There are many reasons to visit New Orleans, or NOLA, as you might call it to remind yourself that you’re in Louisiana. There’s the jazz bars, unique Franco-Spanish culture, haunted history, Creole food, French Quarter architecture, open container law… the list can go on. But truly the only reason anyone needs to visit one of the country’s most diverse cities is the beignets.
When someone explains them to you, beignets seem like a pretty simple concept. Fried flour and sugar – how much can there be to it? But what’s really important is the ratio. The ratio of sugar to beignet should be such that when you get your three beignets, it looks like Christmas on a plate; for if the powdered sugar does not completely engulf the floury puffs of heaven, there is something off. Your hands should be full of white powder the minute you hold the beignet, and as you get the hot piece of dough closer to your mouth, your cautious breath should sprinkle the white specks all over your face. And if you burn your tongue on the first bite, you know you got a fresh batch. The only place I have seen truly get this right is Café Du Monde.
Sure, Café Du Monde is where all the tourists go and it’s the #1 place listed on every NOLA travel brochure but, it has fought against the forces of capitalism and still managed to keep its charm. The tables aren’t too clean, the servers aren’t too nice, and the bathrooms aren’t close to too clean, but damn their beignets are good. This world-famous café situated on the Mississippi River end of the French Quarter at the edge of Jackson Square has barely changed it’s menu since it was born in 1862: Black Coffee, Café Au Lait, Hot Chocolate, Cold Milk, Orange Juice, and Orders of Three French Doughnuts, as they call it – each of those costing $2.73 or a convenient $3.00 after the government gets its cut.
We paid our dues to Café du Monde every night without fail, and sometimes even during the day. There’s just no better way to end a night of live jazz music, haunted stories (read: Madam LaLaurie), and wading through drunk bachelorettes. And as you spend more time at those tiny tables, sticky with sugar from probably a month ago, you start to notice how efficient the place is. Café du Monde is open 24 hours, seats 400 people, and is never at less than 90% capacity. But still the place operates like clockwork. The kitchen has four stations: 1) fresh & hot beignets, 2) ridiculous amounts of sugar, 3) drinks 4) pay. The server first takes the hot deep fried beignets from the drying pan and loads three per plate (the key is to find the servers who take the time to pick out the best beignets). Then, they take the scooper and load the plate with powdered sugar until they are convinced that there is no room for any more. Third, they pour out glasses of water and drinks if any (side note: got to love a place that gives you water without you asking). And finally, they pay the cashier. I found it interesting that they pay the cashier before collecting the money from the customer. On investigating a bit more we realized that it’s the best way to ensure all cash is accounted for and servers don’t have to worry about separating the tip from the bill. The server pays for the food, takes it to the table, and then simply pockets whatever the customer puts on the table at the end of the visit. Henry Ford would be proud.
If, for reasons unbeknownst, copious amounts of sugar is not something you fancy, New Orleans is still a must visit. It is one of my favorite cities in the country. Walking down the cobbled French Quarter streets you can venture into an art gallery, stop by a live jazz show, sample some pralines, or simply stand on a street corner and listen to a local musician play some crowdpleasing tunes on the sidewalk. You can do everything, or do nothing, and still be perfectly content with your time in New Orleans. The city is truly one of a kind.