As long a history as the lines outside of Cafe DuMonde, this beignet is a French dessert was brought by those colonists to our first neighborhood- the Vieux Carre ("old square", the original name for the French Quarter)- and accompanied anytime you drank coffee (morning, noon and after dinner). Traditionally, they were made with choux pastry, but a yeast dough is the style familiar to most present-day beignet buffs (I even found a puff pastry recipe online, but I'm going to need ya'll to not with that...). So how has the beignet become so loved? Tourists seem to LOVE them, but locals are kind of over the basic bitch of dough and powdered sugar. My theory about its appeal- a beignet's charm is the experience. Black & white tiles, staff in paper hats, Mississippi river breeze and heavy white coffee cups of cafe au lait are what draw people to Cafe du Monde. Like so much of New Orleans, it's the charm of a moment captured in time past.
Let's go back to before they were yeast donuts and they were delicate pastries for the colonial upper class. Frying the choux pastry creates a steam pocket, making the beignet light & airy. And, easy to fill. The beignet was sometimes sold on the river front by slave women who worked in houses in the French Quarter, while doing daily shopping. Dock workers and other river laborers wanted a breakfast that was sweet, high calorie and fast. It's speculated that these ALSO women subversively saved leftover rice from dinner and made dough from it, alongside the beignet batter. They were able to sell these treats, fried yeasted rice dough fritters called Calas, with the beignets and on the sly, saving that money for themselves. Calas were almost lost to history, but they can be found in a few places today. Currently, the best, and truest to form, calas I've found are at Jewel of the South . Elizabeth's Restaurant also has them on the menu.
Recommendations: Here is where I help steer you away from Cafe Du Monde with suggestions that will save you time and peek your interest if you want to try something besides the traditional trio of dense dough in powdered sugar. In the Quarter, I send my tour guests to Cafe Beignet - the location on Bourbon St sits in Legends park, a courtyard tribute to some great local musicians, and if the outdoor seating and live music weren't enough, there's great people watching (there's also a small cafe location on Royal St). If you are in City Park, you can hit the other, less crowded and touristy location of Cafe du Monde- it's a 5 minute walk from the NOMA art museum and is a really beautiful spot (shout out to Morning Call). And uptown, my current obsession are the beignet flights at The Vintage on Magazine St. I take my Garden District tours here to show off the modern creativity and growth expressed in our traditional foods- there's a matcha bavarian creme beignet, a super sweet s'mores beignet, and seasonal flavors like the recent Irish Coffee (a whiskey-infused cold brew cream anglaise filling) to celebrate St. Patrick's Day (the Vintage borders the Irish Channel neighborhood).