Are you keeping a food bucket list? You know, a list of places you must eat at before you die?
If so, put the fried chicken from New Orleans’ Willie Mae’s Scotch House on your list. You might want to scooch it up above others on your list, especially if you’ve already crossed off gems like Cafe du Monde and Commander’s Palace.
You may be asking, why Willie Mae’s? A New Orleans’ local told me it was over-hyped. And then she told me she had never been.
You can’t say something isn’t worth it if you’ve never tried it. Turns out, she didn’t want to bother with the lines that formed since the place was featured on every food TV show from here to Timbuktu, including Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.
Well, friends, I have tried it and I’m here to tell you, a plate of Willie Mae’s fried chicken ought to be on your bucket list somewhere. Top, middle or bottom? That depends on how much you adore fried foods.
Willie Mae Seaton opened Willie Mae’s Scotch House as a bar in the late 1950’s, but it was the soul food cooking that made her a success. Smothered pork chop, fried okra, red beans and rice — and of course, that fried chicken.
For me, the fried chicken is the only reason to go. The other dishes are good, but that fried chicken is GREAT. It is the best fried chicken I have ever eaten, and I’ve had some great fried chicken in my lifetime, including a mighty fine plate at the Busy Bee Cafe in Atlanta.
The recipe is top secret, but from watching every video I could find on the matter, plus peeking into the kitchen on multiple, unnecessary trips to the bathroom, this much I know:
The chicken is salted and seasoned with a secret spice mix that looks like any other Creole spice mix. It’s dipped into a wet batter (thinner than pancake batter) and carefully dropped into a large vat of boiling oil — I’m guessing peanut oil. No cast iron skillets here — this is serious, deep-fried chicken.
If only I could describe the crunch, the steam, the aroma, the juiciness of Willie Mae’s chicken with the credit it deserves. For a moment, the world stood still. Fireworks went off in my brain with that first bite, and didn’t stop until I’d picked the bones clean and licked my greasy fingers.
I was on a fried chicken high for days. Honestly, I don’t even remember what I ate after that.
Located in the oldest African-American neighborhood in America, Willie Mae’s Scotch House won the “American Classic” award from the James Beard Foundation in 2005, just a few months before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the legendary old, white house.
Thanks to the non-profit Southern Foodways Alliance and the generosity of chefs, musicians, and food lovers from all over, Willie Mae’s restaurant was rebuilt and re-opened in 2007.
It’s a 30-40 minute walk from the French Quarter, but only a 10-minute cab ride.
I don’t care how you get there — cab, bus, walk, or two-step — just get there.
It might just be the best fried chicken you’ve ever tasted, too.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
2401 Saint Ann Street
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday