Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken, 1067 West Magnolia Av, FW. 817-927-4693. 11am-8pm Sun, 11am-9pm Mon-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Here’s what I know about Memphis: Elvis, Stax Records, and barbecue ribs. I love the musical history of the place, but I prefer Texas brisket to Blues City’s traditional pork ribs –– and I generally favor a spicy-sweet ’cue sauce over that vinegary, peppery stuff that Memphians tend to use. Until the Memphis-based Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken opened on West Magnolia Avenue a few weeks ago, I didn’t know there was anything particularly great about Memphis chicken.
Like we do for all well-known chains, the denizens of Fort Worth practically threw a tickertape parade when Gus’s opened. Hype aside, the Memphis fowl peddler turns out some good bird. The pieces are generously portioned, and the coppery, crispy crust is a joy to behold and a surprise to taste. It’s not ghost pepper-hot, but the batter’s got a comfortable spicy kick. Founder Gus Vanderbilt never spilled the beans about his secret recipe, but based on the color and taste of the crust, I’m thinking paprika and cayenne feature heavily. The leg and thigh were noticeably juicy, but so was the much larger breast piece, which oozed flavorful juices when sliced. In general, fried chicken wings can be a little iffy –– half the time they come out drier than a West Texas highway in the summer. But the cooking mojo in the kitchen at Gus’s ensured that the wing meat was as moist as the drumstick.
I wished the appetizer and all the sides had been as tasty. The Southern staple fried green tomatoes seemed like a must-order, but my dining companion and I were disappointed with the result. The thick cornmeal and flour breading lacked seasoning, which was fine because the appetizer came with a side of tangy buttermilk ranch dipping sauce. However, most of the half-inch sliced green tomatoes were mushy and mealy.
The two-piece chicken plates include coleslaw and baked beans, but diners can substitute okra, potato salad, greens, or mac and cheese. Because the chicken is so hot and spicy, the side dishes tended to be a little sweeter and blander. The baked beans tasted like someone in the kitchen added a few spices to the canned version you get from Ben E. Keith. The fried okra was pleasant enough but had probably been sitting in the freezer awaiting our order. However, the greens were excellent: slightly bitter, salty as the sea, and diced into fairly small pieces so there were no stringy bits trailing off the fork. The potato salad was also a winner: new red potatoes with the skin on, mushed and chopped in a mayonnaise base so that only a little definition remained.
Whether you order the meal or a single piece, the chicken is served atop a piece of generic white bread, which perhaps functioned to wick any extra oil off the fried bird. A good reason not to eat the extra carbs: pie for dessert. There were too many pies (all made in-house) and too little time, so we only sampled the chocolate chess and sweet potato versions. The dense, rich chocolate chess pie had a silky texture and a slight caramelization on top, almost like crème brûlée but not as crunchy. The light, fluffy sweet potato pie tasted like heaven spiked with allspice and a touch of molasses. We ordered the pies warmed, which did the homemade crust no favors. The chocolate pie wasn’t warm enough to melt the side of ice cream we added on. Skip the heating and the a la mode and order the pies room temperature.
Gus’s popped up on a corner space that used to house a law firm. There were about a dozen tables inside the vaguely rustic dining room. The area housing the kitchen and a counter with barstools is finished nicely with a pretty tiled ceiling. The restaurant franchise has locations mostly in the south and upper Midwest. Elvis would probably have approved.
Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken
Fried green tomatoes $6.50
Two piece white meat $7.95
Two piece dark meat $6.95
Chocolate chess pie or sweet potato pie $2.95 each