Some times the voyage is just as good as the destination…
While in New Orleans, I wanted to make it a point to pay another visit to Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Since my last visit here in 2001, this place has been through a lot, including being featured in John T Edge’s Fried Chicken book, getting a James Beard American Classics award in 2005, and getting seriously damaged in Katrina later in 2005.
Long respected as one of the area’s (and heck, the country’s) best fried chicken places, Willie Mae’s is well off of the normal tourist beat, being up in the 7th Ward on St Ann, and a healthy hike from our hotel.
However, Carol and I decided to pay Willie Mae’s a visit, walking through the Vieux Carre, past the closed Louis Armstrong Park, under I-10 with it’s many homeless people, and northward.
As we’re doing this, we’re obviously standing out as tourists (the camera, if nothing else, is a dead giveaway), and a large sedan pulls up to us. The owner of the sedan, a guy named Melvin, asked what we were doing in that part of town, and if we were trying to get mugged. When mentioning Willie Mae’s Chicken, he said “Hey, I’ve always wanted to try them, and he gave us a ride over”.
As the picture shows, Willie Mae’s isn’t exactly the most photogenic place in NOLA (indeed, it’s probably the least photogenic place I’ve eaten since Smoki O’s BBQ in St Louis a year ago), located in a part of town that experienced severe flooding, and with several of the local buildings being demolished. However, due in no small part to the efforts of many locals, Willie Mae’s reopened in 2007.
We grabbed a table in the corner along with Melvin, who turns out to be the owner of one of the local bars (Melvin’s, 2112 St Claude). He was a splendid table companion, telling us many other local places we should try (Betsy’s Pancake House, Two Sisters, …).
The food itself was every bit as good as I remembered. The cornbread was perfectly done, with a firm texture that was neither crumbly nor spongy, the red beans and rice perfectly smooth and smoky without falling apart, and the chicken was perfectly moist, with a light breading that simply melted in your mouth. One of the finest chicken dinners I’ve ever had.
We also got to meet some of the regulars, including local musician Kermit Ruffins (who is a friend of Melvins), and were invited to Kermit’s show tonight.
Afterwards, Melvin was kind enough to give us a driving tour of the the 7th Ward, showing us all sorts of cool houses and obscure sites (such as the site of the original Ruth’s Chris Steak House), and then dropped us back off at our hotel. I can’t thank Melvin enough for his generosity in driving us around, sharing his stories with us, and being good company.