Los Angeles is experiencing something of a fried chicken renaissance. Top chefs are putting their playful, idiosyncratic spin on the dish at places like Howlin' Ray's, which opened its Chinatown storefront in April to hungry hordes eager to wait in long lines to try Nashville “hot” chicken in Los Angeles. And now Gus’s Fried Chicken in Mid-City has been added to the list of restaurants bringing Southern fried chicken to the West Coast.
Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken, its full name, is a mouthful — but deservedly so. The namesake Gus is Vernon “Gus” Bonner, the son of the original proprietors who created the spicy fried chicken in 1954. Gus’s parents, the story goes, sandwiched the fried chicken between two slices of plain white bread, serving it out of a modest local tavern in Mason, Tennessee.
Years later, his folks opened their own restaurant, also in Mason. After his parents’ deaths, Bonner reopened the restaurant, renaming it after himself. Ultimately, his distinctive fried chicken caught the eye of an ardent fan, Wendy McCrory, in 2001. She eventually expanded Gus's to 14 locations (and counting) in over a half dozen states, primarily focused in the South.
The newest outpost, which opened in June at the corner of Pico and Crenshaw Boulevards (roughly two miles from the soul food hot spots and prized barbecue joints of L.A.’s Crenshaw District), is the first West Coast location. The storefront restaurant operates from the bottom floor of an old, nondescript, red brick apartment building (a local bar used to front the cavernous space). Suffice to say, the restaurant’s seamless incorporation into the building makes it feel as if it’s been there for decades.
Inside, takeout orders are quickly packed to go at the counter. There are a couple dozen tables covered in checkered tablecloths for dine-in service. The short, succinct menu specializes in its namesake fried chicken, but it also offers a delicious appetizer seldom seen on L.A. menus: fried green tomatoes. These tomatoes are dipped in a cornmeal batter and lightly fried. The golden brown batter is not greasy and offers a crisp contrast to the soft, yielding tomatoes. The not-yet-ripe green tomatoes are luscious, juicy and slightly bitter, a truly iconic dish of the South and a perfect complement to the fried chicken.
The comforting mac ’n’ cheese is simply composed of old-fashioned elbow macaroni, lightly cheesy in the traditional manner, topped with shredded cheddar cheese and spiked with dustings of cayenne pepper. It’s the kind of simple, home-style mac ’n’ cheese we often crave.
As for the spicy fried chicken — yes, it is fiendishly delicious, with its shatteringly crisp, mahogany-hued batter revealing tender meat within. The far-from-overpowering spice of the batter truly grows on you. Two-piece, three-piece or half-chicken combination plates are served with sweet, meaty barbecue beans, a sprightly coleslaw and plain white bread, a reminder of the humble roots of the fried chicken.
The blaring sign inside touting “Bud Light” is just a tease, at least for now: Gus's is still a few weeks away from obtaining a beer and wine license. However, refreshingly unsweetened iced tea pairs with the fried chicken — a departure from the Southern penchant for ultra-sweet tea.
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If you do have a sweet tooth, Gus's has you covered with half a dozen pies, including a suave, homemade coconut pie filled with sweet custard and topped with shreds of unsweetened toasted coconut. The chocolate “chess” (chess refers to a thick, Southern custard base) pie splits the difference between a rich brownie and chocolate fudge. Classic Southern favorites such as sweet potato and pecan pies are offered, too.
The friendly service is unobtrusive, passionate and, above all, a good reminder of true Southern hospitality.
Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken, 1262 Crenshaw Blvd., Mid-City; gusfriedchicken.com.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of franchiser Wendy McCrory. We regret the error and have updated the post to correct it.