It's a Beignet, Not a Zeppole
Six of one, half dozen of the other! Toe-May-Toe, Tah-Mah-Toe. Despite the fact a beignet and zeppole look a lot alike, there are specific reasons why you don't hear them used interchangeably. For starters, one is French and the other is Italian and unless you are from Louisiana or you have visited New Orleans, I'm pretty sure there’s a good chance you have no idea what a beignet is. And while they are both basically just fried
dough showered in a glorious mound of sugar; they are technically different. A New Orleans style beignet tends to look more like a rectangular pillow full of pockets of chewy, airy dough and a zeppole, like the ones you can find nestled next to the sausage & pep stands at every Italian Feast, are more like a deep-fried ball of sweetness. But between us, I have a strong suspicion that you'd be hard pressed to find any zeppole stand at an Italian Feast in New Orleans, I bet they would all say beignets.
Then there’s also a matter of yeast. Beignets from the Big Easy contain a raising agent whereas a traditional French beignet is typically made with a choux pastry that does not. And as someone who has worked a feast or two in my life, an authentic zeppole should never be made with yeast imho.
It’s impossible to hear the word beignet without immediately conjuring up images of Cafe Du Monde on Decatur St in the French Market. The coffee stand has been a part of Nawlins’ culture since 1862 pairing their chicory infused café au lait with a plate (or paper bag) of 3 steaming hot donuts covered with a mountain of powdered sugar which immediately starts to glaze into a sticky coating. Prior to the pandemic, the open-air Cafe Du Monde was open 24 hours a day but nowadays is open at 7:30 and closes at 11:00. This historic coffee stand serves thousands of customers each day and is the perfect spot to pregame before your elaborate Creole brunch and is in walking distance to sober up before heading back to Bourbon Street for a few more pops.
Official State Donut of Louisiana Since 1986
If you are visiting New Orleans for your first time, hitting up Cafe Du Monde is a must but there are plenty of other really great beignet shops. Cafe Beignet on Royal St with their quaint little shop makes a delicious donut that's much denser and has the distinct taste of pancake. Morning Call, an old school beignet and coffee shop with its roots dating back to 1870 unfortunately closed in 2019 however a new offshoot has opened on Canal selling their original recipe beignets and French Drip Coffee. I've yet to try it, but if it's anything like its forefather, put it on your list.
Sweet AND Savory
Beignets are no longer just for your sweet tooth. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I had what’s likely going to end up being my BEST MEAL of 2022 at the Mosquito Supper Club, a communal multi-course tasting menu by local chef Melissa M Martin. It's a hidden gem. If you don’t know, now you know. Chef Martin was legit "born on a bayou" and her ever changing dinner menu tells the story of growing up as a Cajun. The penultimate course of a menu that served Higgins Fried Stuffed Crab, the best Shrimp & Okra Gumbo I ever put in my mouth and an out of this world potato salad, was an elegant eggplant beignet whose taste I liken to a fried zucchini flower your Nonna used to make from her garden. The earthy bite had subtly sweet undertones and an undeniable chew.
Meanwhile Katie’s in MidCity has a mouthwatering crawfish beignet on their menu stuffed with cheddar, mozzarella, caramelized onion and a jalapeno aioli. But keep your eyes open because throughout the city, chefs and short order cooks alike are constantly pushing the boundaries of sweet and savory beignets.
In a city full of foodigenous, the beignet is a must try. Cafe Du Monde sells a “make at home” starter kit, but there is nothing like sitting under the green & white awning, listening to a local busker cover a Harry Connick Jr song with a face full of powder and a caffeine, chicory jitter from drinking too many coffees. I highly recommend you hit this place up, it’s one tourist area that’s not a trap.