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Food Porn Friday: (Buttermilk) Drop it like it's hot

Buttermilk drops via Scott Gold

I'm probably going to be pilloried for saying this, but I'm going to say it all the same: The beignet is not, in fact, the best home-grown New Orleans doughnut.  There it is.  I said it.  I can almost hear the angry hordes sharpening their pitchforks, lighting their torches, and readying themselves to head in my direction with nefarious intent.  Fact is, people have a love affair with the beignet as one of the most iconic New Orleans foods, and they're not wrong to do so.  Recently, in the film Chef (which is excellent, by the way), John Favreau's down-on-his-luck cook bonds with his son by promising the boy a trip to the Big Easy for beignets.  As they finally roll into New Orleans in their food truck and make their way to Cafe du Monde, Favreau's character is tentative when handing his son his first beignet.  "Eat it slow," he says.  "You're never going to taste your first beignet again."

When people think of this city a number of images spring to mind: carnival floats; colorful beads and masks; alligators; gumbo; po-boys, jambalaya; brass bands; frozen daiquiris; and, of course, cafe au lait and beignets smothered in an avalanche of fine, powdered sugar.  As a symbol of our city and its cuisine, I'm all for the beignet being an icon.  But as I said, it's not actually our very best doughnut.  While I love a beignet (or many...one needs at least three at a time, preferably six), its glory in the fried dough world is bested, ultimately, by another hometown concoction.

The buttermilk drop.

I feel like I'm letting the cat out of the bag or betraying a deeply held, secret trust by proclaiming the superiority of the buttermilk drop over the beignet, something that locals -- especially those of us who grew up here -- know as fact but are reluctant to share with visitors.  It's as though, if we tell people how perfectly wonderful these fluffy, sugary spheres of happiness are, they'll be a doomsday-style rush on the things, decimating the world buttermilk drop population, leaving none for the rest of us.  It's silly, I know...but people feel deeply about these doughnuts, and so do I.

Technically speaking, a buttermilk drop isn't actually a doughnut at all.  It's more of a "doughnut hole," a moniker that affords not a little philosophical discussion.  "How does one eat something that is defined by its nothingness?" sounds like a bona fide Zen koan.  Definition aside, we know this about the buttermilk drop: It was invented in New Orleans at some point in the mid 20th century by the now (very sadly) defunct McKenzie's Bakery.  But despite McKenzie's "ain't dere no more" status, the recipe for those beautiful drops of heaven survived, and one can find them still today at  Tastee McKenzie's, and of course at the eponymous Buttermilk Drop Cafe, among other places.  And thank goodness for that.  Forget what Socrates said about the "unexamined life."  A life without buttermilk drops, on the other hand...is that really a life worth living?

But enough discussion for now.  I'm hungry for buttermilk drops.  Also, I think I hear the clanking of pitchforks.

 


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.