Monday, January 31, 2011

Willie Mae's Scotch House

Our official honeymoon won't take place until the summer, so we drove to New Orleans for a decadent 'mini-moon' courtesy of my American Express hotel points and NOLA's relatively close driving distance from Austin. My head is still spinning (along with my stomach) from the massive quantities of delicious food we consumed in just three days and three nights.

We dined at John Besh's Restaurant August on the first night of our mini-moon (no photos as it was simply too dark and too hoity-toity for snapping pics), we chowed down on one shared order of beignets (and sadly didn't have the time to go back again ... and again), we tried upscale beignets served with pot de creme and salted caramel at a Magazine Street bistro of adorable proportions called Coquette ... and the list goes on.

Every meal was memorable. They each deserve their own post (and a few might get one), but Willie Mae's Scotch House is competing for the top slot in my book because of both its food and its story.

The restaurant that serves up the best fried chicken in America - and the best I've ever had - is now run by Willie Mae Seaton's great-granddaughter, who took over the kitchen when the Scotch House reopened in 2007 following an extensive post-Katrina repair job. Besh and countless others from the community pitched in to bring Willie Mae's back to life, even while the neighborhood around it remains in need of much repair.

Take this picture of the front entrance sign. Look closely at the structure across the street.

That's the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. Or at least it once was.

Mike pointed out that the school across the street from Willie Mae's was considered a bit of an architectural landmark, a structure built on posts that protected it from flood damage but one that remains sorely neglected nonetheless -- a casualty among many in a city may be associated for years to come with the word 'rebuild.'

The school reminded me of an episode of The Walking Dead, abandoned and threatened by demolition, yet somehow remarkable. The more I looked at it, the more nostalgic I became for something I hadn't even heard about until that moment.

Articles in my quick bit of research on the school describe the neglect -- rat and bat infestations -- while others quote former teachers who favor the demolition. Yet others are fighting to keep it standing, to preserve another piece of NOLA history:

Efforts to preserve and reuse Phillis Wheatley Elementary constitute what is arguably one of the most pressing preservation issues facing New Orleans today. Designed in 1954 by Charles Colbert, FAIA, it is a groundbreaking work of modern engineering and design. Though its cantilevered classroom wing avoided the ravages of flooding after Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) is pushing for FEMA funds to demolish the National Register-eligible building.

I'd like to believe that if the community could save the best fried chicken joint in America, a school like Phillis Wheatley Elementary isn't far behind. But maybe I'm just projecting. After all, I would have loved going to school next to Willie Mae's.

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