If you have time for just one barbecue meal in Memphis (or anywhere on planet earth), go to Cozy Corner. It is a hazy storefront shop with a self-service counter, a smoker in the vestibule and blues music playing in the small dining room to the side. Presiding over this small, sweet-smelling empire is Desiree Robinson, widow of the founder, Raymond Robinson, who had been the city’s supreme pitmaster for more than two decades until his passing in 2001. Mrs. Robinson and her children are maintaining the Cozy Corner as it was when Raymond was boss, and it remains THE place to go for unsurpassed barbecue in a city that is full of great barbecue parlors.
Virtually everything you can order off the wall-mounted menu is ecstatically wonderful, but we like the sliced pork shoulder best of all. Blanketed with spice, it develops a devilish blackened crust that seals in the meat’s juices, yielding nuggets that are lip-tingling hot and downright voluptuous. Spare ribs are roasted over charcoal until tender enough to eat with pleasure (but not too tender the way mass-cooked baby back ribs can be). The rib meat is lush and peppery, infused with flavor and yet surprisingly lean. The house specialty is barbecued Cornish hen – a small bird with burnished skin and dripping-moist meat inside. The best-selling dish in the house is barbecued boloney. Baloney is big in Memphis, and it’s on virtually every good smokehouse menu, even though most tourists bypass it for ribs or pulled pork shoulder. Understand that this is no paper-thin slice of pre-cut baloney like you buy in a pack from the cold cut rack of the supermarket. It is a thick slab that gets dry-rubbed with pepper and spice, charcoal-cooked, then sauced and put into a bun with cole slaw: a delicious, piggy mess.
One surprise winner when the 2013 Roadfood eating tour passed through Memphis was Cozy Corner’s smoked beef sausage. It is juicy and radiant with spice.
Among the not-to-be-missed side dishes is barbecued spaghetti: soft noodles bathed in Cozy Corner’s lip-tingling-hot barbecue sauce.