Where Y'Eat: Healthy Helpings That Help Others

Mar 6, 2014

Food writer Ian McNulty on two off-the-radar cafes with healthy options on the menu and social service in the business plan.

As fun as Carnival can be in New Orleans, the end of this season of parades and parties and carrying on can come as something of a relief. Whatever Lent might mean to you, the aftermath of Mardi Gras is a time to regroup and get your priorities back in focus. 

If eating a little healthier and taking more time to help others are in the mix for you, there are some new, interesting ways around town bundle them together. New Orleans has a host of nonprofit organizations that operate small cafés, places that serve the public as any other eatery would while also serving their own program missions.

The latest example is Café Hope’s Green Dot Café, an easy-to-miss eatery that’s a real find for distinctive food. Café Hope runs a restaurant in Marrero as a job-training and life skills program for young people who want to chart a new course for their lives, following a model inspired by the better-known Café Reconcile in Central City.

Earlier this year, Café Hope expanded, opening its new Green Dot Café on the opposite side of the river in Broadmoor. The name Green Dot, of course, is a reference to the post-Katrina controversy around a planning recommendation that Broadmoor might be better suited as green space than residential rebuilding. Well, Broadmoor is looking pretty good these days, its Rosa F. Keller Library has been redeveloped as a hub for the neighborhood and that library is home to this Green Dot Café, a tiny four-table operation that does a lot more than its simple counter service set-up might let on.

For instance, the drinks cooler doubles as a mini, self-serve farmers market, with bundles of kale and broccoli and other produce from Café Hope's kitchen garden in Marrero. You can take home thick glass jugs of milk from the farmers market favorite Progress Milk Barn, and baguettes and ciabatta loaves from Bellegarde Bakery, an artisan bakery located nearby that doesn’t have its own storefront. 

You can stop in at breakfast for pastries made in-house and at lunch for great sandwiches, but you have to know about it, and from the street the Green Dot Café is a little hard to spot. Another hidden gem in the nonprofit café world comes to us in the middle of a busy food court in the CBD, inside the Place St. Charles building, to be precise.

Here, you’ll find the Vintage Garden Kitchen, a project of the Arc of Greater New Orleans, which helps people with mental disabilities. The Arc has for years sold an array of hand-made soups. Clients of the agency help grow many of the ingredients on small farm plots and prepare the fresh food as part of the group’s mission to build a greater level of independence.

Last year, Vintage Garden Kitchen added its CBD café, where a combination of staff members and clients work together at a walk-up booth. The service is fast, and the soups and the salads and wraps teeming with vegetables have a fresh and restorative quality to them. My go-to is the kale slaw with cranberries and ginger cider vinaigrette.

After the long haul of Carnival, food like this can be refreshing, even if you knew nothing of the nonprofit service angle. But of course, behind the counter at Vintage Garden Kitchen and Green Dot Café the menu and the mission are inseparable.

Café Hope’s Green Dot Café

4300 S. Broad St., New Orleans 504-827-0077

Café Hope

1101 Barataria Blvd., Marrero, 504-756-4673; cafehope.org

Vintage Garden Kitchen

201 St. Charles Ave., phone n.a.; 925 S. Labarre Rd., 504-620-2495; vintagegardenkitchen.org