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Rejoyce and Sing a Song of the South

Owner of Mossville 70663 serves hearty Louisiana-style fare that's merely a sampling of some of her greatest hits.

August 03, 2000|TOM VASICH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's hard to decide which Rejoyce Moss does better: cook or sing.

She serves up ample portions of both at Mossville 70663. She runs the cramped kitchen during the day, and on Thursday and Sunday nights, Moss, a professional singer in her youth, sings show tunes and gospel favorites on Mossville's tiny stage.

One recent Saturday, Moss opened her set with a saucy version of "Our Love Is Here to Stay," and followed with what seemed to be the entire "When Harry Met Sally" soundtrack. Applause rang through the dining room, and even though most diners had finished their meals and paid, no one was leaving--much to the chagrin of the dozen or so people waiting outside for tables.

Mossville 70663 takes its name from a rural Louisiana town, the ancestral home of her husband's family. Since she and her family opened the restaurant two years ago, it has become a neighborhood meeting place in Long Beach. Even if Moss never chose to sing again, the lines at Mossville 70663 would probably be just as long; that's how popular this restaurant has become.

The fact is, in the Long Beach/Orange County area, Mossville just hasn't much competition. Everyone seems to love Southern cooking, but restaurateurs fear (probably with reason) that the demand for it has a fatal limitation--most Californians are reluctant to eat this heavy sort of food very often.

What's impressive about this place isn't even so much its quality as its authenticity. None of the dishes, Moss says, comes from a written recipe. She learned to cook this way by spending years in the kitchen with her husband's mother, Dora, absorbing the basics of Louisiana cooking from a woman whose family had long owned restaurants in Mossville.

Mossville 70663 was the dream of her husband, Joseph Moss. He died soon after it opened, and his family, headed by Rejoyce, continues to run it. Nearly every employee there is kin, from Moss' sons, Jason and Tony, who work the front, to her sister, Carmen, who usually helps in the kitchen.

Because of the kitchen's size--it's about as big as a second bedroom--the Mosses don't have much room to cook, so the menu is relatively small. The dinner choices lean to the Southern side--barbecued meats, smothered pork chips, fried fish and chicken--with a few Cajun-Creole specialties thrown in: red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo (on Thursday nights). The side dishes include soupy collard greens, syrupy candied yams, buttery mashed potatoes and a heavy corn-bread dressing drenched with highly flavorful chicken gravy.

You come to know this particular gravy well when eating at Mossville. It covers many things, from chicken to pork chops and meatloaf and even some of the poor-boy sandwiches. Based on a roux that I swear has to have been fried with lard, this rich, salty, heavy gravy may lack finesse, but I'm not the only person to have moaned in appreciation when first tasting it.

*

This gravy dominates some of the better dishes, starting with the aptly named smothered pork chop--a thick, juicy chop cooked until quite tender, practically like stewed meat, and then covered with gravy. More gravy covers the side heaping (pardon me, side helping) of corn-bread dressing. If you were to add mashed potatoes to the mix, the entire plate would be covered with gravy, and you'd need a warrior mentality to finish it.

The same goes with Moss' meatloaf. She makes a spirited, meaty loaf, thin on the breading and other extraneous ingredients but heavy on the Cajun spices . . . and gravy.

This gravy does not cover everything, however. The barbecued ribs and chicken feature a smoky-sweet barbecue sauce that adds a little pucker to your whistle. I particularly like the pork ribs here. These aren't the baby back ribs that have become de rigueur at rib joints, but thick, tender country pork ribs, served off the bone.

Among the few Cajun/Creole dishes, I was impressed with the jambalaya. This spicy rice dish varies from cook to cook--at the venerable Bayou St. John in Seal Beach, for example, it's covered with a gooey roux. Mossville's, unadorned by sauce, features cubes of chicken and boudin to temper a substantial dose of red pepper. This is one dish where the restaurant's "Muddy Water"--an effervescent drink combining iced tea, lemonade and cinnamon--comes in handy.

Much else is good here, from the generous poor-boy sandwiches (highly recommended for lunch) to the lightly breaded, pan-fried catfish. Desserts include cobblers, pies and cakes, but since the portions are so big and so few of us practice restraint with the earlier courses, I can't believe many people order them.

Given its rural roots, it seems fitting that Mossville uses paper plates and plastic cups; of course, the small kitchen might present a practical reason for this. No alcoholic beverages are served, but many customers bring in their own libations from the liquor store across the street. Mossville charges $4 for the honor.

Moss says she'd like to expand the menu to include more Cajun-Creole dishes, but she'd need a larger kitchen to do that. And since the room is full most nights, she says she has talked with her sons about moving to a larger site, but so far no plans have been made. "We're a praying family," she says. "When the Lord wants us to move, then we will."

Mossville is inexpensive. Lunch runs $5-$7, dinner $7-$12.

BE THERE

Mossville 70663, 1327 E. 4th St., Long Beach. (562) 495-3100. Wednesday-Friday, lunch 11 a.m.-

2 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, dinner 5:30-9 p.m.; Saturday, noon-9 p.m.; Sunday, noon-7 p.m.

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