When it comes to New Orleans—land of jambalaya, crawfish, and po boys—fried chicken isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Turns out though that, like much of the South, the Big Easy has some mighty fine fried chicken.
I ate more fried chicken—heck more everything—in the course of a whirlwind weekend with my good friends from Chowzter than I have in quite some time. A quick cab ride from Louis Armstrong airport and Yvo “Feisty Foodie” Sin joined our fellow Chowzters at the iconic Dooky Chase’s, where everyone from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to President Barack Obama have dined.The chicken at the buffet style restaurant was juicy and had a crunchy dry style batter. It was good, but not life-changing. I found myself hankering for some hot sauce to drizzle on it. The two pieces I wolfed down staved off the hanger that had built up over a flight that took almost twice as long as it should have due to snow delays at JFK.
I was particularly excited for our eating posse’s next stop Willie Mae’s Scotch House. “When it’s off, it’s great,” Chef Will Horowitz of Ducks Eatery told me a few days before my trip. “And when it’s on, it changed everything I thought I knew about fried chicken.”
A short walk later our group of 15 avid eaters found ourselves at the 58-year-old joint in the sixth ward. The Scotch House began its life as a bar before Willie Mae Seaton realized that her real talent lay in cooking rather than slinging drinks. Today her great-granddaughter, Kerry Seaton Stewart, carries on the tradition.
I don’t know whether the kitchen was on or off the day we visited, but I do know that the chicken we had was astonishingly good. A moist glossy batter that somehow still managed to have a nice crunch encased juicy meat. Best of all, the crust was imbued with hot sauce. After having had two pieces of Dooky Chase it was hard for me to finish the rich wet battered Willie Mae’s bird. It was hard for Chowzter Chieftain Jeffrey Merrihue too. It’s a safe bet that it was the only time during the trip either of us left food on the table.
Like many who’d come before—Bourdain, Zimmern, and the James Beard House—our illustrious crew of eaters crowned Willie Mae’s the winner. We all thought it was better than Dooky’s, but to be fair Willie Mae’s chicken, with its wet batter, is a different style than Dooky Chase’s. Somehow as an Italian-American kid I grew up with both styles, which my mother would sometimes fry up in a Dutch oven.
After an evening of eating that included a lovely meal at Brennan’s I was ready to go again the next morning. Many of the other chief Chowzters had decided to go on a po’ boy hunt, but Joe Hakim of The Hungry Dudes and I struck out on our own. When we asked the concierge at the Hyatt Regency for a fried chicken recommendation he said we should try Fiorella’s Cafe in the French Quarter. “They fry it to order, so you might have to wait half an hour,” he cautioned.
And wait we did, but it was well worth it. Fiorella’s fried chicken is of the dry batter variety with a craggy-crunchy, salty-savory coating. It is also fried so hot and hard one can crunch through the teeny rib bones in the breast, which I eagerly did. With a few splashes of Louisiana hot sauce, it became the dry fry counterpart to Willie Mae’s wonderful wet-battered bird.
As you might guess from the name Fiorella’s also serves pastas. Joe and I skipped these, although we did have a lovely red beans and rice shot through with peppery andouille sausage. On the way back home I spotted a Dooky Chase’s in the airport, and almost stopped in for some more chicken, but then reason and hopes for healthy arteries prevailed.
Dooky Chase’s, 2301 Orleans Ave, New Orleans, 504-821-0535
Willie Mae’s Scotch House, 2401 St Ann St. New Orleans, 504-822-9503
Fiorella’s Cafe, 1136 Decatur St., New Orleans, 504-553-2155