Say beignet to anyone who has visited New Orleans and you can practically watch them start reliving the trip.
But say beignet in New Orleans, to people who live here, and you’re tapping something deeper. It goes beyond taste memory, speaking to ideas of home. It turns out there’s more than just powdered sugar riding on this fried dough.
I’m convinced that's why the story of Morning Call and Cafe du Monde and their competition for a spot in City Park has drawn so much interest in this city.
On paper, it has hinged on technical aspects of contracts and public bids.
But in the wild, in the appetites and imagination of New Orleans, it is taken on a life of its own.
Morning Call ran a cafe in the park. Last year, park officials asked for new proposals to run that business. Flash forward through one bid award, a court ruling overturning it, a second bid process and today Café du Monde has the lease. It will open here within 90 days, with its food truck setting up shop in the interim.
On the other side, Morning Call is out, and not just out of City Park. Morning Call also closed its Metairie location last spring. So at least for now this historic New Orleans brand is homeless.
I wouldn’t bet against Morning Call returning soon. But, the reason this story has been so compelling goes beyond your next beignet fix.
Morning Call and Café du Monde both go back to the old French Market, where each got its start.
Over generations, local preferences have coalesced into two camps, with each arguing matters of beignet quality, the strength of the coffee, texture of milk foam, the relative merits of character or efficiency.
But at the end of the day, even people who seem intractably opposed are arguing over something like only fellow New Orleanians could. They have different opinions but share a passion for the subject.
This story has been serious business for the companies involved. For those of us on the sideline, it’s been another reminder that when food says “New Orleans” to people in this town, it will always speak to their hearts.