Jun 13, 2016

Rumor No More: Legendary Memphis Fried Chicken Joint Coming to Washington Avenue


The eastern end of Washington Avenue just added another high-profile, out-of-town restaurant concept. Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, the Memphis-based restaurant known for its signature spicy coating, will open a Houston location at 1815 Washington Avenue.

Houston owner-franchisee Brad Blodgett tells CultureMap he grew up in Memphis and developed a taste for the restaurant's chicken at its location in the small town of Mason, Tennessee. When a friend opened the first franchised location in Memphis, Blodgett began considering the possibility of bringing it to Texas, which he did by opening a location in Austin in 2014. As the line outside the door demonstrates, it's been a smashing success. If all goes according to plan, Houstonians should get their taste in the spring of 2017.   

"I never wanted to open a restaurant. I wanted to open a Gus’s," Blodgett says. "We had our sights on Houston, because we lived here for 15 years. We know the potential is huge, because everyone likes fried chicken."

Once the home of Throne nightclub, the building will be renovated by local developer Braun Enterprises into a 4,000 square foot space with a 600-square foot patio. Located directly across from B&B Butchers, Gus's will also be just down the street from the first Houston location of Austin-based Tacodeli, as well as a Platypus Brewing and a still-unnamed ramen restaurant. A new blog discovered the company's LLC on Friday and caused a minor Facebook sensation among those who've been hoping Gus's would make its way here. 

After looking at options in Midtown and downtown, Blodgett turned to Washington Avenue and is confident that the success B&B Butchers has had in drawing diners from downtown at both lunch and dinner will apply to Gus's, too. "If you like a good steak, you probably like a good fried chicken, too," he says.  

That goodness stems from it a secret family recipe created by Vernon "Gus" Bonner, who inherited it from his parents Napoleon and Maggie (whether he modified it is the subject of passionate debate). Although he passed away in 2007, Bonner's wife and four children still control the batter. Houston blogger Jay Francis has attempted to crack the code, identifying cayenne and a slurry-style batter as key components. 

In an essay in GQ, Lang Whitaker describes what makes Gus's chicken so good: "It starts with the skin, which is deep-fried to the color of bourbon while remaining brittle, with the crunch of an eggshell. Then lurking below that crunch is a subterranean flesh so moist and tender that it almost defies reality. While the textural interplays are superb, the flavors are even better, as a bold saline note underlines all that amiable spice."

Whatever the secret is, Gus's has won fans wherever it goes. Soon, Houstonians will get to find out what all the hype is about.

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