spices it contains. The crust is also fairly thick, so you get an awesome crunch when you start tearing into it. The crust has just the right amount of spicy kick to it- it's obvious that it's spicy, but it is far from overwhelming- most people will like it even if spicy food is not their thing, and there is always a bottle of hot suce on the table if you need a little more kick. Under the crst, the chicken is incredibly juicy and tender. You will not find a dry bite anywhere- it almost melts in your mouth in contrast to the strong crunch on the outside. The beans are earthy and savory with a bit of sweetness, and the cole slaw has a slight tang to it- no offense to the high-quality sides, but compared to that incredible chicken, they are forgettable, even though they are miles ahead of anything north of the mason-dixon line. The chicken is just that good. The sides are just there to break things up, and help y0ou slow down so you don't just destroy your chicken in seconds.

Words don't quite describe how good this chicken really is. If you ever get to Memphis, just go there and try it. Like the Hearse across the street says, the chicken is to die for.

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