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Gus's Fried Chicken
Photograph: Jim Larrison/FlickrGus's Fried Chicken

Memphis institution Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken headed for Chicago

Written by
Cate Huguelet

Remember that glorious stretch of 2013-14 when spots like Parson’s Chicken & Fish, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Leghorn and the Roost popped up almost at the same time, and how we all made gushing notes in our diaries about it being the annus mirabilis of the great Chicago fried chicken movement? Yeah, turns out all of that may have been just prologue, because this morning, west Tennessee icon Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken announced via Facebook that our fortunate city will soon (like, 2015 soon) know its delights.  

What’s the BFD, you ask? Just some of the most lauded fried chicken in the country. As served up at its 10 existing locations, Gus’s birds are super juicy, but the real magic’s in the batter. The recipe of said coating has been a secret closely kept by the family of founder Vernon “Gus” Bonner for decades, but in the fryer it takes on a beautiful burnished gold hue and a shatteringly crunchy texture. It’s spicy, but not in the sweaty-eyeballs kind of way that characterizes its peer to the east, Nashville’s Prince’s. Perhaps the ultimate mark of fried bird godliness is the ability, through some weird kind of alchemy involving drippings and stray crumbles of batter, to make the slice of Wonder Bread on which it sits seem not just edible, but delicious, a last treat to end your meal once you’ve picked the chicken clean. Here, Gus’s performs beautifully.

Chicago is one of eight planned franchises that seem to represent the first wave of a nationwide expansion for Gus’s. Of course, until it sets up shop here later this year at a TBD location, it’s impossible to know whether all of that deliciousness will follow it across the Mason-Dixon Line. But there are signs of promise. First, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that Wendy McCrory, founder of the downtown Memphis branch that’s arguably Gus’s best known (the original is 40 miles away, in Mason), and now owner of the brand’s franchising rights, will be on-hand to train each new franchisee. Further, according to its website, Gus’s has for now placed a moratorium on new franchise applications, suggesting that McCrory wants to focus on getting the upcoming eight just right. But most important, as per the website, investment in a franchise includes access to the secret “proprietary batter.” It just wouldn’t be Gus’s without it.  

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