Food up front, service on the side

Food is always top of mind in New Orleans. This time of year, giving back and helping others usually is, too. Thanks to a clutch of local nonprofit cafes, it’s easier than ever to combine the two in one visit.

These restaurants serve quality meals to their paying customers while simultaneously serving community needs through their programs, which include youth development and job-readiness training. While their services for clients and students reach far beyond the restaurant, supporting them is as easy as sitting down for lunch and directing your dining dollars to the greater good.

It’s an exciting time for this sector. Each of the restaurants below has recently expanded or has new plans in the works for the year ahead.

Café Reconcile

1631 O.C. Haley Blvd., (504) 568-1157;

Lunch Monday through Friday

Since opening in 2000, Café Reconcile has served as a lunch spot, teaching kitchen and career training program for young people who want to turn their lives around. Hundreds of graduates have gone on to internships and jobs within the city’s hospitality industry.

Last year, Café Reconcile finished an extensive $6.5 million redevelopment, adding a new events hall and courtyard dining area and creating a more modern kitchen designed with extra room for students and instructors to work side by side. In 2014, the café plans to add a weekly jazz dinner series and Sunday brunch.

“There’s just so much more energy along this part of Central City now, and we want to tap into that to support our mission,” said development director David Emond.

Try the baked chicken ($8.99) and gumbo ($4.99) any day, or Tuesday’s smothered pork chops ($8.99) and Thursday’s white beans and shrimp ($9.99).

Café Hope

1101 Barataria Blvd., Marrero; (504) 756-4673;

Lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Friday

Started by a former Café Reconcile teaching chef, Café Hope brought a similar youth development model to the West Bank, this time inside a complex of Spanish mission-style buildings called the Hope Haven Center.

The menu is focused on locally sourced food, from the crab-stuffed deviled eggs ($5) to steak with sautéed greens ($14). Earlier this year the café added a four-course dinner on Fridays (a bargain at $35, with BYOB encouraged), with an ever-changing menu of more ambitious dishes like red snapper in lemongrass broth, seared duck and tarte tatin.

Café Hope plans to expand in New Orleans next month, taking over the former Green Dot Café inside Broadmoor’s Rosa F. Keller Library. This new Café Hope at the Green Dot, as it’s to be called, will serve sandwiches, salads and coffee drinks along with produce from the restaurant’s own farm in Marrero.

“We’re picturing it as a tiny, pop-up farmers market,” culinary director Melissa Martin said.

Vintage Garden Kitchen

201 St. Charles Ave.; 925 S. Labarre Road; (504) 620-2495;

Lunch Monday through Friday (CBD only)

A project of Arc of Greater New Orleans, which helps people with mental disabilities, Vintage Garden Kitchen has for years sold an array of handmade soups by delivery, at farmers markets or through its Metairie headquarters. 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 develop their job skills and build a greater level of independence.

Earlier this year, Vintage Garden Kitchen added a new café inside a busy CBD food court. A combination of staff members and clients work together at the walk-up booth, serving soups ($4 to $6) and preparing salads and wraps ($6 to $8.50) bursting with fresh vegetables. My go-to is the kale slaw with cranberries, almonds and ginger cider vinaigrette and a house-made ginger ale ($2).

Liberty’s Kitchen

422 S. Broad St., (504) 822-4011;

Breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday (closed for holidays until Jan. 2)

Also created by another Café Reconcile veteran, the Liberty’s Kitchen teaching café and job-readiness program is preparing for a major expansion.

Today, you can still stop in for a juicy MVB burger ($9.95) or Cajun Cobb salad ($10.95) with shrimp and sausage. But by April, the organization is slated to relocate to 300 N. Broad St. as part of The ReFresh Project. This multi-faceted development will include a new Whole Foods Market (slated to open in February) and Tulane University’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine. Liberty’s Kitchen will open a larger café there, and its students will make baked goods, soups and other items to sell through Whole Foods. Later, the café will add Sunday brunch and expand with evening coffee shop hours as well.

“It gives us more streams of revenue and also more employment opportunities for our students,” co-founder Janet Davas said.

“At the end of the day, the reason we’re doing any of it goes back to our mission. There’s just such a tremendous demand in this city from under-served youth.”