I always admired how the Near Southside was stocked with mostly independently owned businesses, especially on West Magnolia Avenue, the hood’s main artery. But recently, a couple of restaurants of the chain variety have set up shop on the trendy boulevard, and I’m now worried that the area is losing its way.
I wasn’t against Memphis-based Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken (1067 W Magnolia Av, 817-927-4693) or Dillon, Montana’s own Great Harvest Bread Company (1305 W Magnolia Av, 682-708-7228) coming to town or even to the Near Southside. I just felt like I needed a bath when I heard they were opening on Magnolia. Isn’t that street supposed to be the epicenter of the locally sourced, independently owned, feel-good, drum-circle movement?
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The gentrification process in that neck of the Fort has been well underway for years now – just try finding a three-bedroom house for less than $400,000 in Fairmount, Mistletoe Heights, Ryan Place, or any other of the street’s surrounding neighborhoods. You know an area is getting a little too ooh la la when the Pilates studios outnumber the bars.
Still, both of the hood’s new eateries are decent places to get a bite, and I’m sure their corporate overlords are more than happy to pay the area’s suddenly exorbitant rent.
I like the concept of Great Harvest: simple sandwiches with astonishingly fresh ingredients, housemade breads and desserts, reasonable prices, and a walkup counter. If I had to nit-pick, my only complaint would be that some of the menu’s offerings are maybe too simple.
The classic turkey ($7.50), with your choice of bread, thinly sliced layers of fowl stacked high, Swiss cheese, crispy romaine lettuce, vibrant, bright tomatoes, red onions, mayo, and just enough Dijon mustard to sting your tongue a little, was something I could have made at home – of course, unless I wanted to make six of them, it wouldn’t be worth buying all of those ingredients. The Texas pecan chicken salad ($7) was a little more nuanced, and my choice of the Dakota bread – honey wheat with pumpkin and sunflower seeds – elevated the dish to something worthy of the effort it takes to put on pants and get in my car. There are countless sugary temptations at the counter, including the pillowy soft, sweet-but-not-cloying cinnamon roll ($3.50). So bring some insulin.
The dining room is tiny, with a garage bay window/door that floods the dining room with natural light. The interior has that we-stopped-building-too-soon aesthetic, with particleboard banquets, wooden ceilings, and exposed brick, pipes, and air ducts. Everything about the vibe screams “Focus group-approved chain.” But it’s still a pleasant, welcoming place.
Gus’s décor and atmosphere are a little more ramshackle than its fellow chain-y neighbor, but it’s hardly the scrape-knuckle roadhouse its vintage-looking signage and checkered tablecloths would lead you to believe.
Also, unlike Great Harvest, I couldn’t make Gus’s spicy chicken at home. My two-piece dark plate ($6.95) was a masterpiece of crispy, spicy batter thinly coating a succulent barn bird. The accompanying baked beans were swimming in a dark, peppery stew, and the slaw made for a cooling, if simple, break from the spice.
Magnolia still has tons of cool, indie mom and pop businesses. But if this trend of chains continues, it’s only a matter of time before a few Starbucks move in and the poor, artistic types are pushed out.