Must Have Coffee & Beignets in New Orleans!USA MAINLAND — By Milli Thornton on June 15, 2011 at 15:44
Story by Milli Thornton. Photos Copyright © Brian Williams.
A LONG TIME AGO, back when people wrote real letters with a pen and paper and mailed them with a real stamp, I was infected with the lust to some day have coffee and beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans.
I was living in Australia and did not realize a move back to the USA was in my future. I didn’t know about Café du Monde until a pen pal who lived in Pensacola raved about it in her letters. She painted an irresistible picture of the two of us chatting over coffee and beignets in the French Quarter. It was one of those things you never let go of, even though it might seem unlikely at the time.
Finally, seventeen years later, I got to visit New Orleans. Brian knew the drill: we had to find Café du Monde, even though we only had a day to see the city.
By early evening we arrived at the cafe on Decatur Street via the second most romantic method, which is to walk along the river. (Naturally, the most romantic way is by cable car.) We promptly ordered coffee and beignets and set about getting covered in powdered sugar. I had long since lost touch with my pen pal from the early ’90s, but I saluted her with my coffee mug.
The beignet (pronunced ben-yey; Fr. be-nye) is a pillowy, square doughnut. In French cookery beignet means any fruit, vegetable, seafood, etc., dipped in batter and deep-fried. It appears the Louisiana French version of the word refers mainly to these unfilled dessert-style fritters . . . but if a travel editor wants to send me on an expedition to uncover the full range of meaning of the word within both France and The French Quarter, I’m for hire.
Café du Monde (loosely, ‘café of the world’) was established in 1862. During the last 25 years they’ve opened branches in shopping malls as far afield as Atlanta, Georgia—it can even be found throughout Japan. I must admit I would not settle for anything but the original, at least for my first time.
According to Wikipedia, the original site is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, except for Christmas Day and days when “the occasional hurricane passes too close to New Orleans.” When the city was hit by Hurricane Katrina, Café du Monde retained only minor damage but the owners used the down-time to refurbish the kitchen and eating areas.
It has a cafeteria-like atmosphere and patrons line up to order the only thing on the menu: coffee and beignets. You can eat on the patio or indoors. The coffee, to my pampered, breve-loving taste buds, was not the cup of comfort I was hoping for. In the traditional style, it’s blended with chicory, which might be one of those flavors you need to grow into.
Street performers are everywhere in the French Quarter. We saw mime artists, a trumpet player, a husband-and-wife bluegrass duo and a parade. (And that was on a slow day.) Talk about grassroots performers. As we scarfed down our beignets out on the patio we listened to some tunes played by this solo tuba player.
Going to NOLA? Don’t forget. You must have coffee and beignets at Café du Monde, or you just haven’t done New Orleans right.
Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.