When it comes to food and travel, whenever possible I like to eat where the locals eat, tourist traps rarely have the best food. I have also come to believe that Alton Brown will never steer me wrong when it comes to food. Both of those rules turned out to be true on this my trip to New Orleans.
I didn’t have a big list of things to do in New Orleans because I was bringing my homework along with me (yeah, this girl knows how to par-tay), but I was not going to leave that city without tasting a beignet.
World famous fried dough, topped with powdered sugar, and served up with cafe au lait? Carbs on top of deep-fried carbs? Served with coffee? What’s not to love? That was definitely first on my list.
The first name in beignets, is Cafe du Monde. It’s world famous. Mention New Orleans, and people who have never set foot in Louisiana will tell you to go to Cafe du Monde. I was going to Cafe du Monde if it was the only thing I did in New Orleans.
Luckily it wasn’t the only thing I did in New Orleans.
My friend, Jen, did her homework before our trip, including watching The Best Think I Ever Ate: New Orleans. “We have to go to Cafe Beignet!” She insisted. “Alton said it was the best thing he ate in New Orleans.”
How lucky I am to travel with someone like Jen who can straighten me out on these things – I might have missed Cafe Beignet altogether.
Hidden away amongst antique shops and art galleries in the French Quarter, I might have stumbled across this little gem, but I might have also been saving up my caloric allowance for the beignets at a shop with more name recognition. How sad that would have been.
I would have missed this lovely french cafe, with it’s menu that goes well beyond pastries, jazz from the street musicians wafting in on the breeze, the cobblestone floors, and the charming little birds that flitted around as we ate.
I would have missed the subtle flavor and delicate texture of these little pillows of heaven.
I fully intended to get a shot of these as they were delivered – both times we visited – but it just didn’t happen. I dug in. Yum.
We hadn’t even finished the first beignet when we decided we needed to hit Cafe du Monde as well – same day – so we could do a little comparison. Also, so we could have more beignets and coffee (but lets just keep that between us, ok?)
We had to walk several blocks farther, through Jackson Square, to get to Cafe du Monde. Surely that was enough walking to burn off all those carbs… No?
Cafe du Monde was a completely different environment.
It was packed, there were street musicians as well, right next to the table seating, but the music that pulsed in was more aggressive and in your face (perhaps intended to keep customers from lingering too long?). Pigeons dive-bombed tables, and snacked fearlessly from tables in the middle of this crowded restaurant.
The food the server plopped down in front of us was a little different as well.
The beignets were hard, and flavorless.
But at least they had sugar. A lot of sugar.
Once we finished eating the beignets, there was a good 4 ounces of sugar still left on the plate. Thank goodness we decided to share that order.
I will say in Cafe du Monde’s favor, that I preferred their coffee.
But for beignets, (and other foods, we found out at later visits), and ambiance, I’d recommend Cafe Beignet over and over again.
Alton Brown was right. So was the Concierge. Thanks, Jen.
One of the most precious and valuable benefits of travel is that it takes you out of your comfort zone, and if you’re open to the experience, it provides perspective. Travel teaches us about other cultures, but it also gives us the opportunity to learn about ourselves.
It is hard to forget the devastation of Hurricane Katrina when thinking of New Orleans. The city and the people are still recovering from that natural and man-made disaster. But they are recovering, and New Orleans showed my friends and me a grand time while we were there last month.
But as we strolled outside the welcoming, touristy areas of the French Quarter, I was reminded that there is a hard-earned need to be a bit self-protective here.
It also made me think about how guarded I can be in my own life, sometimes sharing information in one area to draw attention away from another.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The streets were lonely, but for my friend and I. No signs of life. No movement aside from the occasional breeze. The picture below was different just because there was another person on the street. The quiet was eerie. There was no question we had wandered outside of the tourist area.
This sidewalk seating area looked like a page from a catalog to me. Different in that there were signs of life with the chairs and tree, and yet, I wonder how often anyone actually sits there.
The shutters faced outward, to the world, to the environment, but we learned that most of these homes surrounded courtyards that were the gathering places of friends and family.
Just a glimpse here and there, and we could see that once past that tough shell, the interior was a friendly and welcoming place to those invited.
It was a grey, blustery day, perfectly suited to my grey, blustery mood. I was dragging my cranky toddler and cantankerous husband through that most soul-suckingly dreadful chore: grocery shopping.
All the while I was complaining about the fatigue I’m still battling, and my ever growing list of things I STILL haven’t gotten done yet.
What happened to my inspiration, I wondered. What happened to that drive that kept me up all night, not because I had to do something, but because I was so passionate about that project that I couldn’t not work on it?
“You used to find inspiration everywhere,” my husband said – rather insensitively, I thought.
That comment pissed me off a little bit, mostly because he was right. (Is there anything quite so infuriating as a spouse who is right?)
I used to be able to look around wherever I was and find something, some little something, that lit something in me.
I looked around at the displays of produce. Those peppers are really orange. Look how the water beads up and sparkles on the broccoli.
It started coming back. Not the up all night because I’m so driven type of inspiration, but enough for me to come back to the store then next day with my camera.
Not a thing changed in that store to bring about that change in me, not the lighting, not the moods of my companions, just a little shift in what I was noticing.
Also: dinner tonight is rainbow chard, black beans, mushrooms, and quinoa. No recipe, I just felt inspired to put those things together. We’ll see how that turns out.