New Orleans — In the predawn hours Wednesday, the glow from one cafe shone from blocks away like a beacon on the French Quarter.
"The Beignets Are Back!" proclaimed a 20-foot-long sign tied to an iron fence at the world famous Cafe Du Monde, opening for the first time since Hurricane Katrina savaged the city nearly two months ago.
"After Mardi Gras, this is the biggest thing in New Orleans," said Dawit Mehari, 29, of New Orleans. "A beignet is not a doughnut. It's not bread. It's not a piece of cake, either."
A beignet is a piece of New Orleans. And like a long lost friend, a comforting familiarity is back.
Since 1862, Cafe Du Monde has offered tourists and regulars alike a taste of old New Orleans. Here in this 24-hour restaurant many began their days or ended them after nights of carousing on Bourbon Street.
Serving only coffee and beignets, the restaurant served the public year-round except for Christmas, until the hurricane. But on Wednesday, after a month and a half of repairs, finding employees and gaining access to clean water, the cafe was ready to open again after the longest closure in its 143-year history.
By 6 a.m., hundreds of tiny pillow-puffs were ready for a confectionary dousing. Chicory-laced coffee brewing in industrial coffee urns smelled rich. Then a jazz trio, led by bassist Joe Simon, 71, started up.
"When you're smiling," he sang. All his numbers were upbeat.