Let’s get one thing out of the way. Despite their popularity among tourists, the beignets at Café Du Monde in New Orleans are terrible, in this critic’s experience. Sample the famous fritters, and most are hard, greasy, and sloppily caked in powdered sugar.
Bilstad’s beignets are different. They’re served straight from the fryer in a paper bag. Lightly dusted with powdered sugar, they’re as airy as Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coated with ginger syrup. “I learned to make doughnuts in the Navy,” says Scott Bilstad, who went on to become a chef in kitchens from Boston to Front Royal. He was territory manager for distributor US Foods before COVID-19 hit and he was furloughed.
As others became obsessed with creating the best sourdough or pizza in their home kitchens, Bilstad and his wife, Jenny, set about making what he calls a hybrid between Louisiana beignets and something more traditionally French. They began selling them in their Purcellville neighborhood. Soon, there was demand for them to set up pop-ups around Loudoun County. Two years later, they began renovating a space in Ashburn.
The brick-and-mortar Bilstad’s Beignets debuted last October, painted in University of Virginia orange and navy, a display of both Bilstad’s and his beignets’ roots. The compact café offers more than just café au lait and fried snacks. Eat My Grits bowls feature exceptionally creamy cornmeal topped with a choice of flavorful braised meats. The best of these are cola-braised short ribs, which are far less sweet than the name would suggest. There’s also gochujang pork shoulder, salsa verde chicken, and a beloved Southern chicken curry, Country Captain.
You won’t find a beignet spot quite like Bilstad’s in New Orleans. And that’s just one more reason NoVA is a gustatory destination of its own. 20937 Ashburn Rd., Ste. 150, Ashburn, bilstadsbeignets.com
This story originally ran in our May issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.