As touristy as it is, a trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without a wait in line for beignets and chicory coffee at Café Du Monde. This place was packed nearly every time we passed by, and my entire family actually gave up on standing in line at one point when we had a more pressing engagement. After a couple of days, we determined that the line just wouldn’t go away (my brother – who lives there – got to say I told you so), we finally bit the bullet and decided to surrender to the crowds.
Through events that I can’t fully explain, we somehow found ourselves being coaxed by the wait staff, out of the “take-away” line, past all the people waiting in the “dine-in” line, to a perfectly situated indoor table: it was too cold to enjoy ourselves outdoors and all you see outdoors anyway are the two lines of impatient eaters waiting for their beignets. Besides, sitting inside allowed us to better watch the staff in action, while enjoying old school-not-yet-turned-kitch interior.
Part of what makes Cafe Du Monde a destination in my mind (besides the food) is the amazing skill, alacrity and razor sharp focus of the old-timey, diner-like uniformed wait staff. Our waitress was terse without being unfriendly, yet highly attentive and quick. It takes a lot of talent to navigate those crowds and our waitress did so with a tray of beignets stacked even higher with powdered sugar, plus the hot coffee. Before we knew it, our small group was consuming our deliciously fried dough (they really are fantastically good).
I did hold myself back a bit. I actually held off on my beignets until I tasted the coffee. Cafe Du Monde doesn’t offer a huge selection: chicory coffee, decaf, and a cafe au lait in regular and decaf. The coffee is brewed in enormous urns and is ground well in advance of brewing. You can buy these distinctive cans of ground, chicory coffee in the nearby market or online. I’ve also found them at various Vietnamese delis around the country. My brother informed me that the owners of Cafe Du Monde are Vietnamese. Coincidence, I think not. (please see the comments section below)
I first tried the chicory which was, well, full of that peppery bit that chicory imparts. Cafe Du Monde’s clean, freshly brewed cup of the stuff fit the expectation exactly. Like flavored coffee, it’s a little hard to detect much in the way of the qualities of the coffee, and since I don’t particularly like the bite of chicory, the overall experience wasn’t too much to my liking. The decaf simply tasted like a weaker version of the same stuff. Neither was actually all that bad, but you simply have to like the taste of chicory. If you expect regular coffee, you’ll find yourself surprised and disappointed.
The café au lait turned out to be pretty tasty. The milk works well to counteract the stronger elements of the chicory. Or, you might say that the chicory helps to cut through the milk. Either way, this isn’t a bad way to enjoy a cup of coffee in New Orleans, but I can’t imagine waiting in line just for a cup of this decent, but not outstanding milky beverage.
The bottom line: you should go to Cafe Du Monde for two reasons: the beignets and the quintessential New Orleans experience. Certainly try the coffee, especially if you haven’t had chicory coffee before, but don’t plan it being the stuff that makes you want to head back for more.