I'll bet you didn't even know that Cafe du Monde was a local New Orleans chain. Yes, it is true. All you chain snobs will have to cancel your plans now. According to the website (yes, they have a website: www.cafedumonde.com) there are seven outlets in New Orleans. If you stretch the concept of "mall," then even the one in the French Market in the French Quarter is in a "mall." The others are in Esplanade Mall in Kenner, in Oakwood Center in Gretna, in the Riverwalk in the CBD, in New Orleans Centre in the CBD--and there are two on Veterans Boulevard in Metairie: in Lakeside Mall and at 4700 Veterans Blvd. So all that wonderful coffee is really just a local mall chain phenomenon.
I've only ever been to the one at the French Market and the one here, because I "happened" to be in the neighborhood on other business. So, why go? Why the hype? Most tourists, I bet, don't know it's a chain. My whole attitude to the company changed when I found out that the outlet in the French Market wasn't the only one.
The one in the French Market seems to have magical properties for tourists: they go to see and gape--at the other tourists who are doing the same thing. It's done just to say that you've done it. It's a tourist attraction that just happens to sell coffee and donuts too. It gives you a place to sit and sober up. (One of the qualities of a cup of hot coffee is that it takes a while to drink it.) It's open 24 hours a day, every day, except for Christmas and hurricanes. I don't know if it ever gets quiet. My experience is limited, but I've never seen it when it didn't look like the roof of the American embassy during the fall of Saigon. My theory is that the tourists would eat charcoal briquettes washed down with cold poison if they were served at Cafe du Monde. The food doesn't seem to be why anyone goes--they go for the history, and for a pause between the drinks, as well as the fact that it's the French Quarter's version of the Free Parking space on a Monopoly board.
Which doesn't explain how it got to be a chain. Presumably someone said at some point, "Let's sell our coffee and donuts to the locals too." And naturally the places with the highest exposure are in malls, or on the "main drag" down the middle of New Orleans's biggest suburb, Metairie, where there are two of them. In the outlet in the French Market, all you really get to see are other tourists, who are looking back at you. At least here, over in this mall in Gretna, I'm looking at actual residents of New Orleans. The guy at the next table is using his cafe au lait to wash down either a gyro or a Philly steak sandwich, which seems unthinkable if you're sitting in the French Market. At least he's neither a tourist nor someone who makes his living off of them. He's just a guy having dinner, not some French Quarter geek act blowing into a saxophone while his hair's on fire. It's somehow very refreshing. He seems like a real New Orleanean (New "Orleaner"? New "Orleansian"? What the hell do you people call yourselves, by the way?) There's the same green-and-white striped awning over the entrance. The mall looks fairly new, but it isn't upscale, just a normal suburban mall. It's got a "Structure," but the "Structure" is right next to a "Frederick's of Hollywood," so it's a wash in the taste department. The neighborhood it's in, however, looks pretty dicey. It's "economically depressed." That's liberal codespeak for "predominantly black," by the way. The mother at the next table is doing her best, very apologetically, to keep her two toddlers from escaping down the corridor. The waitress keeps cleaning the same three tables over and over, which get messed with powdered sugar as fast as they are cleaned.
Is the coffee any good? (Finally, a question relevant to this site!) Well, they pour half chicory coffee and half very hot milk. It's not just ordinary Folgers with cold milk from the fridge thrown in to cool it. Because both elements are steaming hot, your coffee is almost too hot to drink at first. The chicory, unless my imagination deceives me, gives the coffee a slight vegetable tang. I've had better dark roast in restaurants. Would I drive all the way across the city for it? No, but I'd stop if I were in the neighborhood. It's not bad coffee. I just can't see how they developed an empire around it.
Edited by Deacon, 21 April 2003 - 04:34 PM.