James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Beignets for Breakfast Are No Breakfast At All

Beignets for Breakfast Are No Breakfast At All

Drago’s oysters in New Orleans

In New Orleans, crowds flock to Café du Monde for powdered-sugar coated beignets: airy rectangles of dough served fresh from the fryer alongside milky chicory coffee.

Bully for them, but that’s not the kind of morning I was having, and by morning, I mean early afternoon. After a long day of working and a longer night of drinking the day before, the last thing I wanted was a long line and a sweet snack. I needed butter and beer and seafood and to sit somewhere dark and cool.

“Meet me downstairs in 10, we’re going to Drago’s,” my friend said on the phone. While I had been packing and sending off hangover-inflected emails, she’d been dragged onstage for a panel at the local film festival to sit in front of dozens of listeners with a handful of queasy, sweating film professionals. The adult portion of the day was now over. It was time for breakfast.

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Drago’s has been a New Orleans institution since Drago and Klara Cvitanovich opened the seafood restaurant in 1969. Still family-owned today, it continues churning out what are among the best charbroiled oysters in the Crescent City. Fat Gulf oysters are drenched in a sauce of butter, garlic and herbs, then covered in parmesan and Romano cheese. These umami bombs are then cooked through on the grill, briefly braised in their own liquor.

A dozen became two dozen, which quickly became three dozen as we sat in the cavernous dining room, which looks more like a corporate sports bar than an oyster destination. “I judge the quality of a wedding by whether or not they get the Drago’s truck to come out and serve oysters,” said a local woman at our table. Despite their richness, they’re deceptively easy to eat; each golden oyster can be taken down in a single blissful bite, washed down by sips of bitter IPA. Hunks of crusty rolls are provided to sop up the garlicky butter left behind.

As we ate, we swapped stories of visiting New Orleans. One woman reminisced about waking up after a particularly drunken evening to find her face and chest covered in white powder. Panicked, she thought she’d indulged in a more debauched night than she’d reckoned for while in a drunken fugue state; careful investigation quickly showed that she’d actually indulged in a more prosaic binge of beignets. Beignets, she mused. That’s what we need now. We finished the last of our oysters and walked outside to wander in the blinding sunshine.

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