A Quick History of New Orleans' Famous Café du Monde

Cafe du Monde
••• Cafe du Monde has been a French Market staple since the Civil War era. © Megan Romer, 2014

Café du Monde is the world's most famous coffee shop and a New Orleans institution. Found at the end of the French Market and the corner of Jackson Square in New Orleans' French Quarter, Café du Monde has been serving up their crispy beignets and creamy cafés au lait since 1862.

The Lowdown

Café du Monde has long been a must-visit for any visitor to New Orleans, but is it worth the hype? In a word: yes. The menu at this iconic eatery has hardly changed since the days of the Civil War: coffee, beignets, hot chocolate, milk, fresh-squeezed orange juice and the more recent additions of iced coffee and sodas. In a fast-paced modern world where we're constantly forced to make decisions, the old-fashioned Café du Monde makes things easy. It's, therefore, a nice intro to the vibe of New Orleans, where things are probably a bit less hectic than back home.

The drink to order is, of course, the café au lait, a hot coffee with warm milk added (though café noir — black coffee — is also an option). The coffee here is cut with chicory (endive root), a local tradition started during the blockades of the Civil War when coffee was scarce. Chicory is more bitter than coffee but less acidic. The roast is rich and dark but without the intense acidity of a standard French Roast. It also has less caffeine than a cup of straight coffee, so drink two for maximum perkiness.

The beignets are the main attraction, though. Crispy on the outside, pillowy-soft on the inside, and heaped with powdered sugar, they're the best hunk of fried dough you're likely to ever have. They come in an order of three, hot from the fryer, with the powdered sugar melting softly into the sheen of oil on their surface. Eat them as soon as your tongue can take it — the hot melty gooeyness combined with the crunch of the surface is a delight of textures. It's easy to eat three by yourself, and, frankly, why shouldn't you?

The quality of the coffee and beignets has remained steady for as long as anyone can remember, and the view of Jackson Square from the tables is legendary. That's not to say, though, that the Café is not without flaws. It tends to be crowded, especially around the breakfast hour, and the powdered sugar seems to leave a sticky sheen all over everything — the floor, the chairs, the tables. The bathrooms aren't usually great, and the service is brusque. Still, none of these things are really deal-breakers, as far as I'm concerned, and I certainly keep the Café du Monde on my must-visit list, especially for first-time visitors to the city.