Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Old Collierville - More Gus's

I'd been meaning to eat some Gus's Fried Chicken ever since driving past the original location in Mason, TN, on my way to Bozo's Hot Pit Bar-B-Q a couple weeks ago. I intended to grab some Gus's on that trip but the huge serving of pulled pork I got at Bozo's ended up being too much for me to even consider additional food.

On Wednesday I was working in Collierville so I decided to swing by the Gus's out there. I hadn't been to the Collierville location since a couple weeks before I started my Memphis-area restaurant quest.

The Collierville restaurant is just south of Collierville's Historic Town Square in a converted old house at the location where the first part of the Battle of Collierville was fought during the Civil War on Oct. 11, 1863. There is a plaque near the street in front of the restaurant describing the battle, during which Union cavalry troops, led by the forever-despised-in-the-South General William Sherman, forced the Confederate Army further south into Mississippi.

The Collierville Gus's is far less crowded, at least on the occasions I've stopped by, than the one Downtown, where lines out the door are common. Collierville today is mainly a bedroom community for people who work in Memphis and their families so I'm not sure what the dinner time crowd is like. But there were only about three other tables with people at them when I stopped by Wednesday. The relaxed atmosphere and historic setting make for a really pleasant place to enjoy lunch. 

There was a recent article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper about a stray rooster who has ironically taken up residence near the Gus's in Collierville. There are a couple signs warning motorists about him but I haven't seen him during any of my travels through the area. [UPDATE: I got some good pictures of him during a more recent visit.]

I ordered a three-piece dark meat meal with beans and slaw. Like always, the beans were nothing special and the slaw was a little too sweet. And like always, that didn't matter. The fried chicken was exactly what you expect from Gus's -- crispy skin, juicy meat and a nice, well-seasoned subtle spiciness. It's amazingly ungreasy for the amount of flavor it has. I drank water, didn't eat the bread included with the meal and had no problems returning to work on a 100-degree day. I think a lot of fried chicken's reputation as a gut bomb comes from the gluten-heavy sides and sugary drinks people normally consume with it.

After my meal I took a brief walk though the Historic Town Square north of Gus's. As a journalism student in college I interned at The Collierville Herald newspaper one summer during the late '90s. The paper is located just off the Square and I always enjoyed strolling through it to find lunch and visit various city offices for stories.

As an interning reporter at the paper one of my jobs was to go through the archives to find past stories for the This Week in History column. It was always fascinating to see old papers from as recently as a few decades ago full of stories about livestock auctions and crop prices and realize just how recently Collierville was still a mostly self-sufficient small rural town, not the suburb people think of it as today.

The Square is a beloved part of Collierville. Residents frequently mention it and the small-town atmosphere it lends to the city as reasons why they live there. The irony is that the Square represents the polar opposite of so much of the generic suburban sprawl that typifies so much of the rest of the town. If you go just a little northwest to Poplar Avenue you will see the same sort of poorly-planned commercial development that led to the blight found on Lamar Avenue today. And the city has become increasingly choked with generic subdivisions with single entrances from a main road feeding into a network of cul-de-sacs.

My wife's parents live in Collierville and we got married in the Town Square a little over five years ago in April of 2007. Between that and working next to the Square during college the area brings back a lot of fond memories.

The most iconic and beloved part of Collierville, which is frequently presented as the face of the city, is a large, green walkable public space ringed by storefronts that are built out to the street and then surrounded by a mixed use of industrial and residential properties. It's the antithesis of modern suburban development and people naturally gravitate towards it because it is inherently functional and attractive. Modern planners who are looking to create communities instead of sprawl should visit and take notes.

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

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