I'd love to keep you in suspense about what I ordered at Café du Monde in New Orleans, but if you've ever been there (and perhaps even if you haven't), you will already know the answer: beignets.
Not only are they the only foodstuff on the menu, but they're also the dish, accompanied by cafe au lait, for which the establishment is famous.
Qu'est-ce c'est, le beignet?
These heavenly bits of fried dough are related to doughnuts, but they’re far Frenchier. In their purest form, they are simply fried rectangles or triangles of sweet dough that puff and become pillowy when fried. They are served with copious amounts of confectioners’ sugar. More adventurous bakers will offer different flavors and even filled varieties in New Orleans, but it's pretty straight-up at Café du Monde.
More about Cafe du Monde.
Perhaps the most famous beignet maker in town is this Café du Monde, which has been beignet-ing it since--believe it--1862. It is open 24 hours a day in the historic French Quarter and specializes in beignets and coffee laced with chicory. Are they the best in town? Locals have varying opinions, but it’s a singular and necessary experience in New Orleans. To be sitting "courtside" in the covered outdoor seating area and watching buskers, local vendors, and passers-by, and just generally seeing the world go by, is as evocative a New Orleans image as eating a croissant in Paris, or having tea in the UK.
Listen. Not that you asked me, but the 'Monde has several locations that you shouldn't bother with if your time is limited. The true experience is at the original location, on Decatur street, in the French Market.
How it works
Café du Monde runs a tight machine. You arrive, and you sit. Your napkin holder is also your menu. Of course you want beignets, but what to drink? Cafe au lait (do it)? Or just plain chicory coffee? They do other, fancier drinks, too, but don't bother.
The beignets will arrive, three on a plate, with an almost comical amount of confectioners' sugar forming mountaintop peaks on top. The sugar partially dissolves into the fried pastries as you eat, but it is pretty much guaranteed that you will leave the establishment looking like you have a serious cocaine problem. You know, from what I have seen on TV.
You may think to yourself that you won't finish the beignets, but you will. Because even if you've heard that there are better beignets in town, it is hard to beat this experience and they are quite good. If there are two of you, you might just order more. Just let it happen--you're in New Orleans, after all. It's a good place to let it all hang out, and everyone deserves a treat.
Cafe du Monde, 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans. Online here.