Just when it seemed that the fried chicken bubble was dangerously close to bursting, here is Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, a storied Memphis import that serves tender chicken cocooned in a light, thin exterior that shatters when you cut into it. It’s spicy, with heat that gently sneaks up on you, though not remotely close to the incendiary Nashville-hot style at the Roost and not so hot that it doesn’t benefit from a squirt of Crystal hot sauce out of a plastic packet. I usually prefer dark meat, but Gus’s breasts are surprisingly juicy and flavorful.
The chicken, which is fried in peanut oil, is available in single pieces, combinations of up to 20 pieces or a half bird. It comes with white bread, very sweet baked beans and crisp cole slaw. Adding on the cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes is a good call, though the too-soft mac and cheese is not. The dessert menu is comprised of pies and a root beer float, and the chess pie is sweet without being cloying.
Gus’s has outposts across the South, though the Chicago location is the first phase of an ambitious expansion that includes openings in Detroit, Kansas City and Los Angeles. I can’t speak to the fried chicken scenes in those cities, but in Chicago, even though the past two years have brought us exceptional fried birds at The Roost, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Analogue and other spots, the dining landscape still has room for a place like Gus’s.
Atmosphere: With checkered tablecloths, neon signs and lots of wood, the space is appropriately casual for digging into fried chicken.
What to eat: The half fried chicken is ideal for two, and the fried green tomatoes are a terrific starter.
What to drink: The bar offers cheap beers and cocktails, though I opted for an unsweetened iced tea (a sweet version is also available) to help temper the heat from the chicken.
Where to sit: Both bar seating and tables are available, and you can just sit down and grab a seat. Take-out can be ordered at the back counter.