I remember the first time I had a beignet. I was living in Los Angeles and working for a film producer who paid me $450 per week, which back then—was still bupkis! After paying my rent, filling the tank up with gas, covering half the utilities and cable bill, I had just enough left to meet my best friend Barry for dinner at the Beverly Center Grand Luxe Cafe.
I remember the crowd in the vestibule. Everyone herded like cattle between the dessert case filled with cream puffs the size of our heads and the counter where the hostesses in black looked like secret service agents with multiple ear pieces and microphones going every which way.
Barry ordered their club sandwich because that’s his litmus test for a new restaurant. I’d been fostering a healthy eating disorder which is pretty normal for LA and I ordered the Polynesian salad. That was when I used to think anything called a salad was healthy. SO NOT TRUE!
For dessert we ordered the New Orleans beignets sampler. It came with four beignets and three dipping sauces: Jack Daniels crème anglaise, chocolate, and raspberry.
And with one bite, my love for beignets began.
The Best Beignets in New Orleans
What’s not to love about beignets? It’s like eating funnel cake only a thousand times better, because the oil doesn’t seem to linger, there’s plenty of that delicious soft interior, and you don’t need to use a spork to eat them. Each beignet is a perfect piece of pastry, flash fried and puffy like a little pillow doused in powdered sugar.
Flash to over a decade later and I was in New Orleans, where the best beignets around can be found on nearly every street quarter, or at least in the touristy bits. The big difference between the Louisiana beignets and the ones Barry and I had at the Grand Luxe—the shape. The “real” beignets are sort of square shaped. Imagine thick strips of dough a little smaller than a pop tart that’s deep fried. In the cooking process is when they seem to lose their shape. But that doesn’t really matter. It’s all fried dough and sugar….
Headed to New Orleans? Want the best beignets? Well you’re in for a treat.
Café du Monde in the French Quarter
Everyone will recommend Café du Monde for beignets, because it’s the “original.” Café du Monde serves beignets, orange juice, and various forms of coffee. They also sell a shit ton of random tchotchkes with the Café du Monde brand all over it. The same stuff is sold in the airport and pretty much everywhere else in town. Founded in 1862 the original shop is conveniently located in the heart of the French Quarter on Decatur Street, sandwiched between Jackson Square and the Mississippi River. They’re open 24 hours a day (only closed the day before and after Christmas) and it turns out thousands of beignets a day, and probably goes through thousands of pounds of confectioners sugar a month. Though it seems like there’s more of it on the floor than on the beignets themselves.
Usually there’s a line out the door for a table on the patio where you’ll want to sit and soak in the scenery. Horse drawn carriages, tourists in funny hats, mardi gras beads and local artists will pass by while you shove beignets in your pie hole and wash it all down with their delicious iced café au laits flavored with chicory or chocolate milk.
Don’t be discouraged by the lines though. What most people don’t know about Café du Monde is that there’s a to-go window in back. That line goes fast, and you can take your beignets to-go so you can enjoy them at any of the surrounding areas where you don’t have tourists salivating over your table while they wait their turn.
And you know what? If you see a table open up while you’re in the to-go line, you can usually grab it and just order from one of the many Asian staffers running around with plates of beignets and styrofoam cups of coffee, which is so annoying considering there are so many more sustainable materials for cups these days.
Since they’re open 24 hours a day, it’s not hard to find a time to stop by Café du Monde. Whether you stop by after a night of drinking and live music on Frenchman Street or during a mid-day stroll to the French Market, make sure you’re not wearing dark clothes. Café du Monde cakes their beignets in powdered sugar, and since most of the seating is outside….well, I think you know where I’m going with this. A single gush of wind, even a gentle breeze, or the snort from an allergy, and you and your friends will be covered.
Morning Call Coffee Stand in City Park
In the weeks leading up to our New Orleans trip, everyone was telling us to stop by Café du Monde for beignets. But I have this thing about doing the thing that everyone thinks I should do. Like when everyone was reading Harry Potter and they said they’re the most amazing books….I couldn’t have been more put off by that. To this day I’ve only watched the movies, which I’ll admit are great….but the books will never live up to the hype for me. The same thing happened with beignets. I almost skipped it entirely because everyone said it’s “the place” to go for what are essentially doughnuts fresh from the fryer. The only reason I did go, is because I didn’t want to be the only person who goes to New Orleans and doesn’t go to Café du Monde.
Meanwhile, the rest of the time we were running around the city, I made sure to ask everyone where they get their favorite beignets. And from that question I learned two things: people who live in New Orleans don’t really eat beignets often, and the best beignets are at Morning Call Coffee Stand in New Orleans’ City Park. And when our Confederacy of Cruisers culinary bicycle tour guide (Cassandra Snyder) confirmed it, I was on a mission.
A few days before our trip ended, Jonathan and I rented bikes from the Confederacy of Cruisers Bike shop and decided we would explore the parts of New Orleans outside the French Quarter. We started with a ride up Esplanade Avenue and went to the Museum of Art.
Since we had a lot of ground to cover and only the one day to do it, we decided to skip the inside of the museum and just spent some time walking around the sculpture garden, which was amazing!
After that, we got on our bikes and stopped at the Morning Call coffee stand for a plate of beignets and some iced café au lait with chicory. Let the comparison begin.
Morning Call is a lot like Café du Monde in the sense that there’s usually a line of patrons waiting to order and it’s old school. The menu is just as limited serving only the essentials: coffee and beignets.
The original opened up on Decatur Street in 1870, but over 100 years later it moved to its current location in the park. What I like most about Morning Call’s beignets are that they’re not covered in powdered sugar unless you ask them to be served that way. With shakers of confectioners sugar on the tables inside and out, we were allowed to choose how much sugar we wanted on our beignets, making them perfect and customized to our liking.
The iced café au laits (served in recyclable plastic) were delicious as well. Morning Call still makes their coffee the traditional “French drip method” which makes it more intense than a lot of brewed coffees.
Oh and did I mention the scenery? Sure the French Quarter is charming, but there’s something about sitting outside, under some trees, and enjoying a plate of beignets and ice coffees in the park. “City Park” is a large park rectangular (think a smaller version of New York’s central park) north of the French Quarter and south of Lake Pontchartrain. There’s a ton to do and since it’s flat, you can ride bikes or walk around for hours.
We had to hightail it out of there if we were going to make it across the city to Tulane’s campus for our next stop, but the break we took at Morning Call was worth it. Their beignets were fresher and more delicate than Cafe du Monde. The experience didn’t feel rushed and impersonal….and if it will get you out of the French Quarter for even an hour—it’s worth it!
Tell us where your favorite beignets are from by leaving a comment below.