The regulars at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse (3133 Ponce de Leon St., phone n.a.; www.fairgrinds.com) are happy to begin paying for what theyÕve been getting for free. Just weeks after Hurricane Katrina, owners Robert and Elizabeth Thompson began brewing coffee outside their flood-damaged coffee shop in Faubourg St. John and serving it for free to whoever wanted it. They also hosted impromptu jam sessions on the sidewalk. As neighbors returned, they found a trading post of everything from clothing to pet supplies available for free outside the gutted shop. The free coffee kept up consistently for 20 months until Fair Grinds finally reopened for business on June 1. The renovation was a very long time coming, but it has produced a gorgeous space that preserves the soul of an historic New Orleans building and adds touches that seem straight out of the most upscale coffee house. The old crowd of regulars is back, lining up with money now instead of just gratitude. Fair Grinds is open daily.
MurielÕs Jackson Square (801 Chartres St., 568-1885; www.muriels.com) is serving a limited time special that highlights one of LouisianaÕs leading seafood catches, supports the nonprofit Crescent City Farmers Market (www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org) and provides diners with an alluring dinner as well. MurielÕs chef Guy Sockrider has devised a four-course menu centered on Louisiana blue crab, which the restaurant will feature through the end of June. The meal includes a salpicon of crab with mango and avocado with a mango coulis, velvety crab bisque spiked with bourbon and, as an entre, a pan-seared soft shell crab with lump crabmeat meuniére. Dessert thankfully contains no crab but is an arborio rice pudding cake topped with pineapple and lemongrass sauce and petit pastries filled with Creole cream cheese. The meal costs $38 and MurielÕs will donate a portion of sales to the farmers market.
A number of local restaurants and a highly esteemed bakery have closed down recently. Fire!, built in an historic former firehouse in the Lower Garden District, was among the first crop of restaurants to reopen after Katrina, but closed down in May. Uptown, the Italian restaurants NardoÕs Trattoria and Ristorante Civello both shut down as well. Ristorante Civello, built in a former Magazine Street cottage, first opened after Katrina and had several trained opera singers on its wait staff who performed during dinner. NardoÕs opened in 2005 in a space that had previously been a scruffy corner bar. La Spiga, the bakery and sandwich shop in Faubourg Marigny that was a long-time farmers market vendor, closed down as well early in June. ÑÊMcNulty