I hate tourist traps.
Well, come to think of it, that’s not entirely true.
Sometimes, you just have to stop into that old-school, roadside souvenir shop with the ginormous statue of Sitting Bull, Paul Bunyan, or Babe the Blue Ox, even if Babe is missing his testicles. That’s another story.
I mean, sometimes cheesy is just fun. You don’t have to actually buy anything, of course. You can just walk through and poke fun at the cheese. It’s a thang.
But for the most part, I really hate tourist traps.
The worst are the ones in strip malls, or some new building stuck in the middle of the actual attraction, like the ones across from Graceland in Memphis.
Holy hound dog, they’re pathetic.
How many Velvet Elvises can you pack into one strip mall?
Apparently a whole shitload. If you can imagine it, the King’s countenance was upon it, and upon a whole host of things that your dreams–indeed even nightmares–would never include. I’m pretty sure I saw some feminine hygiene products in there with fat Elvis’s mug on them, probably singing “Hunk a hunk a burnin’ love” or something.
Anyway, I can’t stand those kinds of tourist hell holes.
There are some tourist traps, however, that you simply must see if you’re visiting certain places in the world. The Eiffel Tower is one. Of course, if you’re in Paris you can’t actually avoid it, per se, since you can see it from everywhere in the fucking city. Or at least I imagine it’s that way. I haven’t actually been to the City of Lights, yet.
If you go to New Orleans, you simply must do the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, the latter at least once, unless you’re a twenty-something college student, then by all means, drink your self to Polookaville, barf on your girlfriend’s shoes, and piss in the street till you get busted for being an ass. But for most of us, myself included, one walk down the street is enough. Okay, two.
But the Quarter as a whole? I think you have to do it every time you go. In fact, it’s the reason I’ll go back, again and again.
And once you’re in the Quarter?
There’s one place that you simply HAVE to do: Cafe du Monde.
Cafe du Monde
Most locals will avoid talking about the Quarter very much, or only with disdain, since they’re so jaded and tired of frat boys puking on their shoes and pissing in the gutters. I get it.
But when it comes to Cafe du Monde, they all agree; you simply must go there and have beignets. And they’re absolutely right.
In fact, there’s only three reasons I can think of to not go there:
- You’re suffering from celiac and can’t eat gluten. There’s so much flour wafting through the air near that place, that you’ll probably break out in hives and shit yourself just walking by, so avoid it if that’s the case.
- You’re diabetic. Or
- You’re one of those people who don’t eat much of anything because it was once in the same county as an animal, or because you don’t eat sugar, or you just hate yourself and beat yourself up with a massive Guilt Gavel for eating anything that isn’t broccoli.
In that case, don’t go to New Orleans, at all. Food is the number one reason to go there, period. Are there others? Sure, but who fuckin’ cares. It’s about food.
Okay, booze too, and music.
Keepin’ it Simple
One of the things I rant about all the time is the attempt by restaurants around the world, but especially in the U.S. to please everyone that might possibly, one day, walk in the fucking door.
Instead of focusing on a narrow selection of dishes, they create these enormous menus, sometimes with a hundred or more items on it, to makes sure that everyone on the planet, including your grandmother suffering from rheumatism and an acute case of I’m a fucking bitch, will find something they can choke down.
This is the biggest mistake made by every half-assed, shitty restaurant in America, and probably world-wide.
Stop doing it, damn it! It sucks.
The only thing this philosophy ensures is that your restaurant will fuck up everything on the menu, and get nothing right.
This usually includes the service, since the wait staff and kitchen staff are overwhelmed trying to remember every lame-assed item on the menu, what goes with what, what’s in what, is it gluten free?, fat free?, flavor free?,
“Ma’am, would you like that overcooked, under-cooked, or liquefied in a Ninja blender and served with a fucking straw?”
No wonder most restaurants just suck.
Cafe du Monde, however, has taken the simplification mantra to its inevitable conclusion. If you really want to master something, only do one thing, and fuckin’ do it right! And that’s what they’ve been doing for probably a hundred fuckin’ years, 24 hours a day, 364 days a year. They only close for Christmas, and the occasional hurricane, and I’m not talking about the drink; I’m talkin’ about storms like Katrina.
Booze and storms don’t slow down Cafe du Monde. If they did, they’d never open in this city. Hell no, this is the place where everyone goes: famous people, and the great unwashed, like myself. Hell, the place has been in songs. Jimmy Buffett was so in love with the place that he included it in one of his.
The Cafe has mastered the mantra of simpleness.
There’s only like five things on the menu:
- Orange juice
- Water, and
And when it comes to the only food item on the menu, beignets, there ain’t 31 fuckin’ flavors!
Fuck no! There’s one!
It’s basically a square donut. And it’s so simple that it doesn’t even have a hole!
They deep fry it, bury it in about 50 pounds of powdered sugar. I’m not exaggerating. Okay, maybe it’s only 49 pounds. Then they serve them up three at a time, and that’s it. They don’t do anything else.
Want something else? Tough shit. Want beignets? Sit the fuck down and eat’em!
Snow-blind in the Big Easy
Whatever you do, don’t wear dark clothing if you venture into the Cafe du Monde.
Wear white. All white.
In fact, bring a large tarp and some duct tape to secure it around your neck, or everyone in the Quarter is gonna know that you were eating beignets under the green and white striped tent.
Tourist, who’ve not had the experience, will think you’ve just arrived from Central America and managed to get past the trained dogs at Louis Armstrong International. There’s white powder EVERYWHERE along Decatur Street. Mostly it’s on people’s shirts and in their cleavage, not up their nose.
It doesn’t take a Sherlock to track the patrons of du Monde. We saw a park bench several blocks away encircled with a white, powdery substance, which was either cocaine, or confectionery sugar. The proximity to the cafe suggested the latter. The debris was heaviest in front of the bench, but left the impression of two human asses in the center of a halo of sugary goodness.
I was instantly hungry.
Practice Makes Perfection
The beignets at Cafe du Monde are the real deal.
They’ve been making these things forever, round the clock, and guess what?
When you do that, you get pretty fuckin good at it. There’s a reason everyone goes there, even the locals, and the famous, the rich, and anyone with enough pennies to scrape together an order; They fuckin’ rock!
They are simply orgasmic.
Even if they don’t have a hole in them, they’re the best donuts you’re ever gonna eat.
They will change your world. They’ll ensure that all your babies are born naked. Trust me, they will.
And while you’re having a religious, elevated blood-sugar experience, you’ll have plenty to look at.
Go there for the beignets, but stick around for the show.
The scene from under the tent is mesmerizing.
In front of you is Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, the epicenter of New Orleans. There are hundreds of people walking by at all times of the day and night. Musicians, artists, and freaks are performing along the sidewalks. Con men coax the cash out of the pockets of unsuspecting tourists—I’ll tell that story, later—and mule-drawn carriages clip and clop past, while bike taxi drivers strain to shuttle their over-fed fares off to France-man Street—the new Bourbon as any local will tell you.
If I could eat a thousand beignets in a day, I would do it just for the view. Okay, I’d also do it because I’m a sugar addict, and this place is to sugar addicts as Medellin is to those who crave nose candy.
If you’re ever in New Orleans, take some extra insulin, sit your ass down under the green and white tent, put on your tarp, and dig in, because you’ve reached Nirvana at Cafe du Monde!
If you enjoyed this one, check out my other Big Easy Adventures: