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These days it's routine for New Orleans area residents to be asked to think outside the box. But at Stafford Tile & Stone (5234 Magazine St., 895-5000; www.staffordtile.com), owner Peggy Stafford shows the steady stream of customers scrambling to remodel their houses that alternate options can be every bit as beautiful and practical -- and even more time saving -- than their conventional counterparts.

"We're trying to let customers know some quick things we can do for them," says Stafford, who frequently suggests that clients consider glass tile, ceramic tile and prefabricated vanities instead of stone for countertops. In most cases, Stafford says all three can be obtained more quickly than slab products like marble and granite; many tile orders arrive in a day or two, while Stafford's in-house stock of handmade tile is available immediately. There are also other pluses: glass tile, which is shatter-resistant, is more durable than many people realize, impervious to stain and, when made of recycled glass, even has an environmental edge.

Because Stafford's sales staff is specially trained in helping customers express their unique sensibility, clients also can save time and avoid headaches during the design process. "We often use different products together," says Stafford. "Those are areas where we shine. If possible, we like to help customers incorporate their personalities into their environments. It's remarkable what's available. That keeps it fresh for us."

Other post-Katrina benefits of working with tile and stone include the fact that neither will rot when wet, and stone in particular can impart an instant look of age. "We try to present specific niches that reflect our clientele," says Stafford. "Those vary tremendously, but we always try to find the right product for the client." Bar food comes full circle Local restaurateurs Vicky Bayley and chef Mike Fennelly have unveiled their newest venture, Mike's on Lee Circle (2 Lee Circle, 528-2205), on the ground floor of the Hotel Le Cirque. Similar to Ohi'a, the Asian-style eatery the pair ran prior to Hurricane Katrina, the new Mike's offers specialty cocktails and about a dozen appetizer-sized dishes ranging in price from $6 to $12. The menu, a collaboration between Fennelly and chef de cuisine Kate Chadwick, features items such as beef short ribs braised in sweet rice wine and Indonesian crabcakes with Thai-style mirliton salad. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday.

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