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Monday, September 13, 2010

Beignets Heat Up In Baton Rouge

This article has been published in the September 2010 issue of Town Favorites Magazine. You can visit the Town Favorites website at http://www.townfavorites.com/, follow them on Twitter @TownFavorites, and find their magazines at over 150 restaurants and businesses around Baton Rouge! Pick up a copy today!


Beignets Heat Up in Baton Rouge

by Jay D. Ducote

Beignets epitomize creating gastronomic glory while respecting simplicity. The decadent deep-fried dough is the state donut of Louisiana. Yes, we have a state donut! World renowned for their influence in the New Orleans’ French Quarter at Café du Monde, beignets are undoubtedly just as deeply entrenched in Louisiana cuisine as gumbo and red gravy. A beignet, in case you don’t know, is a fluffy pastry made of fried dough and typically sprinkled with confectioners (powdered) sugar.

Beignet fingers and cafe au lait with hot chocolate at Coffee Call
Beignets have been served for decades at Baton Rouge’s own institution, Coffee Call. The College Drive hot spot built its own character, charm, and clientele in a location that gave way to the expanses of Super Wal-Mart earlier this decade. Part of the construction and redesign of the entire shopping center involved a brand new location for Coffee Call on the other side of the parking lot. Unfortunately for most of Coffee Call’s loyal patrons including the graduate students, artists, and authors of the Capital City, the new edifice failed to transfer the culture that had been established a mere couple hundred yards away. Says Baton Rouge author D.B. Grady, “Five stars for the memories. Two stars for its current, soulless, reanimated corpse.”

Despite the unfortunate relocation, Coffee Call’s business still seems to be going strong on the back of hot chocolate, café au lait, and, of course, beignets. The restaurant has a small outdoor dining area with some bistro tables and several options for indoor seating with large wooden tables, a high top with bar stools, and more bistro set ups. A quick jaunt through their ordering line gives access to the self service beverage staples of hot chocolate and café au lait (coffee with hot milk added, a signature blend to go along with the French-influenced beignets). Prior to my Coffee Call visit I received a tip from a good friend, Jeremy Spikes, to try mixing the two together. He claimed that the hot chocolate typically poured too sweet for his palate and that the café au lait needed a little sweetener, so combining the two created a spot-on final product. I gave it a try to judge for myself. As I figured, Jeremy did not steer me wrong. The warm beverage sipped creamy and smooth with an enticing combination of coffee and chocolate.

Hot chocolate and cafe au lait are ready to be poured
As for the beignets, Coffee Call has long been the only place to go in Baton Rouge. Their beignets come in the traditional pillow shape or in the form of beignet fingers. For a fairly reasonable price Coffee Call will pile up plenty of whichever kind you order on a plate and coat with a thick layer of white powdered sugar. The portions on their fingers are rather enormous, so unless it is the only meal you’ll eat that day, one person should never order a large by themselves. Like any fried food, beignets are best served immediately after departing their submersion in the hot oil. Unfortunately my small order of fingers had spent several minutes under a heat lamp. Still, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the sugar-coated dough sticks with my hot chocolate and café au lait concoction!

Carolyn, Jay, and Evan pose at Rue Beignet
I left Coffee Call wanting more. It has long been the place in Baton Rouge for beignets, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a little competition. On April 24 of this year Rue Beignet opened its doors on East Petroleum Drive across Highland Road from Ruffino’s and next door to Maxwell’s Market. I met owner Evan Duhy and her mother Carolyn at Rue Beignet for a sample of the latest beignets to heat up Baton Rouge. Evan got the idea to open a beignet shop in the Red Stick after dining with her mom at Café du Monde in New Orleans. It was there, sitting at that iconic café, overlooking Decatur, that Evan received a moment of total consciousness… so she’s got that going for her, which is nice. She had dined at Café du Monde plenty of times while living in New Orleans, but it had never hit home like it did this time. “I thought I was just finding instant gratification by indulging in the delicious warm pillows of dough covered in powdered sugar,” Evan told me. “Little did I know beignets would shape my entire life and future.”

Evan prepares the beignets for the fryer
Evan has tried to recreate the feel of New Orleans in her strip-mall beignet store. Rue Beignet is inviting and welcoming. Eric and I were immediately greeted when we walked in the door; something that can’t be overlooked in these days of impersonal rushes through life’s chaos. I had a mug of café au lait while my beignets were cut and fried fresh to order. Like most beignets, Rue Beignet uses a large vat of cottonseed oil to fry their dough to a crispy outside with a delicately chewy interior. I began with the classic powdered sugar beignets. One bite and I might have fallen in love. This beignet, straight out of the fryer to a plate and then to my mouth, may have been one of the best donuts, let alone beignets, I’ve ever enjoyed. The beignet itself contained the ideal combination of doughy texture inside a salty and crispy shell and sweet confectioner’s sugar… pure deliciousness.

Fresh beignets entice me at Rue Beignet
Jay Ducote takes a bite of beignet heaven
For ‘un petit lagniappe’ (a little something extra), Rue Beignet offered up some of their own beignet fingers with a twist. While they gladly offer the fingers with the traditional powdered sugar, Evan thought taking the New Orleans staple and “kicking it up a notch” with different toppings might present something unique to her customers. As I munched on classic beignets three other plates were set in front of me. The plates held beignet fingers topped with honey, cinnamon sugar, and chocolate, respectively. At first I had some mixed emotions about the idea. Confectioner’s sugar nearly defines a beignet, and I couldn’t believe they were changing it up. However, after one bite of the honey beignet, I quickly changed my mind. That beignet simply tasted too good for me to disapprove. The honey finger’s flavor reminded me of an amazing version of a sopapilla while the cinnamon finger brought up equally fond thoughts of Latin inspired desserts. With that solitary taste Evan sold me on the toppings, and on Rue Beignet as a whole. I’ll continue to be a customer, that’s for sure!

Rue Beignet's twist: beignet fingers with cinnamon sugar
Coffee Call and Rue Beignet show that Baton Rouge has some great options for beignets. Next time you’re looking to change things up for breakfast, grab an afternoon snack, or finish a great meal with a little fried dough dessert, check them out. Your taste buds will be glad you did!


Jay D. Ducote is the author of the blog Bite and Booze, which chronicles his culinary and indulgent cultural experiences around Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, and the world. It can be found at www.biteandbooze.com. You can also reach him by email at jay@biteandbooze.com and follow him on Twitter @biteandbooze.

Thanks to Eric Ducote of BRBeerScene.com for taking all the pictures for this article.

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