I’ve been wanting to eat here ever since I heard about this place since Katrina. Although I am from New Orleans there are many places that, of course, I have never heard of and Willie Mae’s was one of them.
It’s claim to having the best fried chicken around I’ve always been skeptical of as I am always skeptical when someone says or even gets awarded for having the best of anything. I mean, c’mon, a lot of it has to do with personal taste. I guess if enough people say that a certain place has the best of anything, well then, the preponderance of opinion would have it lean that way.
So we decided that it was time to take the trek to the other side of town and try their famous chicken.
The story of this restaurant goes like this: Willie Mae had been making this special fried chicken from a secret recipe for years in this little what some would call hole in the wall in Treme near Dooky Chase restaurant. The federal flooding precipitated by Hurricane Katrina put this whole neighborhood under several feet of water.
Many wondered if the restaurant let alone the neighborhood or most of New Orleans would ever come back again. But Willie Mae’s is an institution that had won several awards not the least being the James Beard Award for the one of best fried chicken and the Food Network Award for the best friend chicken in America.
Willie Mae was in her early nineties when Katrina hit and had spent everyday in her restaurant for years running the place and frying up the chicken. She wondered if she could ever scrape together enough money from insurance and donations to put the place back together.
Well, with a lot of help and volunteer efforts the place was put back into great condition and finally opened a few years ago. I figured that a place with such a story and such a history and so many awards this reporter needed to make a visit and see what all the hubbub was about.
The Scotch House is this oasis in kind of a run-down black neighborhood with many of the houses still abandoned from the flooding. The front room only has about 8 or 10 tables with a bar area in the back room containing a few more tables. Ninety percent of the folks in there were white. In New Orleans even iffy neighborhoods never keeps anybody away from good food.
A table became free and we sat at one by the window. Service was a little slow. But of course slow is relative to how much time you have and how hungry you are. We each ordered a plate of the fried chicken, the dark meat kind. (I think dark meat has more flavor than white which is usually dry and tasteless to me.) When the meal finally came I was greeted by these three darkly fried crispy chicken pieces.
As I grabbed into the skin it crackled in my fingers. I popped it into my mouth and was hit by one of the most succulent, juicy, salty fried flavors I’ve ever had. Of course, the skin is the best part so if you are planning on coming here to pull off the skin and set it aside because you think it’s too greasy and bad for you, don’t bother settin’ foot in the door.
Now, just to let you know, I don’t eat a lot of fried foods because, well, fried foods just ain’t good for ya. But I will make an exception for special occasions. And this was a special occasion, I was eating what’s considered by some to be the best fried chicken in America. Besides the incredible fried skin the meat was tasty through and through, that overall goodness that a lot of fried chickens lack.
A nice salad comes with the meal as does cornbread and collards greens which I loved. And you get all this for around 10 bucks.
As we were leaving I asked our waiter if Willie Mae still comes everyday and he told me that she had turned the reins over to her granddaughter so was not really involved much with the day to day operations of the place. But her spirit is still there in the institution and the award-winning fried chicken she created. And no doubt will be there as long as there is a Willie Mae’s Scotch House.
2401 Saint Ann St New Orleans, LA 70119-3405 - (504) 822-9503
Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm
- New Orleans Restaurant Update May 2011 (billives.typepad.com)