I’m supposed to love beignets. Pastry dough, fried to a golden crunch, ensconced in confection sugar, and served with steamy café au lait — what’s not to love, right?
So when I recently trekked to New Orleans — the American city best known for around-the-clock beignet service — it was a given that a serving of the fried powder puffs belonged in my belly.
Beignet is to New Orleans as pizza is to Brooklyn; you almost can’t have one without the other. And one institution is considered to be the master of the confection with little dissent: the ubiquitous Café du Monde.
Open 24 hours a day, and only closing briefly on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the famed café’s original location overlooks historic Jackson Square and marks the beginning of three city blocks known as the French Market.
Indeed, the beignets at Café du Monde live up to the hype. Perfectly puffy and sensuously sweet, the freshly prepared square pastries burn the fingertips and melt in the mouth. Chicory-laced café au lait (simply, coffee with milk) is the perfect yang to the beignet’s yin, balancing the confection’s sweetness with a smooth, slightly bitter taste. Dip the one into the other, bite, repeat. Creole nirvana.
Why then don’t I adore sucking down those savory pockets of bliss in the French Quarter? This landmark tradition is at once essential to the New Orleans experience and also its antithesis. It is here you will find the greatest saturation of tourists clad in tri-color plastic beads, chewing and gulping away last night’s Bourbon Street mistakes. New Orleans is a city of endless neighborhood pockets, each with their own charms and quirks. I would much rather amble off to the seldom-reached corners of the city for an experience of something local and a taste of something real.
The verdict? If you find yourself in New Orleans, visit Café du Monde once, the first morning of your trip. Enjoy it. Take in the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes. Then beeline it out of the Quarter and head for the city’s countless other gems off the trodden path.