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Deacon

My Cafe du Monde Theory

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I'm sitting in Cafe du Monde, watching the world go by. Well, so what, Deacon, so does everyone who goes to New Orleans. Ah yes, but I'm in the Cafe du Monde in Oakwood Center, not the one at the French Market.

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 (log)

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when i first started hanging out in new orleans in 1988, because my best friend moved down to go to LSU, we thought le madeleine and camilla grill were cool. but then we realized that they were tourist attractions, and le madelaine is a chain, so they were no longer cool.

but in retrospect i remember that both places were new and different to me at the time.

as for cafe du monde in the quarter, it's well situated, and a great place to sit and sober up on a beautiful sunny afternoon. and everyone should have the pleasure, at least once, of blowing powdered sugar from one's beignets all over one's companions.

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I think that there is a difference between a chain that is a locally owned restaurant with multiple locations in the same city and a chain like Applebees or Starbucks. In regard to the latter, I could accurately be described as a chain snob.

As for Cafe du Monde, eh, its never been a big deal to me. I usually walk right past it on my way to have more interesting food and beverages.


Edited by Ron Johnson (log)

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I'm firmly in the "no big deal" camp. Also in the "can't understand the big deal" camp, which mostly overlaps with the "no big deal" camp. The coffee at the national chains is better, as are the beignets at many places I've visited outside New Orleans.

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I go to Cafe Du Monde (the original location) when I am in New Orleans because it is an ideal rest stop at 2am after a long night of getting fucked up in the quarter.

Trust me, at 2am, and after several hurricanes, those beignets and coffee look and taste pretty good.

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Trust me, at 2am, and after several hurricanes, those beignets and coffee look and taste pretty good.

Thats when I start in on the Lucky Dogs.

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The big deal about Cafe Du Monde in the Quarter is that its part of a ritual of debauchery. It's not about the coffee and beignets, its about the coffee and beignets--in the middle of the night--after 5 or 6 hours of heavy drinking.

The fact that they franchised themselves? So what? It doesn't affect the core experience of the original, supposing that you are someone who values it. Even the fact that there's likely both better coffee and beignets within a block or two of the original doesn't change the ritual.

EDIT - Oh.... Perlow said much the same thing. Except that he packed it in as early as 2AM. :wink: I repeat... its not actually about the quality of what you are consuming, although obviously some minimum standard is expected.


Edited by jhlurie (log)

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That's when I start in on the Lucky Dogs.

"Lucky Dogs--boiled in actual Mississippi River water!"

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The strength of local chains--not only CduM, but CCs and PJs explains why NO isn't lousey with Starbucks like, say, Chicago. Not that Starbucks doesn't have good coffee. Just nice not to see one on every block.

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My experience is limited, but I've never seen it when it didn't look like the last helicopter pad out of Vietnam. 

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

He seems like a real New Orleanean (New "Orleaner"? New "Orleansian"? What the hell do you people call yourselves, by the way?)

New Orleander?

Great post, Deacon.


Edited by Jaymes (log)

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This is probably for another thread (we have plenty on this issue), but "chain" does not automatically equal either soulless or worthless. Only the ones who are owned by huge corporations, who don't allow individual locations to customize themselves to their neighborhood, who standardize ingredients, who drive entrepreniuers out of local neighborhoods, etc. If the chain is the result of such an entrepreniuer, and is still run in some fashion that reflects this (by decendants, or at least people loyal to retaining the original quality)... so what? Knee-jerk opposition to ownership of multiple locations is as dumb as passively bending to the status quo and eating in a corporate-molded chain out of pure lazyness.

Okay, back to disgusing Cafe Du Monde and drunkeness.

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He seems like a real New Orleanean (New "Orleaner"? New "Orleansian"? What the hell do you people call yourselves, by the way?)

Easy?

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Nothing quite like swimming against the tide on e-gullet but I like the coffee and the beignets. Yes, the location adds a lot but I'd happily choke on the powdered sugar elsewhere too.

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CDuM is a place to lean gently into the humidity, salute the sun and smile wanly towards your next adventure. If it anchors you to hold a cup of chicory and blow pow. sugar in the bleary face of a loved one, so much the better.

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I have recorded my general disgust with Cafe du Monde on many other threads. I am also aware that it is a chain as there was an outlet in the Hyatt mall where I was working last year.

The discussion about Cafe du Monde gets to the heart of what eGullet should be about. The love of good food should be about precisely that. It should not be about recommending places to hand out when you are drunk or places to hand out to drink really, really bad coffee.

How about we all refocus and talk about places that serve good coffee and good food.

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What the hell is wrong with giving recommendations for places when you are drunk? I'd figure as an Australian you'd appreciate that :laugh:

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It should not be about recommending places to hand out when you are drunk or places to hand out to drink really, really bad coffee.

How about we all refocus and talk about places that serve good coffee and good food.

:unsure:

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Or we can focus on the curmudgeons and analyse why CduM upsets them so much.....

There are food experiences on many levels: if I enjoy the CduM experience and want to talk about it, it's OK ....so while you're mulling that over, have a cup of coffee and a beignet.

:raz:

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There are food experiences on many levels: if I enjoy the CduM experience and want to talk about it, it's OK ....so while you're mulling that over, have a cup of coffee and a beignet.

CdM is a great mulling over spot. And I've enjoyed coffee and beignets there sober.

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Or we can focus on the curmudgeons and analyse why CduM upsets them so much.....

:raz:

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

Yeah yeah, let's do that.

Edit - and I've reread both Roger's post and Jess' post and I can tell you which of the two I'd rather "hand out" with.

:biggrin:


Edited by Jaymes (log)

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What the hell is wrong with giving recommendations for places when you are drunk? I'd figure as an Australian you'd appreciate that  :laugh:

Tell us about that sandwich. Blown up it looks great.

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