Oct 18, 2022

A clucking good time at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, downtown Memphis, Tenn.

I’ve been making regular stops in Memphis, Tenn., as part of my travels for the better part of 20 years, so I’ve been long aware of the city being credited as the “home” of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken.  Nonetheless, I had never visited Gus’s famous downtown location until Punky and I finally checked it off our Memphis to-do list during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now I have to wonder, what took me so long?  Because one visit, and I was hooked.  So, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is now on our list of “regular stops” when we’re in Memphis. Here’s why. 

To be entirely factual, I should first note the original Gus’s location is actually in Mason, Tenn., a small town just north of Memphis.  According to their Web site, it wasn’t until 2001 that a longtime fan and friend of the family brought Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken to downtown Memphis.  As someone who often salivated over the smell of Gus’s fried chicken wafting down through Tom Lee Park during the annual Beale Street Music Festival, it somehow seems like Gus’s has been in Memphis much longer. 

This location, at 310 Front Street, is largely considered the home base of what has become a fast-growing franchise.  And rarely is it not busy, even during a pandemic.  Waiting outside for a free table is pretty routine here.    

As you can imagine, the wait for us was compounded by the limited seating inside during the height of Coronavirus restrictions.  Still, the staff was working hard clearing tables and getting people seated and served as quickly as possible.   The sparseness of the interior only magnified the worn but loved appearance of the industrial interior of the building.

Our table was relatively close to the kitchen, so we were afforded an excellent view of the action. 

In a very short time, we had menus in front of us.  Of course, it’s not hard to figure out what to order here.  Fried chicken is the only entrée they serve.  The only decision is how much fried chicken you’re going to try to finish … 

… and whether you’re going to try to save room for dessert (spoiler alert:  we didn’t).  They also serve a decent selection of beer and wine to wash down your meal, but at Gus’s I prefer to save that space for the food.

Besides, you can’t go wrong with Gus’s sweet tea.  As far as “chain restaurant” sweet teas go, I’d put Gus’s up against any of them. 

The chicken is cooked to order, so since you need to allow time for it to be ready, why not start the meal off with an appetizer of fried greed tomatoes?  Punky was certainly agreeable to the decision.

And as expected, these were thinly cut and crispy fried to perfection.  Not too much batter, either.  One can enjoy both the flavor of the batter and the tomato.  And yes, ranch dressing is an excellent dipping sauce for them. 

I suppose if you’re able to regularly appreciate Gus’s chicken, you’d be Ok with occasionally just ordering a snack or pieces a la carte.  But for the full experience I had to go large and get the half chicken plate.  After all, is it really a classic fried chicken dinner if it doesn’t have the sides? 

Punky’s lighter appetite warranted a three-piece plate, which is normally plenty as you can tell in the back of the above photo.  All of Gus’s plates come with wonderfully seasoned baked beans and a delightfully creamy and tangy cole slaw.  You can, of course, substitute your sides for a slight upcharge.

So, here’s what makes Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken live up to its name.  First of all, the quality of the product seems to be top-notch.  Second, the skin is much more than just a cover for the meat; it’s super crispy without being overly crunchy or too thick with batter.  At the same time, it has just the right amount of heat infused in the batter that keeps your mouth watering for more.  It’s far from the spice level of Nashville hot chicken, but there’s enough to get your attention.

Most of all, though, is the juiciness of the chicken itself.  It’s visibly juicy after every bite.  And that translates into a more savory and flavorful meat, white or dark.  Some people may find the word “moist” off-putting but you won’t find a better word to describe biting into a Gus’s chicken breast.    

It’s easy to surmise that Punky and I fell in love with Gus’s after the first visit.  But do you know a great reason beside the chicken to keep coming back?  All the side dishes.  Especially the greens.  And the mac and cheese.  Heck, just plan enough trips to try them all.

And you don’t have to go to Memphis to do so.  Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is getting more “world famous” all the time with expansion into 34 locations over 14 states as of this writing.  Frankly, it was probably just a matter of time. 

You may be wondering, then, how consistent is the quality at other franchise locations.  Well, I have to confess that the first time I tried Gus’s wasn’t in Memphis at all.  Instead, it was among the featured attendees at the now-defunct Roadfood Festival I happened upon in New Orleans in 2016.  Even back then, I marveled at how good the chicken was.  So, it must translate well in other parts of the country.

Wherever you find Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.  But if you’re travelling through Memphis, try to visit its most famous location. 

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