A sign on Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken announces “Today’s Special.”
“Chicken,” it says.
Don’t ever expect it to change.
All Gus’s World Famous Chicken sells is chicken - “Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken,” the menu specifies. Don’t ask for another meat. Don’t ask for grilled. And don’t ask for mild. You can ask for tenders and wings, but they too will be fried and spicy.
Beyond the signature spicy fried chicken - sold by the piece, “snack” (two pieces), plate (assorted pieces with baked beans and coleslaw) or family-size portion - there are a few fried starters, side orders, desserts, soft drinks and beer (12 to 40 ounces). Don’t ask for wine.
(Note: Gus’s main website menu lists items not available here, including catfish - again, the only meat here is chicken - as well as macaroni and cheese and bacon jalapeno hush puppies, so be sure to click on the Little Rock location’s menu.)
While Gus’s is new to Little Rock’s River Market District (and to the state - other locations are in Tennessee with one opening soon in Austin, Texas), it’s an old favorite with diners who’ve visited the restaurant, originally hatched in Mason, near Memphis, on a recipe that has endured some 60 years.
Downtown crowds, dressed in business suits and tourist garb, have lined up daily outside the downtown eatery since it opened. We went two times (once at 5:30 p.m. Saturday for dinner, once at 11:30 a.m. Thursday for lunch). Both times we were quoted and endured a 20-to 30-minute wait for a table. Outside. In the heat. (There’s not much standing room inside.)
“All this for fried chicken?” wondered we who had never been to a Gus’s outlet.
But after two meals, we get the fuss about Gus.
Before we chat chicken, we’ll talk interior. The casual space seems mostly unchanged from previous tenant Redbone’s residency (right down to the old Mobil gas sign on a cinder-block wall), although we seem to remember a second level bar that has been removed, with booths and tables rearranged to maximize dining space.
Other old signs, beer signs and Memphis photos add visual interest. The ramp up the left side of the restaurant is for those placing walk-in or retrieving takeout orders.
Family Snacks of chicken and white bread ($16.50 for eight pieces, up to $34.95 for20 pieces) and Family Meals of chicken, baked beans, coleslaw and white bread($20.95 for eight pieces, up to $39.95 for 20 pieces) are available, as is a Dozen Wing Deal ($15.35).
With checked-vinyl tablecloths and disposable dishes (foam plates) and plastic flatware, Gus’s gives an indoor picnic feel. Even beverages (Coke products, tea and lemonade) are served in $2 refillable plastic souvenir cups. We imagine “dishwasher at Gus’s” would be a simple job.
There are two fried (in peanut oil like everything else on Gus’s menu) starters, both served with packaged ranch dressing and both $5.75: pickles and green tomatoes. The order of tart tomatoes featured five slick slices that needed a pinch more salt. Not so with the fried pickle spears that packed plenty of sodium. We had to laugh that the ranch that accompanied both appetizers was “light” dressing. As though anyone ordering fried appetizers before a fried chicken feast could be that concerned about calories.
Sealed in a crisp golden batter that is smooth in texture and peppery in taste, the juicy chicken (yes, even the white meat!) was perfection - whether we had the 2 Piece White Plate (breast and wing, $6.35), the Half Chicken Plate (one of each piece, $9.95) or the boneless 4 Tenders Plate ($6.90; $1.40 to add a tender to any plate).
The heat was just right for us, but anyone seeking more can grab for the hot sauce (that’s what’s in the unidentified squeeze bottle on the table; the ketchup is labeled).
All plates come with the fried chicken perched on a slice of white bread and two sides: brown sugary beans and a finely minced coleslaw. Unless you pay 50 cents to sub another side - worth the upgrade (or ordered separately in small, medium and large sizes for $1.50 up to $4.50) are the smoky greens, satisfactory seasoned fries and plush potato salad.
We were curious about Gus’s fried rice, which a sociable server (all we encountered were good-humored while busy) informed us was prepared with leftover odds and ends, but they were out on both visits.
They were also out of all desserts - pecan, chess, sweet potato and coconut pies and a Jamaican Me Crazy Brownie ($2.25-$3.25) - on our dinner visit, and we were all out of room for any on our lunch visit.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
Address: 300 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday Cuisine: Spicy fried chicken Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Reservations: No Alcoholic beverages: Beer Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 372-2211
Weekend, Pages 33 on 06/20/2013
Print Headline: We get the fuss about Gus