Willie Mae's Scotch House (New Orleans)

Location: New Orleans, USA
Address: 2401 St Ann Street
Type of Meal: Lunch

I never quite trust a restaurant proclaiming they're the “best in the ____” for anything. But, I did hear about Willie Mae’s Scotch House through various best of lists and Google their name with "award" and their 2005 America’s Classic award from the James Beard Foundation will inevitably pop up. Of course, the dedication of their fan base may also say something about the quality of their food. After being destroyed in Katrina, a group of individuals donated $200,000 and three years’ worth of time to rebuild the restaurant – all for a daily free meal!

With that in mind, Willie Mae’s became a destination for me during our New Orleans trip. After a nerve wracking half an hour journey (more to come later) my friend and I settled down in their simple dining room to tuck into a dish of America’s best fried chicken ($10). Each plate contains three pieces (thigh, drumstick and wing) and for a $2 supplement you can upgrade a piece to white meat. We stuck with the dark meat – after all this is where all the flavour resides!

Honestly, I’m not an expert when it comes to fried chicken – I can count on two hands the number of restaurants I’ve had it at (with KFC and Popeye’s being part of the mix). So, the fact that it’s the best fried chicken I’ve had in my life may be but a small testimonial to Willie Mae’s offering. But, what made it stand out from the rest? Pretty much everything from the crunch of the crust, juice in the meat to overall freshness of the dish.

The thick and crispy batter remained airy and light; with a flakiness to the crust so that each bite broke through layers of delicious coating which shatters in your mouth. Additionally, it’s well seasoned - if you are sensitive to salt you may find it too salty - but I love it so the flavourful taste was perfect. The meat must have been brined prior to cooking as even by itself the flavours held up and plenty of juice still remained leaving each piece moist.

With a choice of one side, we stuck with potato salad which was decent and had a fresh crunch from the green onions mixed in. Some mushy peas also accompanied the chicken and luckily weren’t too soft; left plain its naturalness helped calm down the rest of the dish.

Back to our tense journey prior to the meal. In reality, it’s likely an overreaction – after all, we arrived safe and nothing actually happened to us. But, after spending most of our days in the lively French Quarter and Central Business District, to walk through neighborhoods which have not been rebuilt and are more industrial in nature was a bit unnerving. So, if you’re going to visit Willie Mae’s I’d suggest hailing a cab or at least walk along Basin Road to Orleans Road before cutting onto St Ann Street.

Whatever you do, just go there early. We arrived at 11am on a weekday and after finishing at noon the restaurant was starting to fill up. We overheard the waitress telling another table that normally the lines don’t start until after 12. So, if you don’t want to wait while smelling the intoxicating fried chicken scent in line … be an early bird.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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