Japan is familiar with foreign franchises. McDonald’s arrived in 1971 (PDF) and began like many chains as a high-end fad (in Ginza, nonetheless) before becoming a ubiquitous part of local culture. One of the most recent chains is Krispy Kreme, which had hours-long lines at its first stores but in the past few years has expanded further, reducing the wait time.
However, the gleam of a foreign logo alone isn’t enough to be successful in Japan. Wendy’s and Burger King both came into the market in the 90s and were both forced out, Burger King in 2001 and Wendy’s in 2009. Burger King returned in 2007 with smaller operational goals.
Over that same period of time, Café du Monde, a New Orleans-based coffee franchise, has managed to find success in Japan on a smaller scale.
Café du Monde, New Orleans’ oldest coffee stand, opened in the French Market in 1862, and it remained the only location for 123 years. In 1985, a second location opened in Esplanade Mall on the outskirts of the city, and after that things changed quickly. The restaurant began offering ice café au lait in addition to the traditional hot café au lait in 1988, and other locations opened in Lakeside Mall, the Riverwalk, and across Lake Ponchatrain in Mandeville.
The menu at all the locations, however, has remained typically sparse; the only options are beignets, café au lait, and a small assortment of drinks. The selection is limited enough that the menu fits on the side of napkin dispensers.
Café du Monde did experiment with franchises in the U.S., opening a location in the Underground in Atlanta, George, but it was scaled back, and currently there are only eight locations in the Greater New Orleans Area. So it comes as a surprise that in the past 22 years, the Japanese Café du Monde franchise has expanded to 20 locations, not only in big cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, but also as far away as Hiroshima and as isolated as Kochi City. The Japan franchise has expanded the original menu, offering light fare and several different varieties of beignets:
The first hint of international expansion comes in the late-80s. When Café du Monde opened its New Orleans Centre location in 1988, co-owner Bob Maher noted in a September 28 Times-Picayune article that the beignet mixes “sell well ”” we’re even selling some of it in Japan.”
Café du Monde was franchised two years later in 1990 by Duskin, the cleaning products and food services conglomerate that also operates the Mister Donut franchise. While Mister Donut is an American brand, in the U.S. the franchise was purchased and incorporated into the Dunkin Donuts franchise.
The Japanese Café du Monde franchise has for the most part maintained the same aesthetic as the original ”” the locations all use the same green and white color scheme, and the stores are designed in the style of French Quarter architecture. The drinks, too are the same ”” the stores use Café du Monde coffee with chicory and even sell souvenir versions. While the hot dogs and other light fare are unremarkable, the beignets and café au lait are authentic.
The Japanese beignets are even cooked more consistently than their American counterparts, despite the fact that they offer some interesting varieties on the traditional powdered sugar topping: there are cinnamon beignets, ice cream beignets, and beignets with fruit dip. They even offer seasonal desserts such as frozen drinks and green tea soft serve ice cream over sweetened cornflakes.
The secret to the franchise’s success in Japan may be the moderate flavors. Unlike many American desserts, beignets are only semi-sweet. They are covered with powdered sugar, but the dough itself is bready rather than sweet like an American-style glazed donut. Traditional Japanese desserts such as dango and daifuku have a similar level of sweetness.
The Kyoto Station branch is one of the most iconic of the Japanese locations. The restaurant is on a terraced second floor area of the futuristic building, and customers can look out over the central hallway while sipping on café au lait.
Unfortunately, the Kyoto Station branch stopped serving beignets several years ago. In late-2003 they offered perfectly shaped, sushi-size beignets served in paper boxes.
The longest running store is the Ikebukuro location which has been running for 19 years. 2012 will mark its 20th anniversary, which coincides with the 150th anniversary of Café du Monde in New Orleans. While the franchise only has a small representation in Japan and clearly hasn’t made the same PR push as Krispy Kreme has, its innovations on the menu have helped it outlast many larger chains in Japan.
Pop-ups aren’t just pizza and burgers in New Orleans. Aron Chang, Karen Wang, and Sergio Padilla, all architects by trade, have been serving vegetarian fare in a number of different venues across the city as a pop up called TSAI. Local blogger Nora in Nola has covered their activities over the past few months. TSAI started in the Dragon’s Den on Saturday nights and have since been holding a number of “TSAI House” house parties for close friends, serving up a mix of Taiwanese street food and vegetarian dishes with a New Orleans twist.
They hosted a BYO(Bowl) noodle event in August. The most recent TSAI House event in the Garden District focused on polenta, serving two different types of sauce ”” roasted eggplant walnut and blue cheese mushroom. Both were hearty and savory and were matched nicely with fresh side dishes.
The space, a friend’s shotgun house, was wonderfully illuminated, and the interior decoration really paired nicely with the food.
Two weeks ago TSAI had Brunch on the Bayou. The weather was perfect. The sky was completely clear, and the temperatures were warm but not sultry. The team set up a long table on Cabrini Bridge, which crosses Bayou St. John right in front of Cabrini High School.
The menu consisted of Taiwanese breakfast goodies that aren’t available at restaurants in the city:
The highlight of the meal was the salty soybean soup, which was created by curdling soymilk with vinegar and then adding sesame oil. Chang made shiitake mushroom beignets to substitute for the normal soup topping of pulled pork or crullers. The result was a tangy, slightly spicy soup filled with soft tofu-like soybean curdles and a savory beignet that had the rich aroma of shiitake mushrooms.
If you missed Brunch on the Bayou, make sure to follow TSAI on Facebook. The next TSAI House event is on Saturday, November 5, and they are also planning a Thanksgiving event at Zeitgeist.
New Orleans is a Miller High Life kind of town for the most part ”” we like cheap, light beer, especially when it’s hot. In the last four years, however, the wave of the craft beer boom has crashed here, bringing with it some of the great beers from the East and West Coasts and abroad. Local craft brewers have also started to produce competitive alternatives to macrobrews.
Enter The Avenue Pub. Once a 24-hour dive bar, in the last three years, the bar has become the center of craft beer activities in the city thanks to the tireless efforts of owner Polly Watts and her devoted staff (and it’s still open 24/7). On Saturday, September 17, Avenue Pub hosted one of only 21 Zwanze Day events to celebrate a limited batch of lambic beer released by Belgian brewery Cantillon.
Zwanze began in 2008 as a way for owner Jean Van Roy to “make a distinction” between his experimental beers and Cantillon’s regular products:
Taken from the Dutch dialect spoken in Brussels, the word «zwanze » describes the typical humour of the city’s inhabitants, which is characterised by a finely-balanced mix of self-deprecation and exaggeration. I quite like the idea of my lambic «Made in Brussels » having the same jovial and slightly derisive spirit as the people of Belgium’s Capital City, and of it also taking a light-hearted look at these blends, which I admit can seem a bit strange at times.
Unfortunately the joke was on Van Roy last year. When he released the Zwanze 2010 in bottles for 6 Euros, it didn’t take long for opportunists to scoop up the tasty brew and put it on eBay for upwards of 80 Euros.
To combat this, Van Roy decided not to sell Zwanze 2011 in bottles. He selected 21 bars around the world in Brussels, Stockholm, Paris, Fougà ¨res sur Bià ¨vre (France), Rome, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Nicorvo (Italy), Bergamo (Italy), Washington D.C., Montreal, Louisville (KY), Cambridge (MA), Philadelphia (PA), Portland (OR), Brooklyn (NY), Chicago (IL), Santa Rosa (CA), Escondido (CA), New Orleans (LA) and Itami (Japan) at which he released the beer on September 17. Only a few bottles will be kept for tastings at the brewery.
At Avenue Pub, the celebration ran for an entire week. On Wednesday, the bar held a tasting event for sour beers, and on the Friday, they tapped a cask of Cantillon’s St. Lamvinus ”” an unblended two- to three-year-old lambic that is fermented in Bordeaux barrels and then has Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes added. Watts was on hand to pour the first glasses.
The result is a puckeringly sour beer that reeks (in a good way) of “funk” produced by the yeast Brettanomyces, the special yeast that lambics use to achieve their unique flavor palate.
Pourings were six ounces each for six dollars. Although lambics are beers, they deserve to be enjoyed more like wine.
On Saturday, the bar was already crowded when I arrived at 11:30, and the first person to enter the official queue arrived before 10. Many of the customers had traveled far for a taste of the rare beer ”” I spoke with people from Mobile, Lafayette, and as far as Houston.
T-shirts commemorating the event were available.
Watts took names as folks arrived, and by the 2pm tapping time there were over 150 people waiting. They were allowed up to the second floor balcony bar in groups of 30.
At 2pm, the first group swarmed toward the bar, and Dylan Lintern, vice-president of NOLA Brewing, hesitantly took the first pour.
Zwanze 2011 makes use of Pineau d’Aunis grapes from organic winegrower Olivier Lemasson:
In 2010 we tried something new by blending lambic with Pineau d’Aunis. The result was quite surprising and wine-like with specific accents of fruit, pepper and other spices, both as regards smell and taste. With Olivier’s approval, and despite a substandard harvest due to poor weather conditions, we recreated the same beer for Zwanze 2011. I subjected it to some very limited cold hopping using Bramling Cross hops, which yields a slightly bitter fruitiness. My friend Rob Todd of the Allagash Brewing Company calls it the «kiss of the hops », and I’ve decided to use this fantastic expression. The balance struck between the lambic, the grapes and the delicate bitter fruitiness is surprising yet very pleasant.
The resulting blend of Pineau d’Aunis (which Van Roy mistakenly labeled Pinot d’Aunis in his brewery for a while) and Cantillon lambic is a rich, grapey beer that features some aspects of the Cantillon range of lambic beers ”” a tart taste, not overly sweet, and a nose that shows some of the effects of funk but doesn’t hide the grapes as much as the St. Lamvinus. It’s extremely quaffable, and a number of tasters compared it to a rose wine.
The Zwanze 2010 is the beer that started the Zwanze craze and resulted in the formation of the current Zwanze Day setup, and it was available in bottles. It’s a witbier that underwent mixed fermentation ”” in addition to the ale yeasts, it was also naturally inoculated by lambic yeasts. The lemony and spiced notes of a witbier were present alongside oak from the aging in barrels, giving it a very complex flavor. One astute taster compared the aroma “dill,” which was very much a compliment.
Now that the event is over, it’s likely that the only Zwanze 2011 left is whatever Van Roy decided to keep in bottles at the brewery. Beer geeks will have to wait until next year to see what results from further experiments in Cantillon’s beer laboratories.
New Orleans is a flat city. Some describe it as a bowl, since parts of the city are lower than sea level, but when you’re actually in the city, it just feels flat. Overwhelmingly flat, especially to those who have lived in more topographically rich environments.
The city is so flat that in the 1933, the Works Progress Administration built “Monkey Hill” in Audubon Zoo for local kids to enjoy, which was for a long time the highest point in the city.
According to Tulane professor Richard Campanella in his book Time and Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day,
The hill measured 27.5 feet above m.s.l, depending on the amount of joyous dirt kicking and grass stomping on the “summit,” until it was heavily relandscaped in late 2000 with concrete walkways, statues of a pride of lions, and a rope bridge connecting the top to surrounding sidewalks. Because Monkey Hill is based on the high natural levee, about 11 feet above m.s.l, its local relief is only about 16 feet. (Campanella 53)
Growing up in New Orleans, I somehow misconstrued a hill on the batture (known locally as “the Fly” ) near Audubon Zoo as Monkey Hill.
Local kids ride their bikes on the hill, and my high school cross country team trained by running up and down the hill and several other smaller hills on the batture.
Because of the trees surrounding the zoo, it’s difficult to determine if this hill is higher than Monkey Hill.
Although Monkey Hill is the most famous hill in the city, the current highest point is actually “The Mountain” in Couturie Forest Arboretum in City Park.
There are education stations posted along the trail, and after following the left fork along the lagoon, the trail to the right quickly rises up to “The Mountain.”
On the summit is a wooden deck made of stumps and a circular wooden bench.
The climb is underwhelming. Not only does it take 30 seconds to ascend, once you are at the top, the forest blocks the view of the surrounding area, so you can’t tell how high you are.
Whichever you want to consider the highest point in New Orleans ”” symbolically Monkey Hill or actually The Mountain ”” the only choices are artificial hills. The city has no natural hills or mountains. The Arboretum itself, though, is nice. The trails are lush, and there is a deck area overlooking the lagoon.
While “The Mountain” is the highest point, City Park is a relatively low-lying area of the city, so it took a lot of damage during flooding from Katrina. The Arboretum has a new master plan (PDF) detailing how they plan to rebuild the area.
Untapped is proud to introduce our new Untapped New Orleans Spotify Playlist. The goal is to create a representative playlist of local artists. We’ll introduce artists on the list and some of the songs that they are well known for. Let us know who you think we should add!
Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima are closely connected. Both were gravelly-voiced trumpet players, both were bandleaders, and both left New Orleans for Chicago to pursue their careers. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, Armstrong played with Joe “King” Oliver and eventually formed his own groups, recording a number of influential standards, becoming a foundational influence in jazz, and setting a high standard for cornet and trumpet players from New Orleans.
Prima was heavily influenced by Armstrong. After moving through Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, Prima revived his career with a regular Las Vegas show. His style was so similar to Armstrong’s that when Disney hesitated to cast African-American Armstrong in the role of orangutan King Louie in the 1967 “The Jungle Book,” they had Prima play the King of the Swingers instead.
Armstrong settled in New York in Corona, Queens, and lived there until his death in 1971. Prima too lived away from New Orleans until he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1975 and was moved back. He died in 1978.
The French Quarter Festival has cleverly paired the two on the Harrah’s Casino Louis Louis Pavilion Stage on the riverfront.
“West End Blues”
The title refers to the West End lakefront neighborhood in New Orleans. Joe “King” Oliver wrote the song, but the most famous version is by Armstrong and his Hot Five in 1928. Armstrong sings scat over parts of the song, and his trumpet solos are considered some of the finest ever played.
“A Foggy Day”
One of the great tracks from “Ella and Louis,” a dream team of jazz talent – Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and the Oscar Peterson Quartet. The album consists of eleven slow tempo ballads which give both Armstrong and Fitzgerald room to work their magic.
“What a Wonderful World”
Armstrong showcases his unmatchable tone on this song that was written for him to record in 1968 (after Tony Bennett turned it down). This is the quintessential Louis Armstrong song, for better or worse.
“Sing Sing Sing”
Prima penned this 1937 swing classic which has been covered by all the greats, notably Benny Goodman. If you’ve never heard it before, the tune at least will probably be familiar.
“Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody (Medley)”
It would be a crime not to include this song, especially since lyrics from the first song are on his grave in Metairie Cemetery: “When the end comes, I know, they’ll all say ‘just a gigolo’ as life goes on without me.”
“Angelina/Zooma Zooma (Medley)”
This live recording is probably the closest anyone can get to the virtuosity of Prima live and in person – note the raucous audience reactions at 0:12 when the song begins and at 1:26 when he starts singing in Italian.
In this week’s “Tap This,” New Orleans editor Daniel Morales is back in New Orleans and celebrating the arrival of September by eating lots of oysters.
Most Untapped thing I did this week: Yesterday was “Oyster Day,” a holiday I created four years ago in Japan. Oyster Day celebrates the end of the R-less summer months: May, June, July and August. All you have to do is eat oysters – there’s nothing else involved. We went to Cooter Brown’s Tavern for dozens of raw oysters and the last Saints preseason game. For the second year in a row we also made T-shirts:
Most Untapped thing I’ll be doing next week: I have class late next Tuesday night, but afterward I’m going to run over to Avenue Pub for the release of Smoky Mary, NOLA Brewing’s latest seasonal beer – it’s a smoked Oktoberfest-style ale.