We continue a series to help connect some of your New Year's resolutions to the New Orleans dining world. This time, it's about helping others, a noble cause that we now have more ways to pursue even just by going out for lunch. There has been a rise in the number of nonprofit cafes and culinary businesses around town, places where you can get a good meal while putting your dining dollar to work for a greater good. Here are four examples:
1631 O.C. Haley Blvd., New Orleans, 504-568-1157
Since opening in 2000, this Central City institution has served as a lunch spot, a teaching kitchen and a career training program for young people who want to turn their lives around. Hundreds of students have completed the program, learning marketable job skills and going on to internships and jobs within the city's hospitality industry. Cafe Reconcile is now wrapping up a major renovation, which should be done by the end of the month. When it reopens, you'll find a much larger cafe, an outdoor courtyard and a state-of-the-art kitchen, plus a new events hall upstairs. Check with the cafe for the official reopening date.
Vintage Garden Kitchen
925 S. Labarre Rd., Metairie, 504-620-2495
Arc of Greater New Orleans is a long-standing social services agency that helps people with mental disabilities. One tool the group created is Vintage Garden Kitchen, an enterprise that grows fresh vegetables and turns them into hearty, nourishing soups. You can also find them at the Crescent City Farmers Market in Mid-City (3700 Orleans Ave.) on Thursdays, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Uptown (200 Broadway) on Tuesdays, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., selling soup, produce and other items. Later this month, look for a new Vintage Garden Kitchen restaurant to open in the food court of the Place St. Charles building in the CBD (201 St. Charles Ave.).
1101 Barataria Blvd., Marrero, 504-756-4673
Cafe Hope was started by an alum of Cafe Reconcile and brings a similar teaching cafe/employment training program to the West Bank. It's based inside the Hope Haven Center, a campus of Spanish mission-style buildings dating back to the 1930s. The menu focuses on farm-fresh staples and local fish and meats prepared with lots of Louisiana flavor. The menu changes with the seasons, but the three-course lunch for $15 is always a good bargain.
422 S. Broad St., New Orleans, 504-822-4011
Another example of the teaching kitchen/employment preparedness program, also created by another Cafe Reconcile veteran, Liberty's Kitchen runs a cafe and coffee shop in Mid-City. It also has expanded with a pioneering Healthy School Lunch Program, bringing better nutrition to the public school cafeteria and increasing its job opportunities for its own students. Drop by the cafe for lunch, and you'll find a menu of fresh, affordable dishes of Southern flavors (try the shrimp and cheese grits), baked goods and coffee from the Starbucks line. The walls are lined with portraits of recent grads, a reminder that your lunch helps fund programs for the students coming up behind them.