Last Updated on Sunday, 24 April 2011 09:17
Willie Mae's Scotch House
Mid-City: 2401 St Ann. 504-822-9503. Map.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
This is a very small neighborhood place specializing in fried chicken and a handful of other Creole dishes. After the hurricane, it became the darling of the national media, whose image of New Orleans eating it fit perfectly. (The fact that few people in New Orleans had so much as heard of the place didn't deter them.) Suddenly everybody who came to town felt it essential to eat there. The little place was overwhelmed, and it hasn't been the same since.
WHY IT'S GOOD
It has been called the best fried chicken in America. It never was the best in New Orleans, but it was good. It isn't consistently true anymore. The batter is unusual--it reminds me a bit of tempura--and at its best it really is delicious. But it's not consistent. This is also true of the beans and chops on the few other dishes on the menu.
Willie Mae Seaton opened her restaurant in the 1960s, and was still cooking into her nineties. When a critic for the newspaper wanted to write about the little cafe, Willie Mae asked that neither her restaurant's name nor location be revealed. She knew that her place was just for her loyal regulars, not hordes of tourists. Katrina flooding shut her down, but John Currence--the terrific chef in Oxford, Mississippi--gave a lot of time, money and personal sweat to rebuild both Willie Mae's restaurant and her house. That alerted the reporters to the story. And the next thing we knew Willie Mae had $200,000 raised in her behalf and a James Beard Award. It's nice that she got the attention, but it has done less than nothing for the food here.
It's a one-room corner cafe, comfortable and sharp with its post-storm renovation. Walls are covered with locally-produced art. It's everything you'd want in the way of a little neighborhood Creole cafe. The service staff is usually nice but when overwhelmed can be indifferent. Everything is cooked to order, and you may have to wait for a table, so don't come in a hurry. And bring cash--the only thing they accept in payment.
Pork chops: breaded, country fried, or chicken-fried
Smothered veal chops
FOR BEST RESULTS
Get there early, especially if there's a big visitor event going on in town, and especially if it's a music event. (Or avoid.)
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
How about dinner? And please take credit cards.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency -2
- Value +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +2
- Open Monday lunch