Tucked behind the façade of a vintage gas station with a shading canopy, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken landed last September, a worthy addition to the hot chicken scene (not to be confused with Nashville hot chicken specifically).
Topped with a blinking yellow-backed neon sign over its entrance, the outpost on Commerce Street boasts a weathered brick wall and a graffiti art mural that announces in shadow letters the locale with Deep Ellum pride. Endearingly beaten-up poles rise amid red-and-white checked tablecloths inside. In other words, the franchise of the national, Memphis-based chain is as much a Deep Ellum fixture as you might ever desire.
The story traces not to Memphis, but to Mason, Tennessee in 1953 and involves founding characters with names like Napoleon (“Na”) and Maggie.
When we gathered as an editorial magazine staff—D CEO, D Weddings, the web team, too—on a recent Wednesday to watch the City and Regional Magazine Association awards in which we were nominated 11 times, the spread of victuals included loads of oysters (it’s a long story), the best specimens of barbecue—burnt ends and brisket bearing pink smoke rings—and Sicilian-style pizzas in five different topping selections. But, as we milled and kept the conversation light, everyone kept going back to the 16-piece fried chicken set I’d picked up with a view to feed a crowd.
Something about the thin, crackling skin, one editor mused. The spice was pronounced, but didn’t leave you sweating, another offered.
I’d left loaded down with some truly excellent long-braised greens and slices of homemade pie in paper boats: sweet potato, coconut thickly laced with toasted coconut shreds, and chocolate with the texture of a brownie. I’d thrown in a stack of the very ordinary, plain-spoken white sandwich bread (not biscuits or cornbread, a business historical legacy nod to the way Napoleon and Maggie first served it).
Big, juicy hunks of chicken—thigh and breast and wing—with ultracrispy skin attract. But I hadn’t anticipated the fervor. The Gus’s Tennessee style is fried to a bronze color, ruddy with spices. I recognized and admired that particular crunch that is akin to rice-flour battered Korean fried chicken’s more delicate crackle than the flaming-barked, cayenne-spiced coat on Nashville-style hot chicken we’ve officially raved about. Here, the batter clings and adheres, tight and smooth.
People seemed to want to want to pull off the crispy bits and comment and go back for more.
No world problems were solved. No spicily contested flaming-foul brackets were reckoned. All I can say is the consensus was that this editorial team was happy to sweat it over hot chicken rather than awards.