May 10, 2012

New Orleans Beignet Hunt

CafĂ© Du Monde on Urbanspoon Cafe Beignet on Urbanspoon

Welcome to the Capitol City Eats Southern Road Trip!  And by that I mean I've got a week to take a vacation and, like any self-respecting foodie, decided to design my trip around food.  What does that mean?  Look forward to damn good Southern BBQ in Memphis; Throwed Rolls, fried okra, and sorghum & honey in Missouri; and a whole mess of seafood, beignets, and cajun fare in New Orleans.  Let's fire up the car and get going!  And who better to have along during the countless hours driving through monotonous farmland than my good friend Yien?  He's been feeling a bit of cabin fever as well, so this is a welcome change for him.


I'll start things off with a decidedly unique New Orleans delicacy: the beignet.  This crunchy-yet-soft deep-fried New Orleans version of a donut is one of the major reasons I made New Orleans the destination of this road trip.  Since we have only a few mornings to spend chowing down on these puppies, I thought it'd be fun to go hunting for the best beignet in New Orleans.  That said, I only had a few mornings to go hunting, so it's altogether possible that I haven't stumbled across the best beignet yet.  Let me know if you know of a place better than what I've got below!

Contender #1: Cafe du Monde
Location: 813 Decatur St, French Quarter
Cost: $3


Every single person visiting New Orleans has heard of Cafe du Monde.  It's that iconic.  The original Cafe du Monde opened in 1862 (!) as a tiny little coffee stand in the French Market of the Quarter.  What a ways they've come since then; it now occupies an entire corner of the French Quarter, with hungry folks streaming in and out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Yien and I marched in the morning of our first whole day in New Orleans, eager to stuff our faces full of sweet tasty fried dough.


It was actually kind of difficult to find a table, but we managed to snag one just as a waiter sporting a bow tie and a Krispy Kreme-type hat was cleaning up from its previous guests.  I'll be honest, that's a 24-ounce can of Corona sitting next to the beignets; Yien wanted to get the party started early (we're talking 10am) and hey, it's New Orleans.


An order of beignets costs less than $3 and are delivered in under 3 minutes.  Cafe du Monde does a great job of piling the powdered sugar high on the plate; there might actually be more powdered sugar than beignet!


My mouth is watering while looking at these photos...they were that good.  The beignets were deliciously crispy on the outside, with a hearty crunch when you bite into those suckers.  But just before you can get used to the crispy, golden surface, you hit the soft, chewy, melty center, and what an incredible combination that is.  The powdered sugar offered just enough sweetness without being overpowering, and for those of you with extra-sweet teeth, there's plenty of powdered sugar to go around.  Finally, and importantly, these beignets were just the right size - not too small, not too large.  They were incredibly light and airy as well, considering they're bricks of fried dough.

For providing an incredible way to begin (or should I say beignet) the day, as well as the perfect counterpart to our morning beers, Cafe du Monde earns 5 Cherries.

Contender #2: Cafe Beignet
Location: 311 Bourbon St, French Quarter
Cost: $4

You can say that Cafe Beignet is the Robin to Cafe du Monde's Batman.  The Krystal to Cafe du Monde's White Castle.  The Wizards to Cafe du Monde's Capitals.  Whatever which way you call it, Cafe Beignet's been trying to step out of Cafe du Monde's shadow ever since its opening.  Make no mistake, people are listening; Cafe Beignet's been featured on Alton Brown's "Best Thing I Ever Ate" and Rachel Ray's "New Orleans on $40 a Day."


Cafe Beignet's situated in the heart of the French Quarter, offering an open-air oasis among the throngs of bars and strip clubs that line the western end of Bourbon Street.  Live music plays nearly 24/7 on the stage, ranging from funky blues to smooth jazz, depending on the hour of day.


On this morning, Yien and I sat down to try our second helping of beignets, hoping to see if our magic from the previous day can be recaptured.  An order of 3 beignets are a little more expensive here than they are at Cafe du Monde, but in the end it's a difference of 50 cents.  Pocket change, literally!


5 minutes later, we were presented with our prize.  My first impression was that these were giant!  A good 50% larger than the Cafe du Monde beignets, these squares of fried dough looked damn appetizing and a great start to the day.  However, when I bit into these suckers, I was a little disappointed.  The larger size of the beignets makes them much heavier and denser than those we had the morning before; I couldn't even finish 2 of these things before feeling completely stuffed.  What's more, Cafe Beignet is relatively stingy with their powdered sugar - it's not uncommon to see customers sitting around, digging their beignets into the bowl to scrape up any scraps of leftover powdered sugar.

For leaving me wanting the lighter, airier, and (gasp!) smaller beignets at Cafe du Monde, Cafe Beignet earns 3 Cherries.  I guess we know who the winner is!

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