Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The best fried chicken on earth - Willie Mae's Restaurant, New Orleans

I have a confession - ever since running the runDisney Dopey challenge last week, I have been an endless pit of consuming any unhealthy foods I can put in my body. While I am by no means a person who follows a strict diet, I do tend to eat healthy 75% of the time, allowing myself cheat meals when I want them.  Yet last week was a total debauchery. I craved and ate everything from fried chicken, cheeseburgers, whole pizzas, ice cream sundaes, brownies, cheese fries - you name it, I probably consumed it last week.
Speaking of fried chicken, those two words bring me back to an incredible meal I had two months ago in New Orleans at the iconic Willie Mae's Scotch House. Willie Mae's is located off the beaten path, around a 10 minute drive from the French Quarter. If you are an outsider looking at the establishment, you would think this place is a typical Mom and Pop restaurant you find in the south. Not so much friends....
Upon walking inside, you felt right at home. Greeted by multiple staff members, who I later found out many are related to Willie Mae herself. This is a true family ran southern gem, and if you have dined here - you know where I am going with this. This was by far the best fried chicken I have ever had in my life. My family is from the South and knows their way around fried chicken. Yet this meal scarred me in a way that I can never eat fried chicken without comparing it to Willie Mae's. Better than my Grandmothers prize recipe.....sorry Gran....
We all ordered sweet teas and a fried chicken platter. Corn bread muffins were offered (which are an added cost) and we happily obliged. Perfect savory and sweet corn bread muffins which you know were cooked in a cast iron muffin pan.
Then the fried chicken came out. The skin was unlike any other fried chicken I have encountered. I read where other patrons explained it as tempura skin, which I disagree with although it is light and crispy. It is much more complex than tempura. Yet you will not find yourself wiping grease off of your hands. It had the perfect crunch full of the right amount of flavor. A skin this crispy would make you think your chicken would be dry - not the case. The chicken was so juicy and although I despise this word - moist. No other word to describe it.
For our side, each of us ordered red beans and rice with the exception of Gabe's Mom, who ordered Butter Beans. I cannot choose between the two which I liked better - every bite I changed my mind. Either way, you cannot go wrong. I strongly suggest either of the beans and rice dishes as your side if you dine at Willie Mae's. I wanted to eat everything on the table, and we did just that.
Willie Mae's fried chicken recipe may as well be locked up in fort knox. Upon googling the term, you will find countless blogs and articles like this one raving about the fried chicken. It is a known fact that they use a wet batter and the photo above shows that. Check out how thick this batter was - oh and I have tried a Willie Mae's copycat recipe I found online. The skin was very familiar but not the same. Also my chicken was under cooked and didn't have the same flavor.

If you find yourself in New Orleans, do yourself a favor and make sure you visit Willie Mae's. It is only open for lunch and is very busy with both locals and tourists so plan your day accordingly. I know in our household, Willie Mae's will make be an establishment we visit on every trip to the Big Easy....well maybe not our wedding weekend :)

Here's a bit of history on this historic establishment.

Willie Mae Seaton, the restaurant’s namesake and proprietress for most of its long history, originally opened the famous business in 1956 as a bar on Treme St. A year later, however, the young business moved to the corner of St. Ann and North Tonti St., where it has been ever since. For several years, this space held not only Willie Mae’s, but also a barbershop and beauty salon. When the latter businesses closed in 1972, Willie Mae’s expanded in to their former space. This expansion allowed Willie Mae’s to begin offering restaurant service, and the modern incarnation of Willie Mae’s was born.

By 2005, Willie Mae’s was locally and nationally famous for its exquisite fried chicken, smothered pork chops, butter beans and other southern specialties. In May of the same year, the small, family owned restaurant achieved what most other eateries can only dream about—it was honored by the James Beard Foundation, dubbed the ‘Oscars of the Food World’ by Time magazine, with the American Icon award for the Southern Region. Willie Mae Seaton was also honored at city hall for her contributions to the city of New Orleans. Yet, only 3 months later, Hurricane Katrina flooded the restaurant, kitchen and bar with 4 feet of water, throwing the institution’s future into doubt. Help came in the form of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which assisted in raising $200,000 and mobilized volunteers from all over the country to help the Seaton family rebuild. Due in a large part to their efforts, Willie Mae’s Scotch House reopened in April of 2007.

Willie Mae's Scotch House on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. Mmmmmm...I am SO jealous of you and my bro for experiencing this amazing chicken. The way you described the skin...I am seriously drooling on the keyboard right now. And even those butter beans sound crazy good.

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    1. You have to make time to go here for lunch one day while in NOLA. So isn't on my wedding week diet but you need to have this fried chicken in your life!

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