No attempt has been made to adorn the white, vinyl siding-clad building, the bottom edges of which bear telltale ragged scallops administered by a haphazardly bandied weed eater. Nothing beckons passersby from the two-lane stretch of road – not a bush, a shrub, a flower or a tree. At dusk gnats buzz over an adjacent drainage canal, their cacophony keeping time with the chug-a-lug of window unit air conditioners dripping into a shell parking lot crammed with weathered pickup trucks here, late model luxury numbers there. A metal sign, “Mosca’s Restaurant,” hangs from a pair of rusty chains between a pair of rusty poles.
With the current exception of a six-foot distance between tables where there used to be inches, not much has changed since Provino and Lisa Mosca opened the joint on Highway 90 across the Mississippi River, 30-ish miles and a universe away from New Orleans. Between 1946 and 1947, before the Kefauver Commission shut it down, gambling was widespread in the area. After a night in a gaming house patrons would head to Mosca’s for a late-night meal.
Provino, a native of central Italy and Lisa “Mama Mosca,” had a restaurant in Chicago Heights, Illinois, before their daughter, Mary, married a Louisiana oysterman, Vincent Marconi. The parents followed Mary and opened their restaurant in 1946 in a building owned by New Orleans crime family boss Carlos Marcello, who became a regular customer. When Provino died in 1962, Lisa, two of their children, Johnny and Mary, and Mary’s husband Vincent took over the restaurant. Mama Mosca died in 1979, Vincent in 2004. By the time Mama Mosca retired, John’s wife, the former Mary Jo Angellotti, had been helping with the cooking for nearly 20 years and took over as chef. When Mosca’s was presented with a James Beard American Heritage award in 1999, Mary Jo apologized for not being able to attend the ceremony in New York City because she would have had to close the restaurant to accept it.
Mary Jo, soft-spoken with flawless porcelain skin and a neat chignon at her neck, adheres strictly to the dishes Provino developed according to what he grew up with then adapted to work with local ingredients.
Shuttered by day, at night the two-room building comes alive with the reek of garlic and old crooners blaring from the jukebox. Dishes from the relatively brief menu – Shrimp Mosca and Chicken à la Grande are mainstays – often share the same sauce of olive oil, garlic, rosemary, oregano and wine to draw flavors from the proteins. Oysters Mosca, another menu staple, is a baked casserole-style dish similar to the stuffing found in an artichoke, only loaded with plump Gulf oysters. Spaghetti Bordelaise, its al dente strands coated in a vampire-repelling sauce of oil and garlic, would be a wary parent’s choice for a teenage daughter’s first date with a hoodlum. With the exception of Creole red gravy, the menu is cooked à la minute (to order), leaving seemingly content patrons to wait as long as 40 minutes for most dishes that are served family-style in gargantuan portions.
This is a cash-only operation with an ATM in the bar. Late-night hours are a thing of the past, but reservations are a must in the era of Covid. The restaurant was damaged by Hurricane Katrina but reopened in 2006, repaired, and with a larger, air-conditioned kitchen – the only concession to the movement of time. Mary Jo continues to operate the restaurant with other family members, including her daughter, Lisa Mosca. Φ
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Mosca’s, 4137 US Highway 90 West, Westwego, 436-8950, MoscasRestaurant.com