For The Majestic Grille, COVID-19 was the mother of re-invention.
Owners Deni and Patrick Reilly have not reopened the Downtown restaurant, not yet comfortable putting staff and diners at any risk. They are, however, putting their kitchen and patio to work, but completely transformed.
On Wednesday, July 15, the Reillys will unveil Cocozza American Italian. It’s a ghost concept, a virtual restaurant operating out of The Majestic kitchen but with an entirely separate brand and identity.
“The Majestic is not really viable right now with the current state of the economy and with the absence of our main revenue sources,” states Patrick. “Not only is the business not there yet, we’re just not comfortable putting our staff at risk indoors in a dining room setting with all the unknowns. When we reopen The Majestic Grille, we want it to be the full ‘majestic’ experience that both our staff and patrons crave.”
When Cocozza (pronounced cu-COH-zuh) opens next week, diners will have three ways to enjoy. To-go customers can order, prepay, and tip online at www.cocozzamemphis.com, and pick up orders at reserved, sign-posted spaces at Peabody Place and Main in their car or on foot at the entrance of The Majestic Grille. Or, Cocozza staff (wearing masks, of course) will bring orders to patrons in their cars.
You can also enjoy dinner on the newly decorated Majestic patio. That experience is touchless; menus and payments all available on your phone.
Can we talk about the food already, please? Yes. The food at Cocozza is the food that made you fall in love with food in the first place.
Cocozza offered a media preview of some of the dishes and drinks on their menu. It was an Italian feast in two bags. These two bags right here:
Here’s everything that was in those bags. Holy moly. (Yep, even the table cloth and red candle.)
We started with the antipasti plate, natch. It was a perfect mix of cured meats, cheese, and pickles, and roasted red peppers. It’s recommended for two to share but it was plenty for three of us and some leftover.
The baked garlic bread was simple and everything you want garlic bread to be. If it was an online date, the garlic bread's ID photo would perfectly match it IRL. Crunchy, soft, garlic-y, and perfectly cheesy.
Cocozza’s bucatini alla enzo (Italian, I suppose, for all good things put together) is big, airy noodles tossed with prosciutto, pancetta, mushrooms, peas, garlic, and olive oil.
The spinach manicotti really hits you in the comfort zone. Its secret sauce is the secret sauce. Cocozza describes its red sauce as “old school red sauce.” And it shows.
I always wondered what Henry Hill’s (Ray Liotta) meat gravy tasted like in "Goodfellas." Remember? He’s making it all coked up while constantly checking outside to see if the helicopters were still flying over? No? Check it here at around the :30 mark.
It’s the kind of red sauce that takes all day. The kind you don’t have patience for so you splash some Ragu over some ziti and — bada-bing — that’s amore.
Cocozza has that time and you can taste it right there in the sauce. It was amazing on the manicotti, the eggplant parmesan (which hits the comfort-food bullseye), the meatballs, and the pencil points (penne). I'd probably eat the red sauce on a road-weary steel belt.
But the favorite of the preview, though, was the chicken piccata. I’ve probably seen this on menus and passed it right over. Never again. It’s a sautéed cutlet with lemon, capers, and white wine butter. After Cocozza’s, though, I’m not passing on the piccata ever again, especially theirs.
The drink menu is filled with Italian classics. The Pirlo is a white wine and Campari mix poured over Pellegrino and ice. The Spaghett “has hot summer day written all over it,” says Cocozza. For it, pour a Memphis Made Junt, add Aperol, with a squeeze of lemon. You will want to do this. The Frozen Strawberry Surrender is Old Dominick Honeybell Vodka Aperol, lemon juice, and strawberry syrup.
“We’ve pulled from family cookbooks, dishes from our favorite Jersey restaurants, and American Italian traditions that Deni and her family grew up with,” says Patrick Reilly.
The Cocozza food and drink menus are full, maybe not what I thought with a ghost-concept restaurant. You can indulge childhood favorites, like fried mozzarella and ravioli. Or, get a grilled filet or baked salmon oreganata.
Either way, Cocazza is as versatile as the Reillys during this pandemic. Order it in (or sit on the patio) if you’re trying to impress that special someone. Or, order it in and get that added layer of comfort as you and yours lounge on the couch in your sweats.
Oh, the name, right. Cocozza comes from Deni Reilly’s American Italian roots. Her grandfather’s family came from a tiny town called Filignano in what is now the Molise Region of Italy where generations of Cocozza men served as mayor. Just like many turn-of-the-century immigrants, her great-grandfather, went by another name, Ferguson, when he arrived in the states, forgoing the family name, Cocozza.
Don't forget about the Helen's Favorite Tiramisu. It'll be your favorite soon, too.
For more information, look 'em up on Insta, Facebook, and Twitter all at @CocozzaMemphis.