Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken held a soft opening on Sunday, July 7 for their new location on Diamond Street in the Warehouse District of New Orleans. Photo by Jesse Brooks.
By Jesse Brooks
For those wondering if the New Orleans location of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is worth the trouble in a city already known for varying degrees of fantastic fried chicken, I am here to report that it will indeed live up to the Memphis standard.
Gus’s opened its doors for a soft opening on Sunday on an invitation-only basis at their new location on Diamond Street in the Warehouse District of New Orleans. 100 percent of the revenue made that day were given to the Son of a Saint charity that mentors fatherless youth in the city.
For a long time, I have had a special relationship with Gus’s, specifically the Memphis location. The company originally started in a joint in Mason, Tennessee and their second venture into Memphis is where the world began to notice this “no frills” destination.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken teamed up with Son of a Saint on Sunday. 100 percent of the profits during the soft opening went to the organization that mentors fatherless youth. Photo by Jesse Brooks.
Specifically, my family noticed it around 15 or more years ago on our summer trips through Tennessee. Before the South Main area of Downtown Memphis was taken over by hipsters and trendsetters, we would notice this common cinderblock building on the way to-and-from the National Civil Rights Museum. One summer, after being hungry and fatigued on barbecue, we stopped in.
The decor was plain and there was no line. We did not know what to expect, only that the sign out front boasted the world’s best. Coming from South Louisiana and having a standard of Willie Mae’s Scotch House as the holder of that title, we felt that it was a bold claim.
However, the unassuming little building on Front Street in Memphis proved they could back up the talk. It was, indeed, the world’s greatest fried chicken. The chicken itself is very comparable to Willie Mae’s; hand-cut and marinated overnight and fried in a creole spice red wet batter. The specific element that separates these two is the skin. Despite the batter being wet, Gus’s skin still somehow comes out thin, aery, and as crispy as a potato chip.
Years went by and the chicken joint became a chicken chain, spreading to 26 locations around the nation. No matter how popular and crowded the Front Street location had become, I’d wait long periods every time I made a return trip to Memphis.
I had reservations going into Sunday’s soft opening in New Orleans. I only got Gus’s outside of Memphis once, in Atlanta a couple of years ago. While the Atlanta location was completely fine as fried chicken standards go, it didn’t compare to the artistry found in Memphis. The batter was not exact, the sides were different, and the chicken was not crispy. I knew over the weekend, that if Gus’s were to come to New Orleans, a city known for a tradition of fried chicken, then they best not miss.
What is special about the Warehouse District location is that it is the first company-owned location opened in 12 years and not a franchise location. I received word from a few representatives from the restaurant ahead of time that everything in New Orleans would be up to the Memphis standard.
When I arrived on Sunday with family we walked into what was once a run-down property turned into an intimate dining area and minimalist excellence. The jukebox against the wall helped conjure up that Memphis feel. Staff was friendly, timely, and efficient.
When our chicken arrived, we braced for the moment of truth. After the first bite in, we were totally transported to Memphis for a brief period of time. It was a match. Everything tasted the way I expected it to. Once again, Gus’s lived up to its word.
I went all-in. I ordered my usual 3-piece dark, plus a wing. (Yes, you can order wings a la carte.) I ordered greens and mac-and-cheese as my sides. People often knock on their sides as a major weakness. However, I feel the complaints are overblown. There are greens, mac, fries, beans, and fried okra options and they are fine. Are you there for amazing chicken or something else? The sides facilitate the chicken and serve as a palette cleanser. They serve their purpose and it’s all you need.
Beyond chicken, Gus’s pies are exceptional. They’re known for their chess pie, original and chocolate. I suggest ordering a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of your pie, specifically the chocolate.
The concept of Gus’s in New Orleans has me torn. New Orleans is a fried chicken city. Are we supposed to love an outsider this much that claims to do something we do better? In most cases, no. But Gus’s is not some new kid on the block. If the company is leaning in, they are all in, no exceptions.
I think about all the notable fried chicken in New Orleans: Willie Mae’s, Dooky Chase, The Praline Connection, Brother’s, Lil Drizzy, McKenzie’s, McHardy’s, etc. They’re all exceptional and also not alike at all. While New Orleans may pride itself on its chicken, everyone in this city makes it their own unique way. There is no New Orleans “style” of chicken. The city makes room for everyone with only one rule “it better be good”.
Gus’s is better than good. It’s the world’s greatest.
Gus’s will open to the public on Tuesday, July 9 at 11 a.m.