The Great Beignet Debate

Today Geaux Therefore launches a new reoccurring column called “The Great Debates.” Some of these debates will tackle serious issues that arise for people who plant their lives in New Orleans. Other “Great Debates” will take on fun topics – like beignets (pronounced ben-YAY).

A little beignet-ology
Beignets, often called “French donuts,” are deep-fried pastries served with confectioner’s (powdered) sugar. There is no debate that New Orleanians love coffee and beignets. And for beignets in New Orleans, there are two historic places to go: Café Du Monde and Morning Call.

Since 1862, Café Du Monde has occupied the same piece of prime real estate near Jackson Square, serving beignets and café au lait 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Over the years, Café Du Monde has opened seven additional locations in the New Orleans area. Randomly, there are also 56 franchised Café Du Monde coffee stands in Japan.

Morning Call opened its doors in the French Market in 1870, just down Decatur Street from Café Du Monde (near where the Joan of Arc statue currently stands). Morning Call, which has been owned and operated by the Jurisich family throughout its history, left the Quarter in 1974 and moved to Metairie. Morning Call is also open 24/7.

Over the past two weeks, Frank and Gary visited both cafés to find out which one has the best beignets in New Orleans, the best cultural experience and the best people watching.

And the winner is … Café Du MondeGary D. Myers
I must confess my love Café Du Monde (CDM). It was love at first sight … or bite. Eating beignets at CDM was one of the highlights of my first visit to New Orleans, now almost 20 years ago. Kimberly gave me the first-timers treatment – she blew powdered sugar in my face as I started to take my first bite. Since then, I’ve been hooked. And though I usually go to the newer CDM café on Veterans Boulevard in Metairie with my family, I love the fact that the original – the 1862 location on Decatur Street – is still open. We make it to the French Quarter location a few times a year.

Café Du Monde and Morning Call each add their own little flair to the beignet recipe. For example, Morning Call beignets ($1.85 per serving) are somewhat light and fluffy – similar to Mexican sopapillas – and are served without powdered sugar. Customers can shake their desired amount of sugar themselves. I have discovered that some people really like having control over the powdered sugar.

CDM beignets ($2.15 per serving) are a bit heavier (but not heavy) and less like sopapillas. The beignets are served with a thick layer of powder sugar. I say the more sugar the better.

Both places served us a great cup of café au lait – chicory coffee and steamed milk. During our recent visits, I think I would give Morning Call the slight edge on the coffee.

The main location of CDM isn’t the cleanest or most comfortable – much of the seating is under an outdoor, covered patio. Pigeons get right up in your business as they try to sneak crumbs and powdered sugar. And it can get downright toasty there in the summer. The place is usually filled with tourists. However, I have never had a bad experience at the CDM in the French Quarter. It is a fun NOLA icon. And the stand-alone Metairie location does a great job of capturing the architecture, look and feel of the French Quarter in a cleaner, climate controlled, less touristy environment. For nostalgia and ambiance, I give CDM the edge over Morning Call.

And despite all the nostalgia involved with my pick, I really do like the taste and texture of the beignets at CDM better than those at Morning Call. It’s as simple as that.

And the winner is … Morning CallFrank Michael McCormack
On the morning Gary and I met at Morning Call, I got there a little early and perused Lakeside News, the old-style newsstand next door. I got to talking with Jimmy, the attendant, about everything from the future of newspapers to early-morning business at Morning Call, which is open 24 hours a day.

Jimmy said that Lakeside News sold more than 9,000 copies of the Times-Picayune Feb. 8, 2010, the day after the Saints won the Super Bowl. Still, newspapers face an uphill battle, Jimmy said.

“The older people will come in and get a newspaper, but the younger kids get it all online,” he said.

Walking toward Morning Call, located behind Lakeside Mall in Metairie, the first thing that greets you is the café’s iconic fluorescent sign outside – the same that once stood in the French Quarter. It’s not the only piece of architecture relocated to Metairie either. Inside, there’s a lighted archway and marble countertop that were moved from the Quarter when Morning Call relocated in 1974.

Inside Morning Call when we were there, a World War II veteran sat at a table alone, reading the newspaper. I knew he was a veteran because he sat his cap on the table facing out, so it could be seen. Behind us, two gentlemen sat discussing the news. I gathered they are regulars, since the waiter called them by name and didn’t even need to take their order.

A waiter across the room was asleep on a table. It was only 6:30.

From a convenience perspective, Morning Call is easy to get to any time of the day. It’s got its own parking and the interstate is nearby. A jaunt to Metairie many times is simply easier than a quick trip to the Quarter.

From a food perspective, I’d say it’s a draw between Café Du Monde and Morning Call. However, I do enjoy controlling my own destiny when it comes to the powdered sugar. I recommend piling your sugar on the side, dunking your beignets, then dobbing it in the sugar to taste. For that, I’ll say it’s Morning Call by a nose.

From a cultural and people watching perspective, I think Morning Call is simply the best. You may object, “But Morning Call sold out to the suburbs.” But as the French Quarter shifted from a district for locals by locals to more of a center for tourism, Morning Call moved to where the locals were, and in the 1970s, that was Metairie (specifically the area called Fat City). At Morning Call, you’ll see more locals, more prom groups, more old timers getting together for coffee and beignets. So in a way, even though it relocated in the 70s, Morning Call retains some aspects of the old New Orleans coffee shop that Café Du Monde has lost.

I wish I could’ve seen Morning Call in its heyday, greeting locals and tourists alike to the historic French Market. But I can still get a glimpse of that old New Orleans charm, even if it’s tucked away in a strip mall in Metairie.

Closing Thoughts
There really is no debate here, both places have great beignets, great coffee and are brimming with local history. You can’t go wrong with either choice. We are fortunate to have these cultural icons thriving in our city.

Rotten potatoes, humble pie and purposeful discipleship

By Gary D. Myers

I grew up attending church. In fact, I think I was less than a week old when my parents first took me to First Baptist Church in Calvin, Okla. As I grew and learned about Jesus, I realized my need for a Savior and at age six I made a commitment to follow Him.

I continued to learn and grow in my faith throughout grade school and high school. Though I had genuinely experienced the saving grace of God, I often settled for simple devotion and “dos and don’ts” rather than purposeful discipleship.

Fast-forward to college

I distinctly remember when God began to gently push me toward purposeful discipleship (or what some would call missional living). It happened during a week-long summer mission trip to Houston. We were serving in several mission centers in a poor section of the city.

The mission centers often received day-old bread and other perishable food items which the missionaries in turn distributed in the community. One day the center received several large sacks of “perishing” potatoes. My buddy and I were asked to sort through the sacks to see if any potatoes were salvageable. We squeezed and poked each potato seeking out the rotten spots. We then cut off the bad parts, washed the “fragments” that were left and put them in buckets of clean water. Now it was a typical summer day in Houston – hot, humid and sunny. The warmer it got, the worse the potatoes smelled. My stomach was queasy throughout the process. It was very satisfying to see hungry people line up and happily take these rescued potatoes later that afternoon.

In my prideful heart I thought “I wouldn’t eat those potatoes.”

That evening as we sat down for our meal at the mission house, I couldn’t help but notice the large bowl of mashed potatoes front and center. While Mildred McWhorter, the director of the mission center, was still in the kitchen my buddy and I quietly joked about the potatoes. We expressed how thankful we were that these were not the same potatoes we had cleaned earlier.

Ms. Mildred overheard our conversion and whipped around the corner. With stern, but caring tone she assured us that these were in fact the same potatoes. She went on to say that she would never distribute any food she was not willing to eat herself. Woe to me!

Well, I ate a big helping of those rescued potatoes along with some humble pie. I learned a lesson about identifying my neighbors and loving them as I love myself. It was a key moment in my growth toward purposeful discipleship.

Integrating belief and action for purposeful living

Just a few years later I moved to Pittsburgh, Pa. to serve as a college minister. In this urban setting God’s gentle push toward purposeful discipleship became a loving shove. I can’t put my finger on one event, it was everything. It was my first time to live outside of the Bible Belt – my first time to live in a large city. My view of God grew and my view of His Kingdom expanded. My time in Pittsburgh prepared me for how God is calling me to live in New Orleans.

I realized that discipleship involves the integration of love for God and love for our neighbors. It involves vibrant worship of the Triune God, who receives top priority in our lives, and selfless service to others. We are saved by God’s grace to serve in His power. It’s all about integrating belief and action – a “growing and going” faith. We are called to live out biblical Christian discipleship in a way that brings others to Christ. We are called to live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandments. I’m not there yet, but that’s how I’m trying to live.

Below, I have attempted to illustrate the differences with contrasting words and phrases. “Point A” represents the good and the bad of my early days as a believer. “Point B” represents where I want to be.

No longer reigning, but still champions

By Frank Michael McCormack

Sunday night, a new Super Bowl champion was crowned – the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 to win Super Bowl 45. And in doing so, the crown passed from the New Orleans Saints, champions of Super Bowl 44.

The Times-Picayune summed up the Saints 43 year road to a Super Bowl championship with an emphatic "AMEN!"

That’s right. For a year – that’s 12 months, or 52 weeks, or 365 days, or 8760 hours, or … well, you get the point – the Saints were “Defending Super Bowl Champs.” That had such a great ring to it. And beginning with training camp last summer, the Saints were in pursuit of the illusive “Two Dat” (a.k.a. back-to-back Super Bowl wins).

The quest for the Two Dat ended when the Saints lost to the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. And Sunday, when the game clock in Cowboys Stadium ticked down to zero and the Packers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, the Saints were finally forced to give up the title “Defending Super Bowl Champs.”

New Orleans’ and the Gulf South’s yearlong “Party with the Lombardi,” at long last, has ended. Or has it?

No doubt, many will insist that Saints fans cease to wear gear that bears the Super Bowl 44 logo. Outside the New Orleans area, “Who Dat” may no longer be gladly reciprocated, but instead answered with “That’s so last year.” In a world stuck on “what have you done for me lately,” victorious exclamation points from last year can quickly be twisted into doubtful question marks this year.

But this need not be the case.

After all, what husband, on his first wedding anniversary, turns to his wife and says “That’s so last year” and lives to tell of it? And what parent refuses to celebrate his or her child’s first birthday, calling it “yesterday’s news”?

There’s a reason why events like these are called life-changing events. Though many people get married or have children or realize a great personal achievement, that doesn’t minimize the wonderfulness of your marriage or your children or your crowning achievement.

So as the Who Dat Nation celebrates the first anniversary of the Saints’ first world championship, let this be a time to look back, look forward and look inward.

Looking back: ‘Just wait ‘til last year’

Celebrating anniversaries involves, first, a look back at life leading up to the event. And for Saints fans, that’s a lot of history.

Beginning with that first season in 1967 and for the next 43 years, Saints fans consoled each other annually with the phrase “Just wait ‘til next year.” “Next year” held endless possibilities and dreams of grandeur. But year after year, the possibilities of this year faded to hopes for next year. And some years were harder than others. But through all the losing seasons, big game meltdowns, and occasional bag heads, Saints fans never lost hope.

Then came the 2009 season. Win after win, as the Saints marched to a 13-3 regular season record, people around New Orleans began to wonder “Could this be the year?” And when Saints kicker Garrett Hartley kicked the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship game, fans celebrated to the words of Jim Henderson, the voice of the Saints: “Pigs have flown! Hell has frozen over! The Saints are on their way to the Super Bowl!”

A sign at the Super Bowl said it well: “This is next year!”

But looking back reminds you that, for residents of the Gulf South, the Saints’ march to Super Bowl 44 really was, as another sign read, “about more than just football.” It was a bookend to 5 years of fighting back after Hurricane Katrina. The Super Bowl victory wasn’t just a victory for the players, the coaches or the organization. It was a victory for the whole community.

The Saints won it, but we did it together. That unity was seen in the thousands who met the team at the airport after each game and in the crime-less streets of New Orleans during each game. That unity culminated in the Super Bowl victory parade Feb. 9, 2010, when a million-plus from all walks of life stood side-by-side to celebrate together.

“Next year” had finally come. We, against all odds, were champions.

Looking forward: Building a dynasty

Anniversaries also point you toward the future.

Over the past year, Saints fans have, understandably, continued to revel in that Feb. 7, 2010, win against the Indianapolis Colts. But as the opportunity of a Two Dat slipped away, attention began to truly turn from the greatness of last year to the possibilities for the future. The pieces are in place for greatness, year in and year out. The only question is, Will the Saints achieve it?

But if the Saints can be champions, what does that mean for this community? What can the New Orleans community and the Gulf South accomplish over the next 5 or 10 years? Together, we’ve rebuilt after Katrina and survived the BP oil spill. Together, we won a Super Bowl. What else can we do together?

So as you look back at Super Bowl 44, let it inspire you to aspire to great things in the future.

Looking inward: Embracing your identity

But perhaps the most important part of an anniversary is looking inward. The life-changing events we commemorate redefine us and often accentuate what defines us. Remembering the events helps us reclaim and recommit to that identity.

After the Saints’ big Super Bowl win, it would have been easy for the team to take a break from their “For New Orleans” mantra. After carrying a region on their shoulders for four or five years, the team could’ve easily laid down that banner.

But instead, they ramped up their work in the community, motivating students, sponsoring events like Feed the Children and distributing meals in communities hard-hit by the BP oil spill.

Instead of basking in the glow of their victory, the team got back to work. It seems that, while the Katrina recovery is a motivator for the Saints – and understandably so! – it isn’t the only motivator. While this is a recovering community, it is, underneath all that, their community. And they have a role to play in it.

So the question is, what is your community? What is your identity in that community? And what role is yours to play in it?

On this, the first anniversary of the Saints Super Bowl victory, let no one rob you of the joy of celebrating it. Because, after all, it’s your victory as well. But let it not be an empty celebration.

Look back. Look forward. Look inward.

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Click on the links below to relive some of the high points from last year’s Super Bowl victory. If you have any favorite videos from last year’s Super Bowl run, feel free to share them as well.