Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner”

Why am I quoting Guy Fieri (Food Network/Diners, Drive-ins and Dives) in a blog devoted to a restaurant visited by Adam Richman (Travel Channel/ Man v Food)? Because there is something about the rhyming cadence of the four words of two syllables each that I like. And because I can’t think of a better way to describe the fried chicken at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis, TN.

I tend to approach an Adam Richman restaurant with great misgivings. He tends to stress quantity—eating a four-foot in diameter meat lovers pizza in thirty minutes—over quality. Or he participates in such eating stunts like forcing down a dozen chicken wings in a sauce of equal parts habanero peppers and ghost chiles. But I have seen the episode where Adam visits Gus’s many times (If you’ve seen it once you’ve seen it a half dozen times.) and have immediately started to drool when the chicken comes out of the fryer.

“Gus's is the gold standard for fried chicken in Memphis, and there aren't many places that can dispute it. There are several restaurants that come close but in the end, Gus's is still tops. Unfortunately, when a restaurant is deemed to be the ‘best,’ many people flock to it, including tourists. Gus's is no exception, for there is always a line of people waiting to get inside” (Ken’s Food Find at urbanspoon.com).

Gus’s is so popular with tourists that we discovered that the couple sitting at the table behind Chuck were staying at the same RV park as are we and that one member of the couple sitting next to us was visiting from Little Rock and having his first Gus’s experience. But this is no match for the couple described at Memphis Que: “…at Gus's I heard the couple next to me tell the server, in an accent I couldn't identify, that they were wanting to try an American beer with their meal. This caused me to ask and find out that they were visiting from Zimbabwe and had heard how great the chicken was at Gus's. So ‘world famous’ is no exaggeration at the humble-looking little fried chicken joint.”

In a rare burst of forethought, I had done due diligence and learned that, while Gus’s opens at 11:00 a.m., the line can begin to form well before that. So we arrived at 10:45 a.m. and found ourselves fourth and fifth in line. When the doors opened, we were told that the day before about twenty-five were waiting to get in at the opening.

A number of reviewers described Gus’s as a “dive.” Well, it was anything but. If these folks want to see dives, they should travel with us for awhile. No. Maybe not. I suspect that these folks would prove to be NO FUN.

Gus’s is described by Larry Olmsted at usatoday.com: “When you step inside, you could be almost anywhere in the South, in a large one-room roadhouse-style restaurant with a counter up front that does a brisk takeout business (especially with local police), high industrial ceilings with exposed ventilation ducts, and of course, a jukebox.

Walls are adorned with metal soda and beer signs, tables with stainless steel napkin dispensers, bottles of hot sauce and ketchup packets…”

Sprinkled among the beer signs were a few chicken-related items,

including this window whose view of the empty lot outside had been obscured by a paint job.

Gus’s is not a place for vegetarians. Unless they plan to make a meal of sides which included seasoned fries, cole slaw, beans, and what they call fried rice (and what more closely resembles Southern dirty rice and wouldn’t be vegetarian-friendly anyway) or the two
appetizers of deep fried pickles and fried green tomatoes. Gus’s is about chicken. All about chicken. “Gus’s definitely lives up to its name, serving world famous hot and spicy chicken for over fifty years. The original location that started it all is in Mason, TN, about 40 miles outside of Memphis. Since opening back in 1953, the fried chicken recipe has remained a closely guarded secret,…According to Food Network, the Bonners have been offered up to $1 million for their recipe, but they haven’t budged” (The Unpaid Gourmet at urbanspoon.com).

It took us no time to scan the menu and make our decision—we would each order the three-piece white (two breasts and one wing) which comes with slaw and beans. But we each swapped out one of the sides and, for an additional $.50, went with the seasoned fries.

For the past two years, Sunny’s Fried Chicken in Church Point, LA, has been our fried chicken gold standard. Let’s see how Gus’s compares. When our plates first arrived, we were a bit disappointed by the thinness of the crust. But after one bite, our misgivings were erased. The crust crackled and had a nice noticeable level of spice.

As described by Larry Olmsted at usatoday.com: “The menu proclaims it ‘Hot & Spicy,’ but while it has a bit of zip and tingle of cayenne, it should not scare off milder palates—this is not the regionalized ‘hot’ fried chicken that can actually leave you sweating, it's just well-spiced. There are many styles of something as seemingly simple as fried chicken, and Gus's emphasizes skin and seasoning…”

A blogger at Capitol City eats described it as “crisptastic.” I can’t think of a better term.

But there has to be more than just crust. The meat itself has to be good. The Unpaid Gourmet writes: “Though perfectly crisp on the outside, what stood out most about Gus’s fried chicken was the meat itself. The spices of the marinade permeated the meat, with just the right amount of heat in each bite. The light exterior also managed to keep the interior incredibly moist, sealing in the juices and flavor…” Chuck maintains that this chicken is juicier than Sunny’s. All I have eaten at Sunny’s are the wings and these are not the best basis for sound comparison. But I couldn’t have asked for juicier or more flavorful fried chicken.

While I was eating, I noticed a woman at a nearby table trying to daintily eat her chicken with (plastic) knife and fork. Get down with it, woman. You pick this up with your hands. You tear it apart. You peel off pieces of crust and meat with your fingers. You lick your fingers when done.

Between the two of us, we sampled three of the sides—the beans, cole slaw, and seasoned fries. While some diners have written that the sides didn’t match the greatness of the chicken, neither of us found anything wrong with any of the three.

So who “reigns supreme?” We have a new leader in the clubhouse and Gus’s 5.0 Addie chicken just may be the best chicken we ever ate.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

1 comment:

Jay Francis said...

Hi Chuck. I had fun last year trying to reverse engineer the Gus's Fried Chicken recipe and I think that I came pretty close. I think that it is a buttermilk and corn starch slurry.
Regards, Jay Francis