October 19, 2005

New Orleans Cafe Du Monde and its Beignets are Back

NEW ORLEANS -- Cafe Du Monde, a French Quarter landmark, began serving its signature chicory-laced coffee and sugar-dusted beignets on Wednesday for the first time since being shuttered by Hurricane Katrina.

With a jazz trio playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Down by the Riverside," the 143-year-old New Orleans coffee stand reopened for the residents, relief workers and reporters who crowded into its awning-covered patio.

"This is the best place in New Orleans," said Robert LaGrange, a 63-year-old city resident, who had turned up for the 6 a.m. opening. "Everybody comes here. You can come here and see people in tuxedos and people in cutoffs."

The Jackson Square restaurant, normally open around the clock every day of the year except Christmas, closed its doors on August 27, some two days before Hurricane Katrina tore through the city and unleashed devastating floods.

"My grandparents thought I was crazy, but I had to be one of the first people here," said Jessica Carlucci, who lined up for an early takeout order.

Cafe Du Monde's famed offering is the beignet, a square, French-style doughnut dusted with heaps of powdered sugar, served in piles of three, and typically accompanied by a cafe au lait.

Waitresses in paper hats, white shirts and black bowties, stood ready for the television crews to clear out and for a more typical morning rush to begin.

"All Vietnamese. All one size," said Dung Nguyen, a 10-year veteran of the restaurant said surveying a line-up of her fellow waitresses. She added, with a chuckle: "All beautiful."

Patricia Lopez, a French Quarter resident, was splitting an order of beignets with her daughters, Lauren and Elizabeth.

Just a few feet down the street garbage remained piled high awaiting pickup, but the green tables and vinyl chairs and stone floor at Cafe Du Monde were gleaming.

"It looks great. I've missed it," Lopez said. "The service is better than ever and the floor is clean."

At a nearby table, Vernon Boudreaux, a New Orleans-area contractor, was trying to dust powdered sugar from his lap without much success.

"I've got to put some on my pants to show my wife I was here," he said with a smile. "I've been coming by here every day since the storm."

"This place will be around forever," he said. "You can't get away from the food here. I've moved to New York, I moved to California for a few weeks in the 60s. I tried Florida, but I kept coming back."