Willie Mae’s Scotch House
1/2 I was recently talking with a trade mag writer and got on the topic of pizza, burger and fried chicken mania. He didn’t get it and was of a burger is a burger why overanalyze it mentality. I tend to agree (says she who photographs 85% of her restaurant meals). I just can’t get into the nuances of a pizza slice, and frankly, don’t have strong opinions on these American classics. I’m forgiving on the mediocre end—I can’t think of a particularly bad burger that I’ve eaten.
But on the rare occasion that I encounter an exemplary version of a foodstuff, I certainly recognize it. Willie Mae’s Scotch House, the no-secret-to-anyone restaurant just a handful of streetcar stops from The French Quarter, squeezes in the crowds during their narrow four-hours-a-day operating window. And it’s not just touristy hype.
I ate a lot of fried chicken over our long New Orleans weekend: fast food-style at Popeye’s and even lower brow at Brother’s, a 24-hour convenience store near our hotel. It was all pretty good. But nothing matched the pure golden perfection of this three-piece plate.
The crust is substantial, but not superfluous or heavy despite its strong presence. I don’t know if it’s the seasoning (neither too salty or peppery) or the cast-iron pan frying that makes the skin and batter meld into a single, flaky entity. Greaseless is often an adjective used to describe stellar fried chicken. These drumsticks and breasts were oily, grease was present (James wrapped up my third uneaten piece in napkins and stuck it in his bag and it soaked right through its paper wrapping) and there was nothing wrong with that. The meat stayed juicy. Normally, I’m ho hum on chicken breasts but the one I saved to eat in the middle of the night was still moist and the skin hadn’t turned blah and flabby.
Soupy butter beans are a classic side. I regret not ordering a biscuit, too.
So, now I have a benchmark and I’m spoiled. I’ve yet to eat any fried chicken in NYC that matches Wille Mae’s. Ok, that’s not saying much since I actively avoid crowds and long waits, particularly in one corner of Brooklyn. I will build up my tolerance and see if Pies ‘n’ Thighs and The Commodore deliver the sublime experience everyone says they do.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House * 2401 Saint Ann St., New Orleans, LA