I am sticking to the olive green chair on a sultry afternoon as I sip my café au lait and hear the low, sustained foghorn of the Natchez steamboat in the distance. Ceiling fans don’t do much to break the humidity under the familiar green and white awning at the corner of St. Ann and Decatur. Café du Monde, located in the Vieux Carré (or French Quarter although it’s literally translated as “old square”), has been a coffee stand in New Orleans since 1862.
Only here have I seen people downing piping hot coffee and eating fried dough outside, seemingly unaware that the temperature is climbing to 100 degrees. As you step onto the faux brick linoleum, you’re greeted with a sign that says “table service, please be seated.” A young waitress clad in a white shirt and black bow tie wearing a paper hat with “Café du Monde” in green script on her head hurriedly comes to my table.
A café au lait here consists of half hot milk and half dark roasted coffee laced with chicory, a plant root that is added to soften the bitter taste, resulting in a rich, chocolate-like flavor. In other words, it’s a small white cup of light brown goodness. And, at $2.65, it’s less than you’d pay for a lot of specialty drinks at Caribou or Starbucks. (Unlike Caribou or Starbucks, you can not get coffee “to go” here.)
The beignets (pronounced “ben-yay,” perhaps because they do make you want to say yay!), square pieces of fried dough, come three in an order. Similar to a fritter or mini donuts minus the cinnamon, they were named the official state doughnut of Louisiana in 1986. A powdered sugar tin rests on each table, lest the order not come out of the kitchen with enough on it. Apparently you are supposed to blow the powdered sugar off your beignet and make a wish the first time you visit - I missed that tidbit of info when I visited as wide-eyed Minnesota teenager on a high school band trip.
When I lean down to pick up my cell phone, which I had clumsily dropped on the floor, I notice it’s now completely covered in powdered sugar. Alas, the bells of the St. Louis Cathedral start to toll on the hour, as if heralding my departure from this open air market with a layer of sticky.