New Orleans beignets are legendary. They are synonymous with the destination and just one of those things you need to sample when in NOLA.
The city of New Orleans is known for its spirited nightlife, raucous bachelorette parties, and an abundance of internationally inspired foods. Perhaps nothing is more synonymous with NOLA though than beignets. Everyone makes them and has their own slightly unique take on the fluffy doughy sweets.
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New Orleans Beignets
Recently, I went in search of New Orleans best beignets and what I found might surprise you.
So, what’s all the fuss?
And more importantly, what are beignets anyways?
To be completely transparent, before we visited Louisiana I was lukewarm at best about these. Dough? So basically, like a donut, I thought. Can’t you basically get those anywhere? Why was that such a big deal?
I mean, I definitely decided that I would still try some, because as a travel writer visiting a place means exploring the food culture and restaurant scene too. If you are not doing that, then you miss a huge piece of the story of a city, or destination. But beignets weren’t exactly the catalyst driving me to visit. More like a curiosity.
What are Beignets?
Beignets are a snack, or a breakfast. Actually you can eat these anytime of the day and we pretty much did once we found them on our girl’s getaway to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.
These sweet treats are made with dough. They are often square in shape, puffy in form and texture and served warm with ample powdered sugar on top. It is a deep fried pastry, and the word beignets itself is French for donut or fritter, depending on your source.
But How do You Say It?
It. Just kidding. (Juvenile joke.) You pronounce it: ben-yay.
Food, in New Orleans, has a dramatic story influenced by multiple cultures and shaped by history and geography. Nowhere was that more apparent than when we visited the famous Napoleon House and spoke with a chef who vividly described the cultural influences on the cuisine in this area of Louisiana.
“Post civil war, there was a big Creole culture and Irish immigration due to the port here,” said Chris Montero, executive chef at Napoleon House. Italian immigration also followed suit.
Introduced in Louisiana in the 18th century, beignets pastries came from French Acadians.
Beignets Three Ways
From the second we arrived and stepped off the airplane from Toronto, my travel buddy Margarita Ibbott and I started talking food. Perhaps we were hungry? Mostly we launched into a discussion of beignets and a little bit of gumbo. Our airport limo driver, a New Orleans local, was all in and more than happy to give us the scoop on both gumbo and beignets, two area staples.
She’s the one who directed us to at least one or two of these beignets makers, so let that be a little reminder to engage in those conversations no matter where you are traveling.
Here’s how we went in search of New Orleans best beignets and where we discovered them.
Everyone knows there’s only one place to go for traditional beignets in New Orleans. It’s always busy and you are likely to always encounter a lineup, but you cannot go to NOLA and skip this amazing beignets café.
Café du Monde is iconic in New Orleans and a hit with tourists and locals. Google New Orleans and beignets or even just one of those terms and you will get Café du Monde.
Our Segway Tour
On our first morning in New Orleans we woke up, went to brunch at Two Sisters and headed immediately off for a Segway tour. Why does that matter? Well, doing the Segway Tour immediately on the first day there gave us a fast introduction to the geography of the area and helped us to figure out where we needed to go later in the day to explore further. It gave us confidence in setting out later that day.
That same day, after the Segway tour, we walked around New Orleans and made it our goal to sample many different beignets.
Onwards to Beignets
No NOLA experience would be complete without a stop at Café du Monde. Expect lineups and don’t skip the coffee. It has a hint of chicory which makes it rich and full bodied, sort of grounding the sweet powdery taste of the beignets. The outdoor market atmosphere adds to the experience.
The four of us bought adorable matching t-shirts from the market. Each shirt has a bold transfer on the back that states: New Orleans 2019 road trip. I love that.
Café du Monde beignets are light and warm and worth the wait. The coffee is a perfect partner to the sweet treat, grounding all of the sweetness with warmth and the simplicity of caffeine.
The Glam Version
The Ritz Carlton. OOOH Baby. These were the ones our airport limousine driver recommended and I am here to say she was bang on the money with this recommendation. These were not at all traditional – more like a Hollywood version of beignets and so decadent.
On day two of our trip to New Orleans, we headed to the Ritz Carlton for beignets because we heard they had sauces that were spectacular. Sauces with beignets? Sounds weird, no?
And yet, they were scrumptious. TRUE story. These beignets are affordable, scrumptious and they come with caramel, chocolate and also vanilla sauce. Byron, our server was exceptional. They also have fantastic lattes and you don’t have to be staying there in order to dine at the restaurant attached to the Ritz. At Christmas time, the Ritz Carlton space is transformed into an elegant, well lit, welcoming, holiday destination.
Food Festival Version
If you know New Orleans, then you probably are also aware that there’s always a festival or two almost any day of the week. Many of these festivals revolve around food and the celebration of taste. The Gumbo Festival and the Fête des Fromage were both happening when we visited. So, we scoped out the guide to the Gumbo Festival and made a note of a few booths to visit. But, that said, we were quickly overwhelmed by music and sights of all the art and trinkets being sold.
We started at the Treme Creole Gumbo festival for lunch, listened to some music in Louis Armstrong Park, browsed the artisan wares and sampled a couple of different beignets that were very non traditional.
A few of the booths at the festival boasted beignets, so we sampled those. These food festival beignets resembled hush puppies more than anything, definitely untraditional with a crispy fried outer layer and savoury dough in the centre, served with a remoulade kind of drizzle. A tasty warm appetizer with a slight kick.
While the food festival version of these treats was tasty, I wouldn’t exactly call it a true beignets, even though they are sold as such.
Finally, Make Your Own
Before you go, if you want to make your own beignets at home, there are numerous spots where you can purchase a boxed New Orleans beignets mix. Take one home and relive a bit of your adventure in the Big Easy!