A friend recently needed a new driver’s license and she hit me up for a ride.
“Go to the one in Westwego,” we were repeatedly advised. “The lines are shorter than everywhere else.”
Having experienced numerous OMVs (forever the DVM or, better yet, Troop B, to me) throughout the course of my lengthy driving career I can now declare our advisors wrong: The OMV in Westwego is by no means more efficient nor less popular than any other but perhaps the lengthy wait seems shorter because the place is far more interesting than its bigger city brethren. The OMV, the hyper-vigilant Police Department, and City Hall are all housed within the same low-ceilinged, squatty, uniquely atmospheric building on Avenue A just blocks from the Mississippi River. Those awaiting their turn to secure a driver’s license must do so within the City Hall portion of the building. The large-ish room is crammed with rows of metal folding chairs filled with friendly, colorful Y’ats babbling loudly into cell phones. An elevated row of imposing black leather executives’ chairs faces into the room from behind a curved wooden counter—the City Council “chambers.” Just beyond the gathering place of the city’s leaders flies the proud flag of the City of Westwego. The flag mimics the vertical blue, red, and white stripes of the flag of France, only the center of the flag is adorned with a shrimp trawler with nets extended and fully encircled by a halo of oyster shells.
As the crow flies the Westwego OMV is about a half mile from where I live Uptown. The problem is crossing the river with a vehicle rather than swimming or boating on over. But still, the circuitous vehicular path is less than 15 miles via the GNO bridge (there is no “Crescent City Connection” in my world). Fifteen miles or a half mile, no matter: The delights of Westwego are a world away from my own.
With her new driver’s license in hand my friend sought, from no one in particular, suggestions as to where we might acquire a late lunch. Led by Heather, the extremely affable test administrator, the personnel of the Westwego OMV sprung to life.
“Mo’s Pizza. You have to go to Mo’s, OMG.”
“Gettcha a killer po’boy from the Shrimp Lot.”
“We got takeout for lunch from The Little Kitchen on 4th Street. Love that Little Kitchen and the daily hot plates. Cheap, too!”
“You know, you could get you some boudin and a sno-ball from the drive-up window and Buck’s Sno-Wiz. You can also get it to eat at a picnic table in the shell lot out front.”
We made the short drive from the OMV across the Westbank Expressway Mo’s, the cavernous 34-year-old eatery that locals consistently rank tops. Situated between two large shell parking lots on Avenue H, the place was tellingly busy for 3 o’clock on a weekday afternoon. We ordered a large pizza with black and green olives and a couple of sodas. Remembering the plan to get sno-balls after, I changed the order to a small pizza, and I grabbed a small plastic-wrapped piece of Mo’s house-made peanut butter fudge for later.
“Lagniappe,” said the girl at the counter. “I’m making the fudge two-for- one so y’all both can have some.”
As we awaited our pizza, we watched kids work their parents over for money to work the iron claw and pinball machines.
“Lady, your pizza’s ready.”
Upon seeing the behemoth, golden, gooey pizza awaiting me I informed that I had changed my order from large to small.
“Lady, this is a small.”
The 16-inch “small” pizza bore beautiful, perfectly imperfect, not too thin, not too thick, hand-tossed crust with a slight crackle on the outside and a dense, soft chew on the inside. While the sauce was a bit sweet for my taste it was fresh and flavorful, and I believe pizza sauce is as personal a preference as perfume.
Stuffed, we stashed half of the pizza in a go box and headed back across the Expressway to the corner of Avenue A to Buck’s. After examining the voluminous menu of snowballs, traditional malts, specialty malts (divine things like Butterfinger, peanut butter, and chocolate-covered cherry varieties), banana splits, spicy boiled potatoes, flaming hot Cheetos, and both crawfish and pork boudin trucked in from Acadiana, we settled for refreshing melon and cucumber sno-balls that we ate in the car on a drive past The Little Kitchen and made plans for a lunch date in the coming weeks.
The bill for the entire Westwegan culinary funfest? Twenty-five bucks including generous tips at both establishments. The cost of our trip to this parallel universe? About $1 in gas. The value of the kinda-kooky experience? Priceless.