There is no doubt in my mind. New Orleans is the most unique city in America. While it is most well known for its out of this world music scene and one of the biggest parties in the world, Mardi Gras, its food scene might just be the best thing the Crescent City has to offer. Whether it be cheap eats like Po’ boys at Parasol’s Bar & Restaurant or fine dining at one of the best restaurants in the country, Commander’s Palace, you can find it all in NOLA!
One institution that has been deeply rooted in the southern cooking scene in New Orleans is Willie Mae’s Scotch House. The restaurant was founded by Willie Mae Seaton (pictured below) in 1957 as a bar in New Orleans’ Historic Treme neighborhood. A year later it was moved to its current location, consisting of a bar, barbershop, and beauty salon. In the early 1970’s the location began its start as a full service restaurant. Over time Willie Mae’s chicken became more popular and reached the pinnacle of American restaurant awards in 2005, as Ms. Willie Mae Seaton was honored with the prestigious James Beard Award for America’s Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region. Just as this award brought national attention to the restaurant, Hurricane Katrina struck causing severe damage that forced Ms. Mae to close up her shop. Willie Mae’s Scotch House was able to reopen in 2007 and has continued to garner national praise from the Food Network and the Travel Channel, hailing it as America’s Best Fried Chicken. In 2015 Ms. Willie Mae Seaton passed away at the age of 99. Her great-granddaughter Kerry Seaton Stewart currently runs operations at the amazing fried chicken spot. Quite the story right? 😮
While the restaurant is a little bit out of the hustle and bustle of New Orlean’s French Quarter, located in the Treme neighborhood, don’t expect to just walk right in without a long wait. Customers begin lining up before Willie Mae’s opens and many times the wait to get inside the small restaurant can be over an hour. The smell of fresh cooked fried chicken comes out of the restaurant’s vents, taunting it’s soon to be patrons and making their mouths water. Plan to get there on the early side if you don’t want to wait long. But regardless of how long you wait it’s all worth it in the end! The outside of the restaurant is unassuming except for the red and green sign detailing the location’s namesake. Once inside you may feel like you are back in the 1950’s with an interior that truly looks like it was a former barbershop (which it was) and plenty of artwork and memorabilia from that time period. The service is standard and the waiters and waitresses are all down to earth and friendly, exhibiting lovely southern hospitality. It’s nothing fancy, but there’s no need for fancy thrills or nice furniture when you’ve got some of the best damn fried chicken on the planet. The place could be a solitary confinement chamber for all I care. As long as they get me the fried chicken that I’ve devoured all three times I’ve been there I’ll be content!
Before I get into Willie Mae’s entree options let me talk about their sides. Most entrees will include one side choice such as their mac & cheese, sweet potato fries, fried okra, cornbread muffins, or other southern staples. My server tells me every time to get the butter beans which are tasty but nothing out of this world. That same sentiment can be held true to all the sides I’ve tried. Everything is fine, but nothing is excellent. Don’t get carried away with ordering a bunch of sides. Save your room for the fried chicken!
For their entrees they do offer other options besides for fried chicken, including a veal smothered in brown gravy, baked chicken, and chicken tenders. I’m sure these entrees are all very good but don’t you dare not order the fried chicken if it’s your first time there! Warning: After you order the fried chicken for the first time you will want to come back again and order the fried chicken, and it will be a never ending cycle. But it is a never ending cycle that you will be totally content with. If you bring a friend and they try to order anything other than the fried chicken give them a slap on the wrist. Tell the waiter or waitress that they are a bit disoriented from the crazy New Orleans’ humidity and that they will actually have the fried chicken (unless of course they are vegetarian, but if they are why are they even at a fried chicken place?).
Now that I’ve voiced my opinion that you need to get the fried chicken, let me back it up. The chicken comes out and upon first bite you notice how juicy and well cooked the meat is. But the breading is what makes this fried chicken one of the best in the US. It is crispy, flaky, and salty, with a nice hint of spice. The texture and flavor is out of this world. As you stuff your face full of the greasy goodness you can’t help but keep licking your fingers because the breading is that amazing. Willie Mae’s fried chicken is truly finger lickin’ good.
For many years Willie Mae’s has reigned supreme as my favorite fried chicken. Hell, I’ve been three times and you can bet your ass that upon my next trip to the Crescent City I’ll be waiting in line for another taste of fried chicken crack. I mean no disrespect to Willie Mae’s Scotch House but they are now my second favorite fried chicken spot of all time. I have discovered another fried chicken place that narrowly beats Willie Mae’s and I will be sure to unveil the identity of this restaurant when the right time comes. As Uncle Ben in Spiderman once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I will not fail in my responsibility to steer you to the very best fried chicken. In the meantime, get down to New Orleans and get yourself some of Willie Mae’s masterpiece.
-Michael Averbook, Foodie Extraordinaire