Westwego: 4137 US 90. 504-436-9942. Map.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Hundreds of thousands have driven by Mosca’s and believed it to be a low-down roadside bar or cafe. Which is what it looks like, all right. Just as many people know that it’s a matchless source of lusty, unique Italian cooking, and a gathering place–believe it or not–for the elite.
The creator of one of the city’s most popular dishes (Italian baked oysters) has a brief but irresistible menu. Most people who dine there eat the same meal: marinated crabmeat (as a salad or in the shell), the oysters, the very different Italian shrimp, chicken grande or cacciatore or just plain roasted, spaghetti bordelaise. A really big table might have a filet mignon or two or some Italian sausage. Much of this is enlivened by the unfettered use of garlic, rosemary, and olive oil. All of it, to quote a famous restaurateur who loved the place, is “finger-licking good.”
The building that is now Mosca’s was originally the headquarters of 1940s power broker (to put it mildly) and gourmet Carlos Marcello. Provino Mosca and his family cooked to Marcello’s liking, so he set them up–complete with living quarters–in this isolated roadhouse on Highway 90. There Mosca’s has been ever since, attracting eaters from all over the world–and, still, political and economic strongmen of Jefferson Parish. Now in its third generation, Mosca’s keeps serving its distinctive food. After katrina, the building received a renovation, including a bigger Kitchen and a bit more dining space.
The interior is much more attractive than the exterior, but is still down-to-earth and country-style. Tables run from the bar through the main dining room and into the small new dining room. Nothing fancy, but iconic to its regulars. They’re not even likely to move a picture hanging crooked on the wall if it’s been that way a long time.
Chef’s bean soup.
»Oysters Italian style (baked with bread crumbs, olive oil, and garlic).
»Shrimp Italian style (enormous, whole, unpeeled, with olive oil and tons of garlic).
»Chicken grande (roasted in pieces with potatoes, rosemary and olive oil).
FOR BEST RESULTS
You only need at most three entrees per four people. Mosca’s serves family-style, and the waitress will tell you when you’ve ordered too much. Make a reservation, but know that you may still wait quite awhile in the bar anyway. Very important: bring plenty of cash. They don’t take cards or checks. (Although they do have an ATM machine now.)
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
I wish they’d bring back the squab and Cornish hen from years ago, and have their homemade Italian sausage all the time. (They always seem to be out of it when I go.)
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment -1
- Consistency +3
- Value +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness -1
- Local Color +3
- Good for business meetings
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Every time you go to Mosca’s, you walk out with a few stories. They will likely be about highly recognizable people–many of them from the Jefferson Parish political sphere, but occasionally some from the outside world, too. There’s a certain toned-down Goodfellas/Sopranos quality to the conversations, most of which are loud enough to be heard without really trying to do so.
And everybody at every table will be eating more or less the same things, served in the same spartan style. Unless they’re not regulars (which would put them in a distinct minority), they will at some point exclaim that this is the best food to be found in New Orleans. It isn’t, but eating it makes you say things like that.
All of this takes place in an old, unprepossessing building to which most travelers never give a second glance. It doesn’t look much fancier inside.