You know you’re living right if you polish off a restaurant meal and feel like you’ve accomplished something. I don’t just mean you crushed some burger or you won the battle of temptation by skipping dessert. I mean you actually feel like you took part in something bigger then yourself.
That’s part of the deal at a circuit of nonprofit restaurants around New Orleans, where just by having lunch you’re supporting programs that help local youth get a new start. They even set the table with inspirational names: Café Reconcile, Liberty's Kitchen, and Café Hope.
These are each separate organizations with their own models for teaching, mentoring and coaching young people who want to change the course of their lives. But all of them start with food, and in this town that opens all kinds of doors. Just like other parts of the New Orleans restaurant seeing these days, they've been busy and they're changing and evolving.
Let’s start with Café Reconcile. It’s become an institution in Central City over the years, a colorful, vibrant outpost for fried catfish under crawfish sauce, stuffed peppers and that chicken, sausage and okra gumbo. Behind the scenes, this community organization helps its students find new paths. This weekend that includes playing a big role at Essence Festival. The nonprofit is catering Essence this year, and its students, alumni and graduates will be right there in the mix as the high profile event unfolds.
Across the river on the West Bank, another nonprofit eatery called Café Hope. A meal here used to mean a visit to the Hope Haven Center, a campus of eye-catching old Spanish colonial style buildings in Marrero. But now the actual café from Café Hope is a few miles away, set at the Timberlane Country Club. That’s right – a restaurant at a suburban New Orleans golf course is now a nonprofit in service to local youth.
That restaurant is open to the public, and with big windows framing long green views of the golf course it feels like a bit of an oasis just off busy Lapalco Boulevard. Scratch cooking is the order of the day. I’ve had house-made boudin balls and ice cream, grilled steak po-boys and the Café Hope hamburger, griddled up crisp and stacked with toppings.
Back on the East Bank, our third nonprofit, Liberty’s Kitchen now has two restaurants. The homebase is still in Mid-City, in the ReFresh Project, that development that includes a Whole Foods grocery and the Sprout NOLA community farm. There’s a Liberty’s Kitchen café in here too, with its own Starbucks coffee bar and a menu of breakfast biscuits and garden omelets, black bean burgers and fish tacos. Now, Liberty’s Kitchen also has a CBD location, and this time it’s a cafeteria inside the Freeport McMoRan building, across Poydras Street from the Superdome. Cross the lobby, ride an elevator and follow your nose – you’ll find all these different stations for hot lunch, grab-and-go snacks, a salad bar and a deli.
Cafeteria dining feels like a bit of a throwback, but the only thing old fashioned here are the plate lunches of comfort food. The underlying mission, of course, is firmly focused on the future.
One thing I love about all these programs is that you can support them simply by stepping out for a quick, casual meal. You can even multitask while you’re at it. After all, when you combine good food with a good cause, you can rub your belly while you pat yourself on the back.
1631 O.C. Haley Blvd., New Orleans, 504-568-1157
1 Timberlane Dr., Gretna, 504-309-2065
422 S. Broad St., New Orleans, 504-822-4011
1615 Poydras St., New Orleans, 504-822-4011