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.

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