NEW ORLEANS – Pardon me while I wipe the powdered sugar off my lips.
On a recent 24-hour visit to New Orleans, I downed seven-and-a-half beignets, all in the name of journalistic research. I was on a quest for the best square of deep fried dough in town.
My conclusion? I’m going to need to do more research.
First, though, some background. Beignets are square or rectangular pieces of dough, fried in super hot oil and doused in powdered sugar. They’re always served three to an order, and best consumed with cafe au lait, a half-and-half mixture of coffee (usually made with chicory, the root of the endive plant that’s been roasted and ground) and hot milk.
This is the place most people know, that open-air eatery trimmed with dark green and white awnings that’s anchored the street market in the French Quarter since 1862. (Clear tarps keep out the cold in winter months.) If you’ve been here, you probably waited in line.
The whole experience borders on stressful as you rush to a table, place your order and get served. The beignets, though? Delicious and piled with so much powdered sugar you could practically swoop down one on a pair of snow skis. The menu is basic – beignets, coffee, milk and orange juice. (Iced coffee and soda were added in the 1980s, but that’s just wrong.) An order of beignets costs $2.65.
Duck into this cozy nook for beignets that, I think, blow the powdered sugar off the ones at Cafe Du Monde. The atmosphere is decadently European, with a ceiling painted in lovely shades of cream and pale green and tiny tables with brass rails around the edges, presumably so your coffee doesn’t go crashing to the floor in case of rough seas.
The beignets here are slightly fatter, and perhaps a little doughier. It’s counter service, but a waiter will deliver hot beignets to your table before you have time to wonder if you should have gotten one of the eclairs in the pastry case, too. It’s not just about beignets here, though it should be. The menu also includes Southern staples such as crawfish omelets, Cajun hashbrowns, grits, red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo. An order of beignets costs $3.99.
Step inside Morning Call, which occupies one end of an old strip mall near the causeway in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, and you'll feel like you’ve stepped into the 1950s. Customers perched on wobbly round stools flip through newspapers spread out on long marble countertops and families gather at tables. In between, waiters in crisp paper hats buzz past, wielding plates of beignets and cups of coffee.
The beignets here, hand rolled and cut (and you can peer into the kitchen and watch), are slightly crisper than their competitors. They’re lighter and fluffier, too. Morning Call opened in 1870 on Decatur Street in the French Quarter and moved to its current location in 1974. An order of beignets costs $1.85.