WAGGAMAN, La. -- Nearly a half-hour's drive outside of New Orleans in surroundings only a little more inviting than a swamp, you'll find a dilapidated roadhouse by the side of U.S. 90. Inside this big white wooden shack, you will probably wait quite a good long time for a table and experience service that while seldom actually impolite, is not what you would ever call refined.
Throngs of passionate eaters put up with whatever inconvenience is involved because Mosca's serves what every serious traveling gourmet acknowledges as the finest Creole-Italian food in Louisiana.
New Orleans is probably best-known for French-accented soul food, or oysters on the half shell, or po-boy sandwiches, or breakfast at Brennan's, or the grand Creole cuisine of Antoine's. What few outsiders know is that it is a city with superb Italian restaurants, too. You enjoy Creole-style Italian food in the form of mufaletta sandwiches (cold cuts and olive salad on great rounds of Italian bread), or in the familiar Italian salad served by so many restaurants, for which greens are heaped with chopped pickled vegetables. But the best place to eat Italian in New Orleans is out at Mosca's.
Tradition demands going to Mosca's as a group of at least four but preferably six or eight people so you can order lots of different dishes and taste some of everything. (Warning: Most portions for one are actually big enough for two.) Whet your appetite with marinated crab meat, available in or out of the shell and always utterly fresh. Then move on to one of several pastas, which include homemade ravioli, meatballs and spaghetti that transcend the cliche, and the dish that many consider Mosca's best -- spaghetti bordelaise, which is an easy, elegant, dizzyingly aromatic and unimprovable combination of noodles, butter, oil and garlic.
After pasta, you are ready for Mosca's big-gun main courses. There are a couple of luxuriously rich seafood casseroles, known by the simple names "baked oysters" and "baked shrimp." The shrimp or oysters are cooked with massive amounts of garlic and seasoned bread crumbs -- a preparation so perfect that dozens of restaurants throughout Creole country refer to similar dishes as "shrimp Mosca" or "oysters Mosca." There is succulent
chicken cacciatore; there are steaks and chops cut to order, and homemade Italian sausage served with big, buttered mushrooms. Even a dish as simple as roasted chicken somehow tastes better than it ought to, considering its ordinary ingredients.
Yes, Mosca's is a dilapidated-looking place, but as soon as you twirl your fork into the spaghetti bordelaise and inhale its garlicky bouquet, you realize that this restaurant down the lonely road is one good reason New Orleans is known as America's beacon of good eating.
Makes 4 servings.
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
6 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced parsley (fresh)
12 ounces spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Add 6 tablespoons olive oil, then garlic and salt. Cook 5 to 6 minutes, stirring until garlic barely begins to brown. Remove from heat and use a spoon to remove most of the garlic from the sauce. Stir in parsley.
Heat 4 quarts of water in a pot with a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. When furiously boiling, add spaghetti and cook until noodles are al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain and return spaghetti to pot. Immediately pour on sauce and stir over low heat 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover pot and let stand 5 minutes. Mix once more before serving, then top individual servings with grated cheese and black pepper to taste.
Mosca's, 4137 Highway 90 West, Avondale, La. 70093, 4 1/2 miles beyond the Huey P. Long Bridge; (504) 436-9942.