A few days ago, while still in Chapel Hill, I wrote about our dinner with Joel at Lantern. (Boy was it good!) Crook’s Corner Cafe and Bar is another famous Chapel Hill restaurant. After our day in Greensboro — during which we visited the three museums described in the preceding posts but failed to eat lunch — we picked up Joel and arrived at Crook’s Corner for an early dinner.
It’s a pretty low-key place, with a pig on the roof. According to the quotes on the website homepage, “Crook’s continues to live up to its national reputation as a temple of Southern cuisine” (Raleigh News & Observer) and is “sacred ground for Southern foodies” (NYT). I don’t have much of a baseline. This was more a chance to learn what one eats at a temple of southern cuisine than to judge.
From the website again, I find that in 1982,
Bill Neal and Gene Hamer thought this the perfect venue to pursue Southern cuisine. Neal wrote several acclaimed cookbooks, including Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking and Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie and placed Crook’s on the culinary map. Crook’s has the reputation for being “the birthplace of Shrimp and Grits.” The often copied dish became famous after Craig Claiborne wrote about it in The New York Times. It’s still wildly popular and Crook’s has served it in the late chef’s style now for more than 25 years.
You may wish to have a look at the menu, here.
To start, we shared three dishes: the cheddar hushpuppies with cocktail sauce; the gumbo z’herbes: green gumbo made with Caw Caw Creek country ham; and the Crook’s house salad: mixed greens with mustard vinaigrette. The initial idea was that Gail and Joel would share the hushpuppies while I ate the salad, but I couldn’t stop tasting those hushpuppies. Plus, there was plenty of salad to go around. So we all had a little of everything.
For dinner, I couldn’t decide between the Cajun ribeye, served with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, and the Cajun red snapper with creole vegetables and baked cheese grits. Neither could Gail. When I chose the ribeye, she chose the snapper. Joel had the famous shrimp and grits: shrimp sautéed with bacon, mushrooms and scallions and served over cheese grits. I intended to taste Gail’s snapper, but it was gone before I knew it. I was happy with mine. I never did get Joel’s verdict on the shrimp and grits.
For dessert, we all shared the Mt. Airy chocolate soufflé cake with fresh whipped cream. Very rich, plenty for three.
My verdict? As I said, I wasn’t there to judge. I’m still learning. I sure liked those hushpuppies though.