Pasta Carbonara may just be the perfect Italian brunch dish. Eggs and bacon make up the base of the luscious sauce that accompanies this quintessential pasta dish. It’s the marriage of breakfast and lunch all in one meal.
That classic along with Italian Sausage Frittatas, Ricotta Pancakes and Polenta & Shrimp Arrabbiata are just a few of the Italian-inspired dishes that are on Cocozza’s brunch menu.
Patrick and Deni Reilly call Cocozza a “ghost restaurant.” In July, the couple was not ready to reopen its Downtown eatery, The Majestic Grille. So, they decided to open a takeout and pop-up patio restaurant serving the “Red Sauce” Italian fare Deni grew up eating in New Jersey. On Oct. 9, they opened the restaurant for indoor dining, keeping the Cocozza concept for now. (The Reillys say The Majestic will return when they feel it’s safe to open it “in all its majestic-ness.”)
Weekend brunch was added to the offerings Sept. 19. I met a friend for brunch the following weekend for what turned out to be a lovely al fresco brunch on the restaurant’s South Main Street patio.
Start with an Italian-inspired libation such as an Aperol Spritz ($9) or Bellini ($6). That’s what we did.
Due its popularity at The Majestic Grille, the Reillys added the “Majestic” Mimosa ($22), a bottle of champagne served with a carafe of orange juice, to the brunch cocktail menu. I personally am not a fan of Bloody Marys, but if I were, Cocozza’s version would most likely be a favorite. The “Antipasti” Bloody Mary ($10) is made with Old Dominick vodka and comes with a skewer of Italian meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables. When a server brought one to the table next to us, my dining companion said, “That looks like a meal!”
There are several starters on the menu. We tried the Crispy Eggplant Fries ($7). Tender pieces of eggplant are battered in a crispy crust that is seasoned with Italian spices. The “fries” are served with a side of marinara for the dipping sauce.
The entrée portion of the menu is divided into sandwiches, “American Italian Brunch Classics,” and traditional brunch entrees. We couldn’t decide, so we ordered something from each section to share. (You are supposed to nap after brunch, right?)
At Deni’s suggestion, we tried the Pork Roll Breakfast Sandwich ($11).
“Pork Roll or Taylor Ham is taken as seriously in Trenton, N.J., as ribs are in Memphis,” Deni said of her hometown’s favorite breakfast meat.
This unique type of ham is served on a breakfast sandwich with egg and provolone cheese, as a garnish on the Trenton Thunderburger ($14) or as an eggs benedict ($12).
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The Ricotta & Lemon Pancakes ($12) were light and fluffy with just the right hint of lemon.
Cocozza offers three types of frittatas. We ordered the Italian Sausage Frittata ($12) on the recommendation of our server. This hearty egg dish was packed with flavor thanks to the generous additions of sweet Italian sausage and sautéed peppers and onions. The finishing touch — that made the dish in my opinion — is a drizzle of a house-made white vodka sauce.
And let’s talk about that Spaghetti Carbonara ($14) I mentioned earlier. Cocozza’s version is as traditional as it can get. The sauce is made from pancetta (Italian bacon), eggs and Parmesan. It’s a classic done right.
When we dined at Cocozza for brunch, we ate outdoors. It was a fun atmosphere on a beautiful and sunny day. Red checkered table clothes and friendly service complemented the experience. I felt like all the COVID-19 safety guidelines were being followed — tables spaced apart, masks on all employees and touchless QR-code menus. I haven’t dined inside yet, but knowing the Reillys’ concerns and attention to details, I would imagine it would be a safe indoor environment.
And on a side note, I took a few pancakes home with me. They were just as delicious the next day reheated in the toaster oven.
Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining Reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.
At a glance
Cocozza American Italian
Where: 145 S. Main St.
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for Saturday brunch; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. for Sunday brunch
Phone: (901) 523-0523
Reservations: Recommended, call (901) 523-0523