The beignet, long an emblem of New Orleans food culture, is experiencing a revival across town, from classic renditions to modern interpretations.
It's easy to imagine how someone could walk into the Morning Call Coffee Stand in City Park for the first time and see the place as an act of historic preservation.
Found inside the park’s century-old Casino Building, the interior is done up with bare light bulbs, tile floors and mirrored counters. Waiters zip around the room in long white coats, black bow ties and paper hats. It’s open around-the-clock, right there amid the mossy oaks and lagoons of the park, like a misty vignette from the past. But in fact this Morning Call opened just about a year ago. The move was like an expansion and a homecoming rolled into one and it’s proved to be another sign of how its mainstay menu item, the beignet, is having a new day all over New Orleans.
The Morning Call got its start in 1870. It was a fixture of the French Market for more than a century, just down the street from its long-time peer Café du Monde. But the Morning Call relocated to Metairie in 1974, at a time when the Quarter was looking down and out and the suburbs were booming.
The new City Park location marked Morning Call’s first return to the city since, and after a year this shop has become a bustling place. During peak hours, students, busloads of tourists, and families visiting City Park stop by. In the evenings, bands often perform just outside, and through the wee hours there’s a steady flow of cops, cabbies and other night people. They all come for a coffee and a plate of those famous New Orleans French donuts.
Beignets were once found primarily at a handful of specialists, but lately they’ve been seeing a revival. Beignets are turning up on more dessert lists around town, from neighborhood joints to fine-dining destinations, where they’re reworked in upscale renditions. And they’re the centerpiece for what’s shaping up to be a new local chain of cafés.
New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Company got its start as an offshoot of New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Company, a casual restaurant group. That company opened a restaurant on St. Charles Avenue in 2010, found it had some extra space, and decided to build an attached café to test the Uptown market for coffee and beignets.
It’s been a hit, and customer response has spurred a whole new concept. In December, the first stand-alone New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Company opened in a former Burger King location on Veterans Boulevard, and more locations are on the drawing board now.
If the Morning Call channels a vintage feel, the Coffee & Beignet Company combines traditional beignet stand with modern coffee shop. There are espresso drinks, a pastry case and even a drive-thru, for beignets on the go. And the company has developed a new chocolate beignet, and mini beignet bites.
Since New Orleans is so famous for food, it’s natural that some traditional dishes have become emblems of the city. The beignet certainly qualifies. But now, as this revival unfolds, there are more opportunities to go out and eat that emblem.
New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co.
4141 St. Charles Ave., 504-247-9755; 3005 Veterans Blvd., 504-644-4130; www.nocbc.com
Morning Call Coffee Stand
3325 Severn Ave., Metairie, 504-885-4068; City Park Casino Building, 1 Palm Dr., phone n.a., www.morningcallcoffeestand.com