Gus’s BBQ has been a mainstay in South Pasadena since the 1940s. It was the place to go to satisfy a craving for reasonably priced cocktails and old fashioned BBQ. You could almost be guaranteed to find any number of the local colorful characters at the bar in the back, and patrons from high chair days to senior citizens dining in the main room and front dining areas. All of this small town class was threatened when Gus’s underwent a change of ownership and renovations in 2008, and my friends, mother and I feared the worst. I smugly resisted the revamped Gus’s, focusing my attention on my other favorite bbq joint, Robin’s. However, for some reason or another, in 2010 either hunger, curiosity or an empty wallet got the best of me and I joined my mother in crossing enemy territory.
Well, hell’s bells. It was good. Damn good.
We’ve gone back half a dozen times and I’m trying to branch out with other dishes. Here are the highlights of my most recent visit to Gus’s Barbecue:
Order: Chicken fried steak with country gravy, creamed corn and garlic mashed potatoes.
Verdict: Amazing! I never had CFS before, and this one set the bar very high for future orders. Their gravy was home-comforting wonderful. The garlic mashed potatoes, while good, were definitely not garlicky enough for my liking (I should have probably told the waitress that I am not afraid of lots of garlic) and the creamed corn was a sweet side treat. Its consistency was neither gelatinous nor soupy, but an ideal combination.
Order: Fried chicken with a side of apple cider gravy, garlic mashed potatoes and braised Southern greens.
Verdict: While the chicken was moist on the inside, crispy heaven on the outside, the potatoes weren’t garlicky enough to really warrant being called “garlic mashed potatoes” and the greens were too bitter to consume. The gravy was too tangy/apple-vinegar tasting, leaving a sour-sweet rather than rich gravy taste. My suggestion to get the greens more palatable is to saute them in garlic oil.
Order: Fried chicken and waffles with syrup.
Verdict: Heavenly balance between savory and sweet, exactly what my sister was going for. Generous portions of cornflake fried chicken & golden toasted waffles gave her enough leftovers for another meal.
Notable mentions: The Fremont Burger, red skin potato salad, Old Fashioned Cobb salad, BBQ shrimp salad, homemade milkshakes and the beer braised Texas brisket sandwich.
Upon closer inspection, Gus’s IS still family-owned and operated, just not by the original family. The new owners, however, sport a grade-A resume with the additional ownership of Tops, a mainstay in American diner food in Pasadena. Their dedication to keeping top quality fare flowing from Gus’s kitchen is sure to keep me coming back for more. PS: I was relieved to see one of our towns more colorful curmudgeons slinking out into the windy, dark night, warmed only by booze and the comfort of knowing Gus’s is still a welcome refuge for the waywardly weird.
808 Fair Oaks Avenue
South Pasadena, CA 91030-2606