In Cajun Country


Mossville 70663 is a kind, gentle place, but what you'll really come back for is the food.

This sweet little cafe is named for a small Louisiana town that once belonged to freed slaves. Rejoyce Moss, whose late husband came from Mossville, prepares all the dishes and desserts in a tiny kitchen. Her sons, Tony and Jason, run the dining room as if hosting a family soiree.

It's a small but persistently charming place. The ceiling is a light blue trompe l'oeil painting of the sky, full of fluffy clouds. The dining room is furnished with a green carpet the color of an Augusta fairway in springtime. Appropriately, you sit on iron patio chairs with gaudy seat cushions.

The most striking decoration is an artificial magnolia tree, planted smack in the center of the dining room and running up to the ceiling. The trunk is constructed out of redwood chips, and silk flowers blossom from the tree's long branches.

One side of the dining room is a roped-off area where mementos from the Old South are on display. There's always music, anything from recorded Mississippi Delta blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf to the a cappella singing of Rejoyce Moss herself. Moss had quite a successful career as a singer with a gospel group called the Stovall Sisters. Among other things, she once backed up Norman Greenbaum on the cult hit "Spirit in the Sky."

This lady is talented. She's actually a native of Kentucky, but her husband's relatives taught her to cook Cajun style, which she has learned to do with consummate skill.

Mossville's core menu lists only a handful of dishes--red beans and rice, jambalaya and deep-fried fish--but there are terrific daily specials. My favorite day is Thursday, when the restaurant serves a killer homemade gumbo.

It's an eccentric sort of gumbo; Moss doesn't use file or okra to thicken it because she claims her customers don't care for a gummy texture. Instead, she bases her recipe on onions, celery, a dark flour roux and lots of spices, with the addition of Louisiana hot sausage, prawns, baby shrimp and big pieces of lightly breaded fried chicken. It's served piping hot in a huge bowl, with a giant heap of boiled rice in the center.

Breading has been raised to an art form in this restaurant. Red snapper, catfish and large shrimp are all dredged in a light cornmeal batter and lightly fried to a crisp crunchiness. These seafood dishes are so good that a squeeze of lemon is all the condiment you'll need, but the restaurant keeps a good homemade tartar sauce around for those who insist.

Carnivores won't be disappointed, either. I've had succulent giant Cajun meatballs spicy enough to make your mouth water uncontrollably after a few bites. Most days there is real Cajun boudin, a delicious pork and rice sausage that the restaurant imports directly from a Louisiana butcher. I'm also a big fan of Moss' smothered pork chops, the special dish every Tuesday.

Louisiana red beans and rice, a relatively mild dish, comes with one side dish and a choice of hoe cakes (a corn griddle cake), fluffy homemade corn bread or miniature loaves of French bread. Jambalaya, a slightly nondescript version like a dense chicken and shrimp rice pilaf, comes with the same choice of good side dishes.

I could easily make a meal on the sides alone. My favorite is mac and cheese--big pieces of elbow macaroni in a mild, sweet cheese sauce that contains butter, butter and more butter. The boiled cabbage is sweet and buttery, too, and there is great Creole corn, fresh kernels laced with minced celery, red peppers and onions.

Real mashed potatoes come with a rich, dark gravy called gingersnap, ostensibly because it is the color of a gingersnap cookie. The bittersweet collard greens are sharply flavored with pot likker and onions. Mmmmmm.

The kitchen counter doubles as a dessert table crammed with homemade cakes, pies and cobblers. The peach cobbler has good, sweet fruit and a real biscuit crust. The double chocolate marshmallow cake is a fudgy layer cake with a gooey frosting that must appeal to everyone's inner child. Moss even makes her own pralines--grainy brown sugar bars full of crunchy pecans.

Whoopee. I'm flashing the victory sign and going to Mossville 70663.


Mossville 70663, 1327 E. 4th St., Long Beach. (562) 495-3100. Open 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m Tuesday-Friday, 5:30-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sunday-Monday. No alcohol. Street parking. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, $15-$23.

What to get: Boudin, gumbo, fried catfish, mac and cheese, Creole corn, double chocolate marshmallow cake.

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