Cafe Du Monde. Cafe Du Monde has been rocking an endless stream of tourists 7 days a week, 24 hours a day since 1862. We wedged our way in and scored a steaming platter of those square, sweet, powdered-sugar covered doughnuts and large, eye-opening cafe au laits. Those beignets were little bites of sweet heaven amidst all of the touristy madness. If there was any residual concern all these years later about whether New Orleans had recaptured its tourists, this maddening scene confirmed otherwise: NOLA is most assuredly open for business and doing fine.
Our last meal in town later that same day was a look at another corner of the Big Easy. I didn't have a lot of time to prep
for our NOLA trip as far as isolating places I wanted to visit, but
there was one joint that was unfailingly on my radar: Willie Mae's Scotch House. Willie Mae's was opened by Willie Mae Seaton many moons ago on St. Ann's Street, near the historic Treme neighborhood. I don't entirely understand how the wards work in NOLA, and researching the area where Willie Mae's resides revealed several articles that said it was in the lower Ninth ward, the Seventh ward and the Fifth ward, so let's say I can confirm it's on St. Ann's street. Many articles say the restaurant is in the Treme neighborhood, a claim our Willie Mae's server denied, saying I was moreso in the neighborhood when I was at Louis Armstrong Park at the St. Louis Cemetery. Whatever the specifics of the
location, this much was clear: the entire area was devastated by the
levee breeches and resulting floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and it has
been a long road to recovery for most of the area's residents and
businesses; a road many of them are still on. Willie Mae's was one of
those businesses nearly destroyed by Katrina. Volunteers from the
(clearly amazing) Southern Foodways Alliance gathered to rebuild Willie Mae's after Katrina in the original location and the restaurant stands today in its humble glory. I was almost driven to visit Willie Mae's, certainly for the said-to-be spectacular fried chicken, but also because she and her business stood as sorely-tested survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Today, Willie Mae is in her 90's, and her great granddaughter Kerry Seaton holds close the secret recipes and continues the tradition of doling out that famous chicken.
When we arrived, I wasn't even sure it was even open until I saw a group of diners leaving. We entered the smallish, wood-paneled dining room and took a seat near the door. The setting may be no-frills, but clearly Willie Mae's is far from a best-kept secret, as evidenced by the multiple awards and certificates adorning the walls. There are photos of Willie Mae being featured on the Food Network and receiving her James Beard award. Soon, the supposed holy grail of fried bird arrived in front of us. We took our first bite of that caramel-colored, nearly artistic latticework of fried skin that wrapped juicy, spicy meat and it was indeed Fried Chicken Shangri-La. Sure, the accompanying peas and creamy macaroni and cheese were quite tasty, but it was all about the bird. We lost ourselves in it and once done, agreed with many others who dare say it...it
even the most unimaginable of circumstances. NOLA is clearly that and to me, as lively and vital as ever. I left utterly spellbound by her many charms, and hoped to return again and again.
Won't bow, don't know how.