Imagine sitting in a warm, sunlight-soaked New Orleans café on a weekday morning. You’d usually be working right now, but right now you’re not. You’re scrolling your phone screen with one hand, sipping espresso with the other, waiting for breakfast with the patience afforded by free time. Everyone around you is in their own world, which means nobody is bothering yours. Is this a perfect morning? By Wednesday standards, it might be.
If you’re in the Central Business District, this probably means you’re at Willa Jean. I was there on a warm, sunny Wednesday about a month and a half ago. Did you see me? I was not serenely scrolling and sipping espresso. I was the khaki shorts-wearing wackadoo at the counter, penning paragraphs onto the tops of napkins using a pen I’d bummed from the host station. Welcome to my world.
Okay, why? Well, the plan was to hit up the supermarket and get some cash quick, so I left my phone back at the room. I walked past Willa Jean, got curious, and then the new plan was to enjoy an easygoing breakfast without the pressure of documentation. My phone wasn’t with me – this was my chance! I got maybe halfway down a cup of coffee, bobbed my head a little to the music, and decided maybe I shouldn’t keep this one to myself. A breakfast at Willa Jean is a meal you’ll want to home about.
Willa Jean was opened in 2015 by chef Kelly Fields. The restaurant’s namesake is her grandmother, who, according to the restaurant’s About page, inspired her to pursue her passions. Every year since Willa Jean opened, Fields has been either a nominee or a semifinalist for the James Beard Awards‘ Outstanding Pastry Chef category. Does this year count too? Technically, I think it does: she won.
Fields and Willa Jean chef de cuisine Yolanda Torres were co-founders of the Yes Ma’am Foundation, the mission of which is to provide opportunities within the restaurant and hospitality industries for women across the South.
Two napkin tops and roughly half of a third were devoted to the dining room, and the way sunlight pours in through restaurant’s east-facing windows on a clear morning. I scribbled about the scuffed wooden tabletops, egg beater-styled light fixtures over the counter, and the words ‘U NEED A BISCUIT’ painted across the top of the walls.
The shelves under the first ‘U’ are aptly stocked, with nearly-arranged rows of coffee bags. Willa Jean serves Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee. The shelves under the last ‘T’ are also aptly stocked, highlighted by a nearly-cashed bottle of Basil Hayden’s and a half-full bottle of Laphroaig 10.
Your first look at the menu will probably veer toward a section titled The Biscuit Situation. Your situation will come under a square top bun with a slightly domed roof, and those biscuits weigh. I really liked the fried chicken and honey Tabasco biscuit. I’m never more heavy metal than when I have too spicy a breakfast and then wash it down with hot coffee, but that won’t be an issue with this one. Kiss of honey, kiss of heat, easy breading, tender meat.
You don’t even have to look in their bakery display to convince yourself U NEED A DESSERT, too. You just have to notice it. I had a chocolate chip cookie, and loved it: big, soft, and the chocolate chips aren’t chips so much as chocolate continents on a cookie planet. Very satisfying chocolate chip cookie.
Somewhere further down the life span of an organic compostable, an unknown number of napkins are wadded-up and wearing smear marks of chicken grease, honey Tabasco, or chocolate. I don’t know many are out there, so let’s just agree that two scribbled-up napkin tops were the only casualties while I worked through the food.
The breakfast menu is rounded out with shrimp and grits, various toasts (avocado, salmon, etc.), granola and yogurt, and banana bread. I peeped on my neighbor’s bowl of granola and it looked pretty good, if you’re into that. Salads, soups, and sandwiches take over at lunchtime; and dinner features a good number of the lunch items alongside a strip steak, pasta, and chicken. You can find more information, including their entire menu, at willajean.com.
- Hours: Breakfast 7-10:30 a.m.; lunch from there until 5 p.m. (4 p.m. weekends); dinner from there until close (9 p.m.); brunch on weekends 7 a.m.-4 p.m.
- Prices: Snacks and biscuits run $8-10, entrees $10-18 generally.
- Google Maps: Right here.
- Am I Going Back? If I stay in the Central Business District again, definitely. Even if I stay elsewhere, there’s a pretty good chance.