beignets at Cafe Beignet in Royal St

two days in New Orleans naturally meant two days of beignets. our second tasting took us to Cafe Beignet in Royal Street. our guide book claimed there’s a heated debate as to which tourist cafe has the better beignets — this one or the Cafe du Monde we’d visited the day earlier.

it sits deeper into the French Quarter, rather than plopped next to the Mississippi River across from Lafayette Square, and benefits from it. the cafe has a bright but subterranean feel, which contrasted interestingly with the open-air, wall-less atmosphere of the previous day. we opted to take our beignets in the courtyard, shared by the police station next door. (in truth, while the courtyard was clearly designed for use by the cafe customers I wasn’t convinced we weren’t, technically, on city property.) we arrived in the mid-afternoon, meeting up for a cemetery tour schedule to depart from the sidewalk out side the cafe, but opted to work up an appetite on our walking tour before enjoying the slightly-less-powder-covered fried treat. while I can’t speak to the quality of the coffee, the iced tea was quite tasty — and a welcome option. the workers at this establishment seemed much less world-weary and notably more competent; perhaps a question of scale but certainly welcome. leaving this place, I was nigh-tempted to buy a box of their beignet mix; not so at the other place or when I saw offerings in gift shops along Royal Street. I may not have any kitchen appliance designed for frying, but I’m adventurous enough to try it out on my own, so long as I can find a good recipe when inspired.

while many cultures have variations of fried fritters, beignets came to New Orleans from France in the 18th century. (some believe the Ursuline nuns may have brought the recipe, though there isn’t evidence to substantiate the claim.) they became a staple of Creole cuisine, generally sweet though sometimes savory, and in 1986 were declared the official state doughnut of Louisiana.

beignets at Cafe du Monde

consumption of beignets sat squarely atop our list of tourist-musts for our New Orleans adventure. our very first stop on Friday morning, after a breezy but pleasant walk from our hotel next to the convention center into the French Quarter, was the Cafe du Monde – perhaps the best known source of beignets in the city.

situated diagonally across the street from Jackson Square, Cafe du Monde has operated since the 1860s, originally a part of the French Market. capitalizing on the popularity of their signature treat, at one time Cafe du Monde locations ranged all over Louisiana and as far away as Atlanta. today, there are just under a dozen locations around the greater New Orleans area. the French Market cafe is open 24 hours a day year round, with the exception of Christmas day and whenever hurricanes threaten enough to necessitate closure. the cafe closed on August 27, 2005, in advance of Katrina and, though the venue was only slightly damaged by the storm, the property owners took two months following the storm to refurbish the cafe while visitor numbers were down.

we arrived about 10:00 a.m. on a Friday to stand in line. while the line moved quickly, getting us under the awning in about 10 or 15 minutes, the same couldn’t be said for getting our tasty fried treats and chicory-flavored cafe au lait. when the beignets arrived, they proved mostly worth the wait, though by the end of my order they seemed to be losing a crucial degree of their warmth, if not their tasty, fried (and sugar-drenched) sweetness. not the best beignets I had on our trip, but still mighty tasty.