When it came down to picking a spot for my bachelor party, I had quite a few options – I was able to narrow it down to a reasonably narrow list – Chicago, Vegas, NOLA, Charleston, and Austin. I wanted to travel and go somewhere warm, as the near freezing April temps in Chicago were getting to me, so that ruled out Chicago. Most people were traveling from Chicago or the West Coast so Charleston seemed unreasonable, and Jazz Fest was going on, which means NOLA would’ve been a bit of a shit-show. So, it came down to Austin vs. Vegas, and as much fun as Vegas probably would’ve been, the thought of waiting in line to pay $500 for a bottle of Absolut at XS or whatever the hot new club is, just didn’t seem all that attractive. Maybe I’m getting old. Or maybe waiting in line for some Franklin brisket just sounded better.
Well, I arrived in Austin Thursday around noon – my buddy McC picked me up from the airport and I headed to our first food excursion for lunch – Gus’s. For those of you who don’t know, Gus’s is a Memphis transplant, the original in a small town outside of Memphis. It has, IMO, the *best* fried chicken I’ve ever had. So when I found out that a location opened up in Austin, it seemed like a natural first stop.
Now sometimes, you remember something being awesome, and then you have it again, and you’ve built it up in your head so much that you can’t help but be disappointed…not so in this case.
The meal starts with some piping hot fried pickles. Probably the only disappointing parts of the meal were a. The ranch was not fresh, but packaged ranch, and b. the lack of catfish on the menu here. The pickles were well battered, mostly sweet with a nice bite to them. Add a 16oz Lone Star to it and the bachelor party has begun (I couldn’t remember the last time I had a beer during lunch on a weekday – damn, it felt good)
The picture here and pictures everywhere won’t do the chicken at Gus’s justice. It has everything you want in a fried chicken (as long as you want it spicy). The skin is perfectly crisp, but doesn’t crumble when you bite into it. The skin has a nice bit of cayenne to it, but the real spice hits when you bite into it. The meat, always piping hot and perfectly cooked. But it’s the spice of the actual meat that sets it apart from other fried chickens. There’s a perfect underlying heat that lingers and is what makes Gus’s stand out. It can’t be explained. And it’s a well-kept secret. People have tried to replicate, and thankfully, I have a fiancee who is on a never-ending quest to find the perfect fried chicken recipe. We will try some of the internet copycats, and will see how close they come.
I’ll fast forward a few days to Saturday afternoon when we headed back to Gus’s – this time with a much larger group – similar story, and now after 4 trips to Gus’s (twice in Memphis), I have no doubt that the fried chicken here will be tough to beat.
I can’t say much about the pies here, although they were ordered. The chocolate chess pie (front right) was pretty decadent and solid.
Thursday evening, we headed to Lambert’s in downtown Austin – a bit of a dressed up BBQ joint, it seemed like a good lowkey Thursday dinner spot, and a good way to start the trip, as the bulk of our crew had arrived by then.
We started with a pair of apps, the first, an amazing boudin fritter dish with a perfectly tender, soft texture with a nice kick and a firm, fried shell. The second were a somewhat underwhelming wild boar rib dish. The meat was a bit tough, and not quite as gamey as I would have expected. The mix of the blue cheese and the sambal paste balanced nicely.
For an entree, I went with the brisket – it was pretty disappointing as a start (although I say this in retrospect after the rest of my trip). The coffee rub had a good flavor, but the crust didn’t have enough bark to it, and the meat itself was very dried out. Pretty average, and not quite what I expected out of Texas BBQ.
The meal at Lamberts was a great time, but the food was a bit underwhelming. Thankfully, the trip was just beginning….more to come soon….