If you love fried chicken, then add Willy Mae's Scotch House to your bucket list. This family-run restaurant in New Orleans is widely reputed to offer America's best fried chicken, lauded by the Food Network and Bon Appetit magazine, and winner of a James Beard Award (dubbed the Oscars of the food industry) for America's Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region in 2005.
Queue outside Willie Mae's Restaurant
Willie Mae's first opened as a bar (hence the Scotch House) in 1957 on Treme Street before moving to its current location a year later, sharing the space with a barbershop and a beauty salon. When they both closed in the 1970s, Willy Mae's expanded to become a restaurant, serving Southern-style food.
Today the queue for Willie Mae's starts before the doors even open at 11am. The crowd is a mix of tourists and locals - because everybody loves fried chicken, right?
Willy Mae's dining room
Inside, the dining room is endearingly simple, furnished simply with chairs and tables and a flashback of memorabilia on the walls. Thankfully the place is also air-conditioned, offered cool respite from the muggy New Orleans heat outside.
Corn bread muffins US$0.75 each
The menu is a celebration of Southern-style stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. You've got America's Best Fried Chicken listed right up top, along with chicken fried pork chops, smothered veal, fried chicken salad (yeah boy!) and fried catfish and shrimp.
I can safely say that the cornbread muffins we ate here were the best we'd eat on our entire trip. A golden crust provided a delicious crunch before you hit the buttery and fluffy insides.
Fried catfish with potato fries US$12
We dug into that Southern classic, fried catfish, coated in a light cornmeal crust and served with a mountain of sweet potato fries.
America's best fried chicken with macaronic & cheese and sweet peas US$10
But the main event had to be the fried chicken, deep golden in hue and served with your choice of side - we chose macaroni and cheese.
The fried chicken is unlike anything I've ever tasted. It's all about the skin of course, which comes away in whole sheets if you tease it away gently - that's how crisp it is. The crunch is deafening, and the flavour of chicken fat is overwhelming, like you're eating chicken crackling, because, yes really, that's exactly what it is, the skin rendered so that it's nothing but crunchy awesomeness.
This isn't fried chicken for the faint-hearted. Go in with an empty stomach and working arteries and you'll be rewarded with the most intense fried chicken experience on the planet. The chicken is juicy and succulent, but that crust of earth-shattering intensely flavoured chicken skin will change your life. Truly.
Side order of fried chicken US$7.50 for three pieces
Tram on Canal Street
We'd driven to New Orleans from Austin and the wall of humidity hit as soon as we approached the swampy marshlands of Louisiana. New Orleans is a picturesque city, with beautiful architecture to be found in its pre-war neoclassical mansions, American townhouse and Creole cottages.
Horse and carriage rides for tourists
New Orleans is a hugely popular destination for tourists, and is said to be one of the top ten most visited cities in the United States.
Creole townhouses in the French Quarter with their iconic balconies
Bourbon Street by day
We reckon half of these tourists must be party people, judging by the raucous scenes on Bourbon Street on Saturday night. It's a sea of hens nights and bucks nights that sweep across the French Quarter, armed with hand grenades and feather boas, as beaded necklaces are tossed from the balconies onto people below.
Bourbon Street by night
Bourbon Street partiers
Saxophonist on the bar
Bourbon Street bawdiness
Away from the crowds, we find Atachafalaya Restaurant, hidden in the suburbs and catering for a decidedly sophisticated crowd with its menu of contemporary Creole cuisine. It feels like date night in here, with mood lighting and soft music playing in the background.
Fried green tomatoes with Louisiana crab US$14
The fried green tomatoes with Louisiana crab might just get your date a little hot under the collar. It's a light and fresh dish, with a generous amount of flaked crab scattered across the top.
Spaghetti with prawns and bacon
The spaghetti with prawns and bacon wasn't quite what we were expecting, with thick strands of tubular pasta and a heavy cream sauce.
Shrimp and grits US$26
But the real reason we'd come here is for the shrimp and grits, and thankfully it's bang on the money. The grits are incredibly rich, smooth and buttery, complemented with a gutsy sauce and a tangle of prawns on top.
Jacques Imo's Cafe
You'll find Jacques Imo's Cafe in Carrolton, hugely popular with locals and tourists, and usually requiring a wait time of 1-2 hours. The front bar is packed with people, but wading through the rowdiness will eventually get you to the quieter dining room out the back, painted with hippy forest scenes on the walls and ceiling.
Shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake $US9
It's all about Cajun and Creole food here, and we get stuck into the shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake, not particularly strong in any sense of alligator flavour, but light and airy in texture.
Creole jambalaya US$8
Jambalaya originally hails from the Caribbean, a mash-up of Spanish and French traditions with references to Spanish paella. The Creole version combines chicken sausage and seafood with celery, peppers and onions. Vegetables (including tomatoes), stock and rice are added and simmered with the mixture. It's a hearty dish, with a rich gravy that is warm and comforting.
Crabmeat stuffed shrimp with magnolia sauce US$9
We rejoice in a deep fried bonanza. Crabmeat stuffed shrimp are delectable although the fried grits are a little heavy and stodgy.
Fried grits US$9
Deep fried roast beef po boy US$9.50
And just because we can, we order the deep fried roast beef po boy. It's not as oily as we expect, but it is a massive serving of meat and carbs.
The Camellia Grill
After dinner we make the ten minute walk to The Camellia Grill, famous for friendly service and long-serving waiters.
Bar stools at the snaking counter
Walking inside feels like a step back into the 1950s. A long counter snakes its way across the entire room as waitstaff in crisp white coats and black bow ties tend to your every need with a smile.
If there's one place I wish I could bottle up and take home from New Orleans, it would be here. It's hard not to be won over by the charm of the place, trapped in a time warp where service was earnest and food was simple.
Pecan pie US$3.69 with Bluebell vanilla ice cream US$2.29 and chocolate freeze US$3.69
There's a huge assortment of omelettes, waffles, hamburgers and po' boys but we can only fit in dessert.
They're famous for their pecan pies here - wondrously gooey with a crust of pecans on top in a crisp tart shell - and also their freezes, like a super rich thickshake. I wish I could have stayed longer, eaten more, and just basked in the old-worlde feel of it all.
Camellia Grill's pecan pie
The French Market in New Orleans first started in 1791, although these days it has evolved to more of a tourist destination.
Praline shoe sole cookies
Pralines are huge here. We found them slightly crumbly in texture, rather than a toffee with snap, but we did resist the praline shoe soles, named because they are the shape of a shoe!
Crowds inside the French Market
Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning
There's no shortage of chilli sauces, spice rubs or beignet mixes to be found.
Fried pickles and crawfish
And we did ogle the food on offer...
Boiled crawfish and shrimp
Crawfish beignet US$6
before settling on a crawfish beignet, a fritter crawfish mixed with batter and deep-fried.
Pier 424 Seafood Market
Suze was determined to eat a bowl of crawfish which is how we ended up at Pier 424 Seafood Market in the middle of Bourbon Street. The dining room is huge. It's not a particularly cosy environment, but the menu is extensive and the prices seem reasonable for this end of town.
Oyster po' boy US$16 and Cajun bloody mary US$10
Next time we'll pass on the Cajun bloody mary (way too sour and not enough tomato for our palates) but the oyster po' boy tickes all my boxes.
Oyster po' boy
Half a dozen oysters are sheathed in a super crunchy batter, breaking through to intensely sweet and briny oysters within.
Boiled crawfish US$11
Crawfish is a seasonal item, so we're stoked to score a plate of crawfish with boiled potatoes and corn for only US$11. Our server gives us a quick demo on the best way to eat these, even reminding us now to miss out on the "juice" in the head.
There's not a lot of meat in crawfish, but it's satisfying to rip these little buggers open and prise out the flesh. Some of the bigger claws hold a tiny bit of meat if you have the patience, and the potatoes and corn - boiled in the pot with the crawfish - have a residual seafood sweetness imparted to them too.
Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar
Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar is another New Orleans institution, shucking oysters for diners for more than 70 years. The oyster bar doesn't look like it's changed a bit.
We hop onto the stools at the counter, unaware that not only do you score a front row of the oyster shucking action, but that the oyster shuckers also have a front row of you. We find ourselves entrapped in plenty of flirtatious banter from the oyster shuckers, who plied us with pearls and an occasional free oyster!
Oysters Bienville US$11.45 for 6
Oysters Bienville is a traditional dish of New Orleans, made by grilling oysters with bacon, mushrooms and garlic under a white wine roux.
Char-grilled oysters US$11.45 for 6
The char-grilled oysters are prepared Rockefeller-style, smothered in a rich butter sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and parsley before flashed under the grill. Slices of crusty bread are perfect for mopping up the sauce.
Caesar salad US$13.95
with grilled shrimp US$6.95
with fried shrimp US$6.95
with fried oyster US$7.95
Suze amps up her caesar salad with a trio of seafood, including grilled shrimp, fried shrimp and fried oysters. Who says salads can't be fried?
Crawfish etouffee US$13.95
The crawfish etouffee (pronounced e-TOO-fay) is a thick and fragrant stew, made with a brown roux and served with deep-fried crawfish tails.
Half oyster po' boy with gumbo US$12.95
I'm on a po' boy roll (ha), savouring the deep fried oyster bounty while I can.
Cup of gumbo US$5.95
And we slurp up the gumbo too.
Pearls found by the oyster shuckers
Pictured above are the natural occurring pearls given to us by the oyster shuckers. They also show off tricks including shucking an oyster behind their back, but the biggest hi-jinx belongs to our server who says 'Don't you know who I am? I'm Michael Jackson!" and then opens his wallet to show us his credit card as proof. It really was!
Our oyster shucker, Michael Jackson
And finally, no visit to New Orleans is complete with an order of beignet. First of all, it's pronounced ben-yay, and second, it's a French word that means fritter. Although they're often referred to as donuts, beignets are made by deep-frying choux pastry.
Beignets US$3.99 for three
Two of the biggest names in beignet in New Orleans are Cafe Beignet and Cafe du Monde. There's often a live jazz band playing at Cafe Beignet on Bourbon Street, but when we finally visit we only have the sun's beating 33C rays for company.
Beignets are always made fresh to order, and served covered in an avalanche of powdered icing sugar. Ours arrive within five minutes of ordering and it's a test of asbestos fingers versus the piping hot pastry.
The beignets are hot and fluffy, and battling the snowstorm of icing sugar is half the fun.
Cafe du Monde
After our visit to the French Market we also stop in at Cafe du Monde, probably New Orleans' most famous beignet provider, first opening here in 1862.
Table service at Cafe du Monde
The place has a decidedly Parisian feel with its tiny tables and army of servers scurrying everywhere wearing black ties, white uniforms and white paper hats.
Dining room with memorabilia
Today Cafe du Monde is open 24/7, closing only from Christmas Eve evening through to Boxing Day morning. Otherwise the churn of beignets through the kitchen is relentless - we were staggered also to discover that most Americans seem to polish three beignets each on their own.
Beignet US$2.42 for three
The triple serving size seemed perfect for our party of three, and the beignets here were a clear winner over those from Cafe Beignet. The donuts may have taken a little longer to arrive, but these beauties were super light, soft and airy - a sweet end to our two days in New Orleans.
Next stop: New York City!
901 Louisiana Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 891 9626
Lunch Wednesday to Friday 11am - 2.30pm
Dinner Monday to Sunday 5.30pm - 10pm (from 6pm Sat & Sun)
Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10am - 2.30pm
311 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 525 2611
Monday to Sunday 8am - 12 midnight
Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 525 4544
Monday to Sunday 24 hours
The Camellia Grill
540 Chartres Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 522 1800
Sunday to Thursday 8am - 11pm
Friday and Saturday 8am - 2am
Jacques Imo's Cafe
8324 Oak Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 861 0886
Monday to Thursday 5pm - 10pm
Friday and Saturday 5pm - 10.30pm
Felix's Restaurant & Oyster Bar
739 Iberville Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 522 4440
Sunday to Thursday 11am - 10pm
Friday and Saturday 11am - 11pm
1008 N Peters St #3, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 522 2621
Monday to Sunday 10am - 6pm
Pier 424 Seafood Market
424 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 309 1574
Sunday to Thursday 11am - 1am
Friday and Saturday 11am - 2am
Willie Mae's Scotch House Restaurant [facebook page]
2401 S Ann Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 822 9503
Monday to Saturday 11am - 5pm
>> Read the next USA 2013 post: Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar and Milk Bar, NYC
<< Read the first USA 2013 post: Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC
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8/26/2013 12:54:00 a.m.