December 09, 2004
I only know of one place in Baton Rouge where you can get biegnets and cafe au lait, and of course, you can't get much more than that. The place is called Coffee Call, and I would give you a link to their web site if I knew of one for them. I'm not really here to advertise anyway.
First of all, if you're not from around here, a biegnet is a big bit of fried dough served with a mound of powdered sugar. I often hear people compare them to a doughnut, but I think a funnel cake is a better starting point. They're bigger than a ping pong ball and smaller than a baseball. Cafe au lait is just strong coffee mixed with warm milk. (Louisianans aren't normally the types to stick fancy French names on mundane things, but "cafe au lait" persists as an exception to this rule.)
Running a biegnet shop has to be one of the noisiest, dirtiest jobs outside of construction. The main culprit is the powdered sugar, which is normally poured over the biegnets to the point where the dust will gag you. Coffee Call keeps several of the really big plastic garbage cans full of powdered sugar, and they just scoop it liberally over the biegnets.
The sugar gets all over everything: you breathe it, it's on your clothes, it's in the pages of your newspaper, it's on the floor. The people who serve the biegnets have hands that look like they're about to do a parallel bar routine in gymnastics.
Because the sugar is so messy, the prudent biegnet store will have a tile floor that they can easily mop or hose off. And since biegnets are so good, and since so few places are willing to put up with the hassle, the shop tends to be busy. You end up with a zillion people making conversation in a tile room. When it gets really crowded, it sounds like a nuthouse.
I have never been to Coffee Call when there wasn't a tray dropped on the floor, which leads to spewing coffee and sugar, and a clatter that would hurt Eddie Van Halen's ears. Sometimes it's fun just to sit in there and watch the people spill things all over themselves. Some get really mad, and some take it very well. It's impossible for me to predict who will blow their stack.
I guess all of this must sound unpleasant, but it really isn't. The patrons are normally pretty friendly. Sunday mornings are best because people are trying to keep the mess off of their nice clothes. And the coffee and biegnets are really, really good. I'm not kidding about that. I think I might like them better than doughnuts, and anyone who has seen me around doughnuts will attest that I like fried dough. A lot.