Beignets are a staple in New Orleans, Louisiana. Before visiting this city I had no idea what a beignet was, nor even know how to pronounce it. The beignet (pronounced ” ben-yay”) is a deep-fried fritter type dessert, made with dough and served warm with heapings of powdered sugar on top. It resembles fried dough found in the New England area, where I’m from. This recipe was brought over to New Orleans in the 18th century by French colonists.
I had the opportunity to try these delicious treats on my visit to the Big Easy. I kept hearing everyone around talking about them and just had to try one for myself. Tourists and locals alike flock to the well know Cafe Du Monde to get them. A serving is 3 beignets and it is recommended to accompany them with a cafe au lait. I was also informed that it would be a good idea to not wear black when enjoying this dessert. I quickly figured out why this tip was given. The amount of powdered sugar they put on is massive. No matter how careful you are in trying to be a neat eater, there is no way one can eat these without getting the sugar all over yourself. I did happen to be wearing a back shirt, of course, (just my luck) and yes, I made a mess. Even if I was wearing a white shirt this would happen. It was worth it though.
On my first day in New Orleans I went to go find this infamous cafe, but couldn’t. I went to the wrong address (thinking this was it) and the place did have beignets, but was closed. I asked locals and they were shocked that this could be. Cafe du Monde is always packed and is open 24 hours a day/364 days a year, except for Christmas. I did however find a great little spot that served them, that also had live jazz tunes playing in a little courtyard at a restaurant called, Cafe Beignet, right on Bourbon St., across from our hotel. It would have to do.
I asked the counter person if I could get a beignet and struggled pronouncing it. She immediately knew want I meant, as I’m sure I’m not the only tourist with this trouble. I asked her if these were as good as the ones they serve at Cafe du Monde. She responded with great confidence, “They are better!”
I got 2 orders, one for me and one for my son, each with the traditional 3 count in a bag with about a cup of powdered sugar. This was not an exaggeration. I was shocked at just how much they give. It seemed a bit excessive, but as I spent more time in New Orleans I realized that everything they serve is over the top excessive.
They were warm and sweet, and doughy. It was definitely delicious and reminded me a lot of fried dough we have here in New England. I could see why people liked them. They are surely not a healthy snack, but they were… oh, so good.
The next day walking around the French Quarter I started to get a craving for these sweet morsels of goodness. As you walked by the plethora of restaurants you could not help but smell the wafting of the oil and sugar in the air, that helped mask the offensive smells of urine, mustiness and stale beer on the streets of this water engulfed, Crescent city. The heat and humidity of New Orleans only magnified all of these smells around.
My son and I decided that we had to try the most famous beignets, at Cafe du Monde. After all, it is said to be “a must” when visiting New Orleans. We justified it as something we just couldn’t pass up and had to experience it for ourselves. In reality, I think we just wanted more beignets.
We found the restaurant on Decatur and it was as we were told, completely mobbed and chaotic. We almost decided to not bother, but couldn’t resist the urge to know if this was indeed, the best beignet in New Orleans or if this local was right and Cafe Beignet made a better one.
We made it a game. We would do a taste test. We walked in and saw that every seat was taken and weren’t sure if we had to go to the counter to order or wait to be seated. Quickly we noticed that everyone just seated themselves and waited for a server, unless you wanted take-out or wanted to purchase things from their gift shop, then you order at the counter. That line was also enormous. We scoped out a seat with people just leaving a hurried to claim it for our own, even though there was powdered sugar all over it. This is what you had to do to get some beignets here.
We sat for a few minutes and looked around at the mass of people everywhere and the poor overworked servers scurrying around as quickly as they could. It was not unlike any other summer day in New Orleans, it was hot and humid and about 95 degrees. We felt sorry for the workers in their uniforms with beanie hats and thought how hot they must be and then wondered how the heck do they keep track of the tables? There was really no rhyme or reason. There was no number system and no one seated you. It was amazing that this somehow works.
We asked a customer next to us just to be sure, if they do in fact, come and take your order. The woman assured us that they will but they are a little slow. I bet! The place was a zoo!
After only about 5 minutes a young man approached us and cleaned off our table and asked if we were ready to order. We said yes and order 2 orders of beignets, 2 cafe au laits and 2 waters. He told us the price, around $11.00, and we paid in cash. He told us he was on an exchange program and was from Turkey. He continued that about 80 percent of the workers were also Turkish and on this summer program and was happy to be able to work and travel the world, especially in the US.
He came back with our order in a surprisingly short amount of time. We were impressed. I gave him a big tip and thanked him for his service. He was very pleased and was smiling from ear to ear. I told him I have always wanted to go to Turkey and that I heard it was beautiful. He said excitedly, “Oh you must go to Istanbul, you will love it!” I then asked to get a photo with him. He happily obliged and then ran off to help other customers.
The beignets were served on a plate with, again, piles of powdered sugar blanketing the warm doughy balls of deliciousness. I took a bite and my taste buds sang as the familiar taste hit them. The dough was a little thicker than how they serve it at Cafe Beignet. It was good and I could see why people loved it so much, but honestly I agree with the local that Cafe Beignet did indeed, have a better beignet overall. I think the history and the hype of this place is more why people like it so much. It just wasn’t the same excitement, getting them from a place where you don’t have to fight for chance to get your own. People always want what they can’t have. It’s the chase. My son also felt the same way and said, ” I think this place is a bit over-rated” I could see his point.
On our last day in New Orleans we thought, we couldn’t leave without having just one more beignet. After all, who knows when the next time we will have a chance to get them, if ever. Another way to justify our incredibly unhealthy eating we did the entire time we were visiting New Orleans. Everything was so rich and fatty and full of carbs. I don’t know how anyone living in this city could eat healthy. I would find it very hard with all their tempting goodies.
We kept passing another beignet restaurant that was called New Orleans Famous Beignets & Coffee while touring around. (it was actually the one that was closed the first day). It was also on Decatur, hence my confusion. We had to check them out. Now we would have 3 to compare. This would be a great way to decide who really has the best beignet in New Orleans. Well, in our opinion anyway.
We walked into the place. It was very slow and only one customer was in line in front of us. This made us skeptical, but still interested on how theirs would compare. We saw the list of items and they also did the traditional serving of three, but they had a few other additions to their menu of beignets. The had a 2 stuffed ones, one stuffed with sausage and one stuffed with seafood. We considered trying one of these versions, but then thought we should stick with the original kind. How else could we perform our “taste test”? Again we ordered 2 servings, each with 3 beignets. The came in a bag, warm and loaded up with the powdered sugar. There was something different about this one though. The dough was much lighter and thinner and was more shaped in a flat square than a doughy ball. “Hmm?”, I thought and then proceeded to carefully bite into one, trying to avoid the powder from getting on my clothes. Wow, this one was awesome! It was so good and less doughy, with the perfect amount of crunchiness on the outside without being overly heavy. I exclaimed, ” This is by far the best one of them all! ” My son was in complete agreement.
Our conclusion to who makes the best beignet in New Orleans was, without a doubt, New Orleans Famous Beignets & Coffee. We actually put Cafe du Mode in last place of the three. Not that any of them were bad, I mean, I would never refuse an order from any of these places, but it was clear to us that sometimes hype and tradition outweighs taste. Popularity is key.
Who Makes the Best Beignet in New Orleans? (in my opinion)
1. *New Orleans Famous Beignets & Coffee
2. Cafe Beignet
3. Cafe Du Monde
Visiting New Orleans is a great way to try foods that you can only find in this area. From beignets, to muffulettas, to po boys, to Cajun seafood, to crawdads, to alligator bites, to charbroiled oysters, to gumbo, to jambalaya, the list goes on, your taste buds will experience a whole new world of flavors. The French creole influence and Cajun spices makes for unique and sought after recipes passed down from generation to generation. If you visit New Orleans, you must try their foods to help better understand their culture and the people, but just don’t expect to be eating healthy. Calories don’t count on vacation anyway.