Thursday morning we went deep into Covington to a nondescript strip mall at the corner of Tyler and W 21st. Our IG millennial mentioned a new bakery called Tournesol which got a shoutout on IG from Levee Baking Co., the Mary’s barometer for all things baking bliss.
It’s a tiny place in a mall which has spawned the likes of Semolina, so good things can happen very small. It was brand new and the cases showed promise. We got Tom a fig tart which he raved about, and we got a croissant that was very buttery but not so flaky. And we got a quiche called Florentine, which was spinach and artichoke. This too was not sensational.
But there are not a lot of baked goods in West St. Tammany. The most gourmet of the lot is Zoe’s, named for the daughter of the Devon, UK-born owner Shane Gorringe. He is a classically-trained European chef who married a Poole (the Covington-based lumber store) and he has offered pastries that are some of the best in the world out of a house on 190 at Lee Road.
Zoe’s seems to us to be not what it was though, or it could be that we have our own baker in house, but we are always looking for a new bakery. Tournesol has promise, and we will be back.
We also went back for a second look to a place with legions of fans, though we could never understand why. Duman is an “artisan” pizza kitchen that has been around long enough to stay. It’s also at a crossroads, 190, this time in Mandeville (Hwy 190 meanders all around the north shore - we have never understood this.) and Hwy 59.
Our first visit here was years ago, and we left unimpressed, though no one we have talked to about it agrees. Since we have been staying closer to home in Covid-world revisiting north shore places is necessary.
We did a pizza pick-up here, and either they have changed methods completely, or we didn’t understand it, but this was a much better pizza than we remember. I’d still not call it artisan. It was a basic New York-style pizza with a strong crust and tasty toppings. At $15 for what most people would consider medium in New York-style pizza world, that seemed pricey, but it was very good.
The weekend of eating started right after the radio show on Friday. We were invited to join another couple all the way down in Waggaman at the hole-in-the-wall iconic eatery known as Mosca’s. On the way there, one half of the couple dropped out so it was a threesome.
It is easy to pass Mosca’s without even noticing it. Standing alone on a highway heading west, it is a plain white clapboard building with a small sign hanging at the door, barely noticeable. An expanse of gravel outfront is the parking lot, and everything about the place screams unceremonious.
Mosca’s has been around since 1946, and aside from some painting, it seems the place has always been thus. It is small and rambling inside, with uneven floors and nondescript paint in a very dated color, it is the antithesis of everything an “atmosphere” diner is looking for.
With nothing else to recommend it, what is the draw? The food. The food at Mosca’s is delicious. So much so that generations of people have found it way out there and made a somewhat arduous trek to get it. There are two especially famous dishes on the menu, and we had both that night.
Tom wouldn’t think of going to Mosca’s without getting Oysters Mosca, a casserole of baked oysters covered in oily breadcrumbs redolent of garlic. He got it and was not disappointed, though I had sticker shock at the price: $28.50 for a half dozen oysters. For that price I would have to dream about it for weeks after. It was not that good.
The other house signature dish was that good. The Chicken Grande is whole cloves of garlic and sprigs of rosemary nestled on a skinless small chicken, resting in a puddle of au jus. What made this dish unusual and special was the size of the chicken. Tom has always said that smaller chickens are better, and this was definitely true. They are not bloated and they have more flavor. This Chicken Grande was less oily than I remember, meaning it was a little drier than usual, but still very good, The meat was tender and very flavorful. The garlic was soft and pungent, but there was a lot less of it. I remember the dish being covered with garlic pods. Not so on Friday evening.
We started with the crab salad, which is an Italian salad of iceberg lettuce and giardiniera vegetables covered in crabmeat. It was not jumbo lump but it was very nice crabmeat and there was plenty of it. This was served family style, and there was enough for three or four for $18.50. Good deal.
Then we had meatballs. These were served as an order of three, and napped with a delicious cooked-all-day New Orleans-style dark red sauce, A light layer of cheese was melted on top. These were the quintessential meatball. Not a great meatball - they were just a tiny bit too firm for my taste to be a great meatball, but they were very good. I wish there had been more sauce.
What we didn’t get but should have was pasta. None of us wanted to eat the carbs, but who goes to Mosca’s with that idea? I regretted that decision when I saw the perfect Mosca’s meal go to an adjacent table. Three women ordered the large whole chicken version of Chicken Grande, accompanied by a large plate hoisting a mountainous portion of spaghetti bordelaise, as it is called in New Orleans. That means garlic and olive oil with herbs. It is hard to imagine anything so simple being so sublime, but it is, and especially so here.
I sat there wishing I had all the money in the world and all the stomach space to eat piles of spaghetti like this and large plates of garlic everything.
Tom had spumoni, which might be the number one dessert for him, even over bread pudding and creme brulee. That was accompanied by coffee. Basic boring Folger’s. Tom was puzzled about serving a coffee like that in New Orleans in 2020. The waitress shrugged.
That’s the way it’s always been. Just like the cash only policy. Therein lies the charm of Mosca’s.