Best Bets: Cornish Game Hens

The Cornish game hens at Cozy Corner are the second-most-popular item at the restaurant.

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

The Cornish game hens at Cozy Corner are the second-most-popular item at the restaurant.

When I think of Cozy Corner, I think of Cornish game hen. This is the only barbecue restaurant -- or anywhere else for that matter -- I know of that serves them.

The hens, which sell for $10.75, are the second-most-popular item at the restaurant, after ribs and before bologna and wings, said owner Desiree Robinson. She and her husband, the late Raymond Robinson, discovered Cornish game hens at a restaurant when they were living in Denver.

The Cornish game hens at Cozy Corner are the second-most-popular item at the restaurant.

Photo by Michael Donahue

The Cornish game hens at Cozy Corner are the second-most-popular item at the restaurant.

They didn't like the barbecue in Denver, so they began barbecuing at home. Friends liked their 'cue, including the Cornish game hen, so they opened up their first restaurant, Ray's BBQ, 50 or so years ago in Denver.

They opened Cozy Corner after moving back to their hometown of Memphis. "Cozy Corner" was the name of the place that was there before they opened in 1977 -- "the year and month Elvis died." They also kept the old place's phone number and furniture. Her husband didn't like to spend money. "He would hold a nickel until the eagle faded off."

Desiree doesn't know what the old Cozy Corner was. A customer once told her, "The last time I was in there I saw a woman sitting up on the counter shooting dice."

She knows they served barbecue because of the Chicago-style barbecue pit, which they still use. The charcoal and the fire weren't as close to the grill as other grills.

As for the Cornish game hens, customers had to "get used to that little chicken." They would ask, "Where did y'all get those little chickens?"

Why is the Cornish game hen so popular? "First of all, it's so pretty," Desiree said, indicating the miniature whole chicken in front of me. "Look at that. Isn't that cute?"

One of Desiree's grandchildren, Shun Williams, 13, was my server. I snapped a photo of the hen and then took it back to my desk at work, where, instead of the plastic knife and fork, I used my hands to tear it apart and savor every smoky, tangy bite.

Cozy Corner, 745 North Parkway, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call: 527-9158.

Michael Donahue: 529-2797. donahue@commercialappeal.com

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