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Thursday
May022013

Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans

Treme is about 15 miles east of Kenner, where Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is. U.S. Route 61 will get you there from the airport, but taking I-10 East will shave a few minutes if you're in a hurry. Though if you are, you're in the wrong city. We took U.S. Route 61. Our windows were down and the radio was tuned to WWOZ, which was broadcasting brass band music that we played at a level just loud enough to rival our excitable voices clamoring in the warm breeze. We were on our way to St Ann Street, where Willie Mae's Scotch House serves "America's Best Fried Chicken."

There are three pieces to every order of fried chicken ($10): wing, leg, and breast. You also get a choice of side. Pictured above are butter beans.

Another side; green beans and rice.

This is what three orders of America's Best Fried Chicken looks like on one plate.

A single order with mac n' cheese and peas.

The skin is so thin and brittle and crisp it's impossible not to end up with bits of it all over the table. It would make anything it lands on taste amazing, but when it falls onto the rich, chewy mac n' cheese, eating the two together is a seriously enjoyable, decadent bite of food.

Wiilie Mae Seaton opened the scotch house in 1957 and served a drink that was a mix of scotch and milk. Originally a bar, Willie Mae Scotch House moved to its current location in 1958 and operated as a bar, barbershop, and salon. A decade later, patron's demand for food was finally met, and Willie Mae started serving her now famous chicken and other Southern staples. Her great-granddaughter Kerry took over in 2006 and, like her great grandma, won't reveal all the secrets.

The chicken is dusted with salt, paprika, and cayenne before it's covered in a wet batter and fried at the perfect temperature: 350 degrees. If the oil temperature is too low, the chicken will take too long to cook and the skin won't crisp up properly. If it's too high, the skin burns and leaves undercooked chicken. The batter leaves behind a thin coating that doesn't run the risk of clumping in the fryer. After twenty minutes, the batter turns a deep golden brown and has a crunch that brings tempura to mind. The chicken is fried to order, but many of the sides are ready in advance, so they come out first. Eat them while you wait for the chicken, and when it gets to the table, finish the sides while it cools. Then dig in. You're patience will be rewarded.

The chicken is slightly smoky from the paprika, and cayenne's subtle, dry kick gives a touch of heat to every bite. Breaking through the skin reveals incredibly tender, juicy chicken that pulls apart as if it had been braising all day. We haven't had fried chicken in enough corners of the country to agree or disagree with the claim, but Willie Mae's serves the best fried chicken we've ever had.

Willie Mae's Scotch House | 2401 St Ann Street | 504-822-9503

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