Sunday, April 6, 2008

Women and Girls Out by 8:15

I've often thought it must be an odd experience for anyone just traveling through Utah to pull off the freeway at a local eatery about 8:15 pm on the first Saturday in either April or October. They would find themselves surrounded by famished hordes of men and teenage boys wearing white shirts and ties. It's a semi-annual male-bonding experience.

Unless you want to be waiting for a long time, you need a plan. Some eat dinner before the meeting and go for treats after. We like to go for dinner afterward. We've tried different strategies. When we went up to the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, we stopped afterwards at Crown Burgers on North Temple. Here we met a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of hungry men and boys with a handful of bewildered out-of-towners. I think CB served about 15,000 people in an hour. The next visit to the Conference Center, we stopped at the Denny's just off the 4500 South exit. Here there was no crowd at all, but some suspicious looks from the few people there. (Don't people in Murray go to General Priesthood meeting? Or to they just not go to Denny's?) Getting out of the downtown certainly makes a difference. (You'll be dining late either way.)

Here in American Fork, we've tried Arctic Circle in Lehi (moderate crowd), Quiznos (moderate), JCW's (ridiculously crowded), and Gandalfo's (our little secret). In the race to your chosen place, a few minutes can make a huge difference. We've decided against going to a church closer to where we want to go, but we quickly learned that it's a good idea to back into your parking place and plan a route that involves mostly right turns. It's bad form to leave during the closing song, and you should at least put away any folding chair that you sat on, but otherwise, it's quickly out the door. Remember to drive with courtesy and caution, but also with purpose.

Don't even think about some place like Chili's, Applebee's, Cold Stone, or Maggie Moo's. These are probably still occupied by the mothers and daughters who basically own the town between 6-8 pm. But there oughtta be a rule that all girls need to clear out by 8:15. Ladies, it's in your best interest. Otherwise, you'll find yourself surrounded by deacons and their dads. (The only real difference between these two is the size of their bank account.)

Willie Mae's Scotch House

Willie Mae's Scotch House is old-fashioned Southern cooking at its best. This restaurant lies on St. Anne's Street in the Treme neighborhood just outside New Orleans' French Quarter. New York City's Ed Levine ("the missionary of the delicious") describes Willie Mae's fried chicken as the best he has ever had. After a recent trip to New Orleans, I have to agree.

For $10 you get three pieces of chicken. The chicken has a light flour coating that leads to a crisp skin (so crisp that it has a light "snap"). There's also a bit of heat from ground red pepper and whatever other spices they use. It's not overbearing, but it does sneak up on you a little. The chicken is moist and juicy and has probably been soaked in buttermilk. You get your choice of several sides: French fries, red beans and rice (my favorite), butter beans and rice, green beans and rice, potato salad, or green salad. You could also choose the breaded pork chop, which is about as good as the chicken. They have bread pudding for dessert (if you have room).

In 2005, after cooking chicken for nearly 50 years, Willie Mae won an "America's Classic" award from the James Beard Foundation, an award given to "down-home eateries that have carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape." Later that year, along with much of New Orleans, Willie Mae's restaurant was destroyed by Katrina and the flooding that followed. With only the clothes on her back and her Beard award in her purse, Willie Mae fled before the storm. When she returned, the restaurant had been ruined.

Led by the Beard Foundation and the Southern Foodways Alliance, volunteers stepped in almost immediately to rebuild and restore this legend. It's now run by Kerry Seaton, Willie Mae's great-granddaughter, who follows the original secret recipe.

The inspiring story of this rebuilding has been told in Gourmet Magazine, on the Travel Channel, on CNBC, and on Food Network's Good Food with Dave Lieberman.

If you're planning a trip to New Orleans, take a taxi out to Willie Mae's. The area right around the restaurant is safe, but it's a long walk from the French Quarter beneath the I-10 freeway (where you will still find dozens of tents housing those still displaced by the storm). The restaurant will gladly call you a cab for the return trip. Allow some time, because they take their time to get it right. You also want to get there earlier in the afternoon because they start running out of popular items (such as a the delicious Creole-style red beans and rice). They are open for lunch, 11-5.

Here is a great video telling the story, but it's several minutes long.