As more traditional and contemporary examples appear, it’s a new day for the beignet
A vintage vibe pervades the Morning Call Coffee Stand in City Park. An arch of bare light bulbs, tile floors and mirrored counters adorn a room where waiters in white coats and black bowties serve its signature café au lait and beignets 24/7. Cops and cabbies swing by for orders to go, nostalgic couples linger at their tables and, on most nights now, a jazz combo plays old tunes on the patio outside.
But in fact November marks just the first anniversary of this beignet parlor’s debut in City Park. For the Morning Call, which was founded in the French Market in 1870 and relocated to Metairie in 1974, it represented an expansion and a homecoming all in one.
“Morning Call belongs in New Orleans, that’s where we began,” said Bob Hennessey, who runs the family business with his brother Michael. “We were hesitant about expanding, but so far this place has exceeded all expectations. People love beignets but there just aren’t that many places to get them, so once word got around people have been responding.”
Beignets were once found primarily at traditional specialists — namely Morning Call and its historic peer, Café du Monde — and a handful of newer purveyors. But lately this enduring emblem of the city’s food culture has been seeing a revival. Beignets are turning up on more dessert lists around town, and they’re the centerpiece for what’s shaping up to be a new local chain of cafes.
New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. got its start as an offshoot of New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co., a casual restaurant group that’s been around since 1984. In 2010, the company opened its first St. Charles Avenue location, found it had some extra space and decided to test the Uptown market for coffee and beignets with an attached café concept.
It’s been a hit, said managing partner Paul McGoey, and based on its success the company plans to open the first stand-alone New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. next week in a former Burger King location in Metairie. The new concept combines touchstones of the traditional beignet stand with the amenities of a modern coffee shop, like a full menu of espresso drinks. It’s aimed at changing the way locals see making a run for beignets.
“We heard from people who were getting beignets every weekend, but were still going to Starbucks for their morning coffee on the weekdays. We want them to come here,” said McGoey.
Within the next three years the company plans to open as many as five more beignet shops around the metro area, including possible locations in the CBD, Elmwood and the Westbank. The coffee drinks won’t be the only difference in their approach.
New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. has developed a new chocolate beignet, which isn’t iced or filled but rather made with chocolate dough through and through. The café will serve smaller “beignet bites” for lighter snacks, French macaroons (dubbed “doubloons” here) and other items.
“I think people are primed for a new product,” McGoey said. “There are 20 ways to make gumbo. Beignets don’t always have to be made the same way.”
That sentiment is mirrored at a growing number of restaurants now working the beignet into contemporary renditions. At the Munch Factory in Gentilly, for instance, beignets arrive as narrow, puffy bars circled by concentric rings of caramel and condensed milk, while at Susan Spicer’s Lakeview restaurant, Mondo, beignets are served with yogurt, nuts and honey. Beignets are also a fixture at the Freret Street deli Wayfare, where one recent version was essentially fried orbs of tres leches bread pudding.
There’s even a beignet food truck called Beignet Roule working the local festival and events scene.
From a converted minibus, Paul LeBourgeois and Derek Fontenot fry up traditional beignets while also testing the limits of the beignet brand. They’ve made savory versions modeled after Italian calzones or Indian samosas, while a dessert edition has a glaze made from dark chocolate and coffee with chicory.
“We looked at it as fried dough, which you can fill with anything you want, really,” said LeBourgeois. “We wanted to do something that would stand out from what people think of when they think beignet.”