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John Mosca dies at 86; ran popular restaurant near New Orleans

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John Mosca, proprietor of a two-room roadhouse near New Orleans famed for its Italian-style garlicky shrimp, oysters, chicken and marinated crab dishes, has died. He was 86.

Mosca died Wednesday at his home in suburban Harahan, said his daughter, Lisa Mosca. He had prostate cancer.

His parents, Provino and Lisa Mosca, founded Mosca's restaurant in 1946 in the community of Avondale, about half an hour from downtown New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi River. They served platters heaped with food rather than individual plates.

"It's an Italian thing, like an Italian family-style dinner," Mosca's daughter said.

Until about a month ago, Mosca was a fixture at the restaurant, greeting customers and cooking the family's special oyster dish featuring two dozen oysters baked with garlic, herbs and bread crumbs.

In his younger days Mosca did all the shopping for the restaurant, made sausage and pasta from scratch and then mixed drinks at the bar at night.

Other house specialties include a marinated crab salad, chicken cacciatore and chicken and shrimp dishes laden with handfuls of garlic cloves.

Fans included writer Calvin Trillin, whose article about the restaurant appeared in the New Yorker magazine's food issue last November.

"Mosca's devotion to garlic has remained unchanged since the days when Provino Mosca was at the stove, and almost the same can be said of the menu; it's not the sort of place that surprises you with its daily specials," Trillin wrote. "I could give my order before I get out of the car. I should say 'our order,' since the family-style portions served at Mosca's make it not the place to go for that contemplative dinner alone."

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the restaurant's kitchen, but Mosca's reopened after 10 months with the same ambiance, cash-only policy and faithful customers willing to make the drive down a two-lane highway in the dark searching for the white frame building and small sign out front.

"It always had the feel of a neighborhood restaurant, except there was no neighborhood," James Edmunds of New Iberia, La., one of Trillin's dining companions, said in the New Yorker article.

John Mosca was born May 6, 1925, in Chicago Heights, Ill., and worked at his parents' restaurant there, also named Mosca's.

An infantryman in World War II, he was hit by shrapnel in Italy. When he recovered, he was detailed to the British forces, who put him to work as a waiter serving high-ranking officers and dignitaries. After his discharge, he joined his brother Nick and sister Mary in working at the family restaurant.

Besides his daughter, Mosca is survived by his wife, Mary Jo, who now runs Mosca's kitchen.

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