As anybody who has hung around a newsroom can tell you, there are a few truly dirty words in journalism, the first and most wicked of these being "assume," that hiss of a verb that inevitably makes an ass out of "u" and "me." Just as bad or worse are its cousins: "guess," "prognosticate," and all those others that have to do with attempting to peer into the murky future and write what you see for folks here in the present. There's no sure thing in this world, kid, and if anybody tells you different, they're probably trying to sell you something.
That said, I'm confident enough in the following statement that I'm willing to hedge my bets and risk looking stupid: Unless there's some kind of paprika shortage between now and then, come this time next year, the Best Fried Chicken in Arkansas will be found at the new franchise of Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken set to open in the River Market.
If you've ever partaken of the Gus's outlets up in Tennessee, it's likely you understand my enthusiasm. I stopped in at the Gus's at 310 S. Front St. in Memphis a few years back, and was soon bemoaning all those wasted plates of Memphis barbecue I'd eaten over the years. You see, Gus's fried chicken is, without a doubt, the greatest-ever expression of the effort to wed bird, flour, spices and hot fat. Like many foods that are the pinnacle of their form, the taste defies the alphabet. Amazing doesn't cut it. A little online surfing finds far-flung devotees who've tried to fake the Gus's recipe, and the general consensus is that it probably involves a swim in buttermilk, followed by some combination of flour, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, hot sauce and possibly some sparkling dust you can only get from the Devil by going to the crossroads at midnight. Whatever is in it, though, the real thing features a spicy, crispy, red-orange crust surrounding the most flavorful fowlflesh this side of heaven. It's good enough to make you pick the bones like a starving refugee.
Carter Malloy is one of those responsible for bringing Gus's to Arkansas. After eating at the Memphis location a little over two years ago and finding it "the best fried chicken I've ever had," he and his wife, Jenny, paired up with two other local investors and resolved to bring a franchise here.
"It's taken a couple of years to get everything lined up," Malloy said, but he thinks he'll be able to open "in the next couple months."
Malloy said the Little Rock location will recreate the laid-back ambience of Gus's outlets in Tennessee, but even more importantly the look and taste of the chicken will be imported exactly, down to the secret recipes and preparation techniques.
"The only important thing to us is recreating the exact flavor of the food, which we anticipate doing to the fullest extent possible," he said. "We absolutely have one mission, and that's the quality of the food, and to make it an exact, carbon copy of what you get at the other Gus's [locations]."
As you might expect, Malloy is anticipating that the Little Rock Gus's will be quite a crowd scene once the fryers heat up and the doors open for business. "We're hoping that patrons will be patient with us in the first few months after we open," he said, "because we're anticipating that demand will be pretty strong."
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