Houstonians have spent almost two years dreaming of the day they could sink their teeth into a freshly fried piece of Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. That wait finally came to an end on May 7, when the restaurant opened its doors at 1815 Washington Ave.
The Memphis-based restaurant has developed a cult following for its spicy, crispy chicken. Award-winning food critic Jonathan Gold describes Gus's chicken as "pretty remarkable stuff" thanks to its "peppery heat [that] at first seems mild, even nonexistent, until it starts creeping up a few bites in, a heat that makes you glad you have a pint of sweet ice tea by your side."
That success has led to long lines at the restaurant's locations in Austin and Fort Worth, but stopping by in the middle of the afternoon on May 7 found the restaurant only about a third full. Once home to Throne nightclub, the space has been transformed into a casual spot that features simple wooden tables covered with brightly colored tablecloths.
Unlike Nashville hot chicken that can deliver an almost painful level of heat, the chicken at Gus's delivers a more mild tingle. The thin, crispy batter adheres well to the plump, juicy pieces. While the recipe is a closely guarded secret, local food blogger Jay Francis suspects it's a slurry-style batter that uses at least some cornstarch with cayenne pepper for heat. Overall, it's a slightly different style of chicken than one might find at places like Frenchy's or Lee's Fried Chicken and Donuts.
While the chicken lives up to the hype, other parts of the restaurant still seem like a bit of a work in progress. Sides like mac and cheese, beans, and coleslaw seemed like pretty standard, chain restaurant fare. Maybe save those calories for the fried pickle spears or not-too-slimy fried okra. Service was friendly but will benefit from a little more familiarity with the menu and the mechanics of waiting tables; for example, we had to ask for plates and plasticware to accompany the tray of food pictured above. On the plus side, the beer selection mixes craft and macro options at very reasonable prices — only $4.50 for a can of brews including Saint Arnold Art Car and 8th Wonder Dome Faux'm.
Whether Houstonians will line up for a bite remains to be seen, but it's certainly a welcome addition to the city's dining options.