It was a big, big weekend here for all of us who have spent the last year and a half working to restore a 90 year old woman's restaurant and attached house. This place has been, in mine and many other's minds, a really nice metaphor for the struggle that is putting this place back in semi working order. With absolutely nothing but privately donated money and labor, a rotating group (eventually totalling over 200 people) of incredibly dedicated volunteers, and a hell of a lot of whip cracking, cajoling, and generally good natured prodding from our fearless leader, Johnny Snack(John Currence
), we all managed to, unbelievably, put Mrs Seaton back in her house about three weeks ago and then to, yesterday, let her get back where she wants to be-behind her stove making "good food for the people."
Willie Mae Seaton with a big can of baking powder (That's the only part of the recipe that you'll get from me. I know better than to tell secrets that might get me banned from the modest, but hallowed doors on St Ann and Tonti St in Treme.
Mary Beth Lasseter, John Currence, and Mrs. Seaton's niece taking a break before the onslaught (and it was) of diners.
Miracles, it would seem, do indeed happen- even in New Orleans.
Getting things rolling on the line in Willie Mae's kitchen. That's her daughter in law cooking there in the foreground and a couple of visiting heavies from the East Coast helping to get things underway on the first day. Also, Joe York, soon to be world famous documentarian (and snappy dresser) and part of his extensive crew of assistants are in the background. It's good to have a personal film maker.
John Fleer, formerly of Blackberry Farm and now of his house (and really happy about it) coming out with one of the first plates (that veal gravy was off the hook)
Ann Cashion, standing in front of a bowl of Mrs. Seaton's secret batter mix, getting some chicken ready for the pan. She turned out to be a good student. Perhaps someday she will be ready to move out into a kitchen of her own.
My hero, directing traffic. Between Mrs. Seaton, Ms. Cashion, Mr. Fleer, and Mr. Snack, that adds up to better than 10 Beard nominations and at least three medals (I'm not really sure, but it's plenty of them). I'm betting that's pretty close to the first time that's ever happened in a commercial kitchen open for business (happens at fundraisers all the time, though) Before all of this started, John had a full head of hair and a semi functioning liver. Now? Not so much.
Willie Mae's niece and her son Slim (back from Houston, where he evacuated, to help out for a while) washing up. The dishes were flying around pretty fast back there all day.
I'm sure that some of you geeks want plate pics but this is as good as it gets. I don't do that. Also, this would be pretty typical of the way that it looked all round yesterday-boarding house reach was the rule of the day. Those plates were coming back as clean as a whistle. What you see there is braised veal on one plate and fried chicken on the other. Yesterday's sides were butterbeans, redbeans or snap beans. No bread pudding and I, your ace reporter, can FINALLY explain why she only has it every once in a while....She only makes it with bread ends. That means that she only makes a pan when she has saved up enough bread ends to do it. When it's gone, it's gone. Now you might say, "Why doesn't she just buy some bread for that?" Well, you don't stay in business long if you aren't sharp and by way of her thinking, it is an expense she could ill afford when times were lean. As she puts it in Joe York
's excellent documentary, Above the Line, Saving Willie Mae's Scotch House
, "I'm all bidness, baby. All bidness." And she is. Don't kid yourself. I saw a couple of signs yesterday (most welcome signs at that) that, though she might have lost a couple of steps, she's as sharp as a tack when it comes to that place and the way that she wants it run. Believe me, when she corrected one of those Pros from Dover they did what she said. Same for her son, Slim. He's kind of the fry guy and has been for a long time. Ann Cashion was frying chicken during the rush and she pulled a basket which she says (and still does and I'm not arguing with her-she's a great chef and crazy smart) was perfect, even now, but that Slim quietly took out of her hands and quietly put back in the grease (peanut oil for those of you keeping score at home) for another couple of minutes. Apparently this happened with someone else two years ago at the Beards. Willie Mae Seaton likes it on the dark side and who's to say she's wrong-the results speak for themselves. The stuff is crazy delicious.
Even Barbie tried to get fly in for lunch.
Pableaux conducts the post game breakdown with Mrs. Seaton. She's a tough nut to crack, but the charming Mr. Johnson has no trouble with her.
Boys will be boys. When a man, even one as old as John sees wet concrete, they have to, they are compelled to, write their name in it. I'm sure even the Romans did it when they were building aqueducts. At least he spelled it right.
After service- my friends Mary Beth Lasseter, Joey Lauren Adams, Bess Reed, Ann Cashion and John Fleer take a break on the sidewalk and discuss what bar it would be best to get it over with in. They settled on the Bon Ton and then off to Pableaux Johnson's for his weekly Bean Salon.
It was a great day. It was, in many ways, a great year and a half. Who knows what's going to happen? I surely don't. What I do know is that I have made some friends for life and we finished what we set out to do. The rest is up to someone else much bigger and alot more benevolent than I.
Also, just for the record-that chicken? It really is all of that and a bag of doughnuts. Really. I NEVER order fried chicken in restaurants but I have always eaten Willie Mae's. But, over the last year and a half, I and many of my friend have questioned whether it was legend or whether it was fact. I'm here to tell you that it is an absolute fact that this stuff is consistently the best chicken in the land. The best. Get there while you can and while she's still making it. Plan a trip-you won't be sorry.
Also, Leah Chase is opening up Dooky Chase on Holy Thursday, so you can do a twofer in the same block. That's a good day of eating, dear hearts. A very good day.
Thanks for watching. Tune in next time for a new episode of, "As The City Drowns." Check your local listings for showtimes in your area.
Edited by Mayhaw Man, 03 April 2007 - 03:51 PM.