New Orleans is a town rich with historical food destinations, many of which served up food to match their fame. A great many lie within the French Quarter, and are well-patronized. An equal number, however, are beyond the Quarter's touristy borders. A more adventuresome spirit is required to reach them—the kind that doesn't mind a long streetcar ride or trip to a sketchy neighborhood. (Or one can just take a cab, I suppose. How prosaic.)
Willie Mae's Scotch House is one such place. Hardly unknown, it's been renowned for its fried chicken for years. Founded in the 1950s, it sits on a corner of Saint Ann Street in the Seventh Ward. At one point, the building housed not only the restaurant, but a beauty salon and a barber shop. The Willie Mae of the name is Willie Mae Seaton, who was the chef for many years, well into her 80s. Her granddaughter, Kerry Seaton, now runs the kitchen.
The house feels isolated. The effects of Hurricane Katrina—which shut down Willie Mae's for a time—can still be felt in this neighborhood.
You walk into to a space that feels very much like a house with various rooms. The immediate area has is one of the dining rooms; another slightly fancier one is off to the left. Walk down a hall past the kitchen is some more rustic seating and a small counter (that's where I ate).
I knew I would get the chicken. That's a foregone conclusion. What else was the main question. A local urged me to order the green beans. I did, and they didn't disappoint. I also got red beans and rice. (Prices are amazingly cheap—one of the reasons I love eating in New Orleans. But bring cash.) I'm glad I did, but ordering as much as I did was perhaps a mistake. The food is deceptively filling, because of the thickness and density of the spicy, flavorful chicken batter. After eating the first piece of chicken, I thought, "I could eat this all day!" After the second, I thought maybe I couldn't even finish my plate. I managed to devour the final piece through sheer determination—and a basic inability to stop eating something so delicious. I left knowing I would not need dinner.
A lot of people say it's the best fried chicken in America. All I can say is it's the best fried chicken I've ever had.