Posted: 8:00 a.m. Monday, May 27, 2013
By Brad Shepard
A buddy of mine from work who is a big Alabama fan made his maiden voyage to Knoxville last year to watch the Crimson Tide beat the Vols. Given that this is actually one of the [very] few tolerable Bammers, I gave him the lay of the land prior to his trip. He was very excited to see Neyland Stadium and experience the atmosphere of one of the great college football venues in the country with his VERY pregnant wife.
So, a couple days before he headed up to God's country, he approached me wanting to know what things he would need to experience to get the full effect, where the best watering holes were and what he needed to eat that was close to campus. After apologizing to him in advance that he wouldn't really, truly be getting to experience Knoxville in all its glory given that our football team hasn't recently been worth watching, I gave him the basics:
To me, a Fall Football Saturday in Neyland just isn't complete without a meal at Gus's. Now, before I get into why I love Gus's so much, I have to pause a bit to tell you about this buddy. He's a great guy and a huge food connoisseur. He has spearheaded a Facebook page that a bunch of us friends are members of called the "Wall of Grease" where we post pictures of some of the best, greasiest meals we eat around town and on our travails. That way, we have kind of a food guide and can see what others eat and whether or not they enjoyed it.
For me to throw Gus's out there was taking a big personal risk since it was going to be scrutinized on The Wall. But, I knew that this joint was right in my buddy's wheelhouse.
Long story short, he went to Knoxville, obviously the Bammers had a good time thanks to the charitable contributions of Derek Dooley and Co., and Gus's more than delivered on my promise. He settled on the Steak In a Sack and an order of fries. Of course, I'm sure one of Gus's warmer-than-you'd-like-but-you-really-don't-care-that-much beverages was thrown in as well.
It passed the test with flying colors as I knew it would. After all, how could Gus's not succeed at a place called the Wall of Grease???
If you're a die-hard Vols fan and especially if you're a UT student or graduate, you know Gus's well. It's been serving Knoxville for 31 years and was founded by Gus Captain, who -- last time I went on a game day, was still hanging around, though he's passed it on to new ownership. The service is sometimes a bit surly and the food is a smidge overpriced, but without question it's worth it to me. The prices are jacked up even more on football Saturdays, but, trust me, you don't mind that when you're indulging in the greasy goodness of the food you're eating.
Again, if you're familiar with UT, you're probably familiar with Gus's. Surely, you've been there multiple times. But if you haven't, GO. By all means, GO.
When you get there [by the way, "there" is Melrose, just off the section of Cumberland Ave. known as The Strip] you won't think much of what you see. It's not glamorous, by any means. Matter of fact, "hole in the wall" may even be a compliment. There are fewer than 20 tables in a single room that is decorated by Tennessee memorabilia, murals of Vols football, autographed pictures of some of the greatest UT players ever and old, framed newspaper articles of major victories. To walk around and see what all is on the walls is to take a step back into the rich, recent history of UT football.
Then, there's the food. If you're one of these health-nut, fru-fru, watch-your-cholesterol sissy boys, this ain't your joint. Gus's is for the fat boy in all of us, and for the ones of us who are already fat boys [or gals], you pick your poison from a menu of mostly fried features and just sit back and enjoy. For me? I always get a steak sandwich with melted Swiss. Accompanying that is a basket -- which is more like a boatload -- of lightly seasoned fries and a 20 oz. Diet Coke. The cost is inconsequential; it won't break you in the least, and you'll be more than happy.
It was the 2 a.m. Meal of Champions stumbling back from the Strip when I was in college, and it's a perfect go-to for lunch before a game today.
I love it so much and now get to eat it so rarely, it's difficult for me to expand my horizons and try anything else on the menu. The meal, much like the restaurant, is just part of my Tennessee football ritual. Immediately out the doors is all the atmosphere you could want. Walking up the steep hill to Hodges Library and beyond gets you within view of Neyland Stadium, and though you won't walk off near the calories you ingested, you won't much care. It's worth it.
If what I've described to you -- greasy food, serious service without the smile, hot drinks and a little too-high prices for "fast" food -- doesn't really sound appealing, please don't let that stop you from going. ALL of that is part of the atmosphere, part of Gus's charm and a puzzle piece of Tennessee football. All that is totally worth the perfect food you'll put in your mouth and the die-hard Vols love that will surround you.
Hey, if Peyton Manning loves it -- and Peyton LOVES Gus's, often referring to it as one of his favorite haunts during his UT days -- and hundreds of our Tennessee football legends love it [again, they do] those guys have to be doing something right. Quite simply put: Gus's is entwined in Tennessee football, it's woven in the thread work of the University of Tennessee, and it's a place that is important to me.
It's one of the reasons why I love game days.