December 2015

December, 2015

Dear Friends,

Bill Smith here, writing the December letter, thinking to tell you what I might like to know if I were reading the Crook's letter.

We do not play Christmas Carols per se, but the soundtrack has glimmers of nostalgia (the good kind). And sometimes the television is turned on, without sound, for townies and alumns alike to watch the games when in the bar. Sometimes we see a good many to-go orders on game nights (good idea) and these to-go order placers when picking up their orders enjoying the bar, realizing they could have watched the games here. Throughout December, the inside dining room and bar sort of hums with excitement.

Lots of longtime customers, some home for the holidays, stop by before or after a party or with family or coworkers making for themselves a small party.  I like how Crook's is a gathering place.  

We have a number of plates for sharing around the table. Gayle Murrell suggests the Shrimp and Crab Calas. Beth Smith recommends the Chunky Country Pate with onion jam and garlic toasts, a few olives, pickled okra. I'm a fan of both of those dishes, but also the Fried Oysters and the Cracker Plate (pimento cheese & hot pepper jelly and cream cheese). Cocktails are necessary. Kyle Yamakawa has found his Nectar cocktail featuring Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, served in a festive martini glass, an all-around favorite to remind us of warmer days. He also has the classic cocktails, some more fun inventions, sparkling wines, local beers, the works.

Ducks may be flying onto the menu this coming Wednesday, with any luck. For Holiday Duck I'll need cranberries so I have placed an order so that I can make the sauce for the dish which features a confit leg served along slices of breast. This, Cheese Pork, and the Steak with Bourbon Brown Sauce and French Fries would be my top choices for dinner right now. 


Here's what we have in the way of gifts to buy at bar or on our newly gussied up website ( if you need to handle some shopping while not racing around. For home cooks, I'll suggest my new book Crabs & Oysters. Shannon Healy suggests Alley Twenty Six Tonic (which can be purchased at the bar or at I like both but also a gift certificate in any amount, which you can also pick up during the day if you call first. If placing an order online in hopes that it will arrive before Christmas, it must be placed before Friday, December 18th. There are more items for sale at the bar.

Gene is out of town this week but wanted me to remind all that we have two 'Cue Wednesdays on this month: Southern Smoke in Garland on Wednesday, December 16th. And then on Wednesday, December 30th something entirely different: Sweatman's in Holly Hill, SC.

Other dates to bear in mind are the nights we'll be closed: December 22nd thru the 25th but will be back open on Saturday, December 26. We are also closed on December 31st & January 1st.

Hope to see you before then, soon.

Bill Smith

November 2015


Hello Friends,


You might have noticed the Halloween skeleton riding the pig up on the rooftop through Homecoming weekend. In fact, as of today, he or she is still up there due to all the rain we've had lately which has prevented Mark Elliott & I from venturing up on the roof. But we've found him/her amusing & hope you have also.  Not so much with all this rain although the plants have benefited. Seth Hand has put the pots in Fall/Winter mode with ornamental cabbages, budding snapdragons & colorful pansies (Mike Klein's favorite). The Beautyberry Bushes are displaying their plump purple berries soon to be ravished by birds, the Lantanas giving their last hurrah and the bowl of Pitcher Plants have intensified their color in a last display before Winter sets them back. No worries they all will be back next Spring. 

Speaking of Fall, Bill Smith has constructed a Menu with some old favorites along with some new offerings. I'll start with desserts. 

(photo courtesy of the Local Palate)

Persimmon Pudding  has maybe one week left . Persimmons are the star in The Local Palate magazine's Thanksgiving issue too. Bill Smith tells of our friend, now 90-years-old, Mrs. Mary Andrews, who started bringing in buckets of native persimmons years ago collected by spreading out sheets underneath her trees. Now her son & daughter-in-law do most of the gathering although, knowing her, I'm sure she still has her hand in it. Thank you for the great reporting from The Local Palate editor Maggie White. 


Apple Rum Skillet Cake  is a new item that's just right. Bill Smith recommends it with freshly whipped cream or his churned vanilla ice cream-or why not both.

New too is Deep Purple Scuppernong Sorbet. Note: Muscadines are green and Scuppernongs are purple (though the two NC native grapes are often conflated/confused for each other). People seem in awe of the color intensity, a rich purple, but it's the taste that has impressed me. Reminds me of when I was a kid and we would pick them off a neighbor's vine; thick skinned with seeds and somewhat difficult to eat but rewarding for the effort with the intense sweetness. We got a nice case of juice from Carolina Wild whose byline about the native grape is "a Southern Secret since 1594". We suggest you order at least one cup and share if you are doing an around-the-table sampling of sweets, as many do. 

How many of you have tasted Turtle Soup? Do you know the writer Jack Hitt? Now is your chance to be in the know, as of Tuesday and probably only for this week, it's on the menu in response to the extensive piece in Saveur magazine "What Ever Happened to Turtle Soup: Exploring the Disappearance (and Rediscovery) of a Centuries-Old Culinary Tradition" taking us on a trip back to the founding of the U.S., into the mountains for turtle hunting and landing in the kitchen at Crook's where Bill Smith and Jack Hitt cook up some fine Cooter Stew (they call it). Bill Smith shares his recipe within this extraordinary piece of food journalism that we recommend you read in this November issue of Saveur. The soup for-"the poor and privileged man alike....sought out for its legendary flavor" is on now and we'll see how many of you give it a go!  See why "no dish says democracy like turtle soup." You can read it here.

(Photo by Matt Taylor-Gross for Saveur)

Here are the top nine dishes to try at Crook's in November (you might have your own ideas from the full menu):

1/ Persimmon Pudding (This week only (probably)-highly seasonal as the berries don't freeze that well.)

2/ Scuppernong Sorbet

3/ Apple Rum Skillet Cake (w/ whipped cream, ice cream, or both)

4/ Turtle Soup (A nod to Saveur's article. This week only.)

5/ Fried Oysters with garlic mayonnaise!

6/ Steak Frites (Grilled NY Strips with Bill Smith's Bourbon-Brown Sauce, a Bordelaise sauce over crispy fresh French fries.)

7/ Crab Claws Biscayne  (Broiled w/ Bacon and a Citrus Relish.)

8/ Carolina Q (Featuring Snook's from Advance, NC, on November 18th). Q Wednesdays have been so popular that beginning in January I will be going out every instead of every other.

9/ Cheese Pork! One helluva pork schnitzel and a major favorite. Yum!! Begins next week.

Many might add to that list the return of Bill Smith's Seasoned in the South favorites we'll have on through December: Green Tabasco Chicken (½ roasted bird doused with Green Tabasco Sauce, served w/ mashed potatoes & sautéed leeks & cabbage), the B&B Salad (Brussels sprouts & blue cheese crumbles w/ red onions & toasted walnuts), and Southern RisottoWoodfruit's oyster mushrooms, with Anson Mills' Carolina Gold rice.

New additions to the growing Crook's Corner Bar LibraryBill Smith's new recipe and story collection, Crabs & Oysters;  Saveur's November issue,; The Local Palate's November issue; and the four finalists for the third annual Crook's Corner Book Prize just announced. Esteemed author and Hillsborough neighbor Lee Smith chooses the winner to be announced on January 4th. Here are the novels set in the Southern U.S. that made the cut from the 18 on the longlist. If you don't know these authors, that's OK because they are emerging writers; the goal of the prize is to recognize first published novels. The Final Four:

Jam on the Vine , by LaShonda Katrice Barnett

The Mauraders , by Tom Cooper

Soil , by Jamie Kornegay

Against the Country , by Ben Metcalf

 Read more here  about the finalists and about the only book prize in the U.S. hosted by a restaurant (that's us, Crook's)

And if you prefer listening rather than reading, we recommend ,as NPR has recently: "Bill Smith Turns up the Volume" as a great podcast. Listen here.

Bar Notes: Looking for a wine to pair with Bill Smith's Turtle Soup?  Manager Kyle has put the Tellus Vinea, a 2011 Bordeaux, on the list just for this very dish. "The Tellus Vinea strikes a nice balance between earthiness and fruit.  There is a little bit of truffle and black olive hanging out there with the cherry and blackberry notes. Wonderful with the unique Turtle Soup or any heavy-duty, hearty fall foods."


On The Walls:  For November, Julia Kennedy's vibrant, colorful abstracts.


As always, thank you for your friendship and patronage,


Gene Hamer


October 2015



October, 2015

Hello Friends,

Aren't we all loving the sunshine? Been a while.

The return of 'Q Wednesdays begins tonight with BBQ from Pik-n-Pigin Carthage, NC.  Maybe it's just me but I think BBQ tastes the best during the cooler months so 'Q Wednesdays will happen every other Wednesday beginning October 2015 and will run through April 2016.  I've lined up some new places that we haven't featured along with a couple of old favorites.  This run I will venture across state lines to bring back 'Q from Scott's in Hemingway, SC on Oct. 21.  Rodney Scott is an old SFA buddy of Bill Smith's and serves up some fine 'Q from what I've heard.  Another SC BBQ house I'm headed to on Dec. 30 is Sweatman's in Holly Hill, SC.  Sweatman's is known for their mustard based BBQ so we're looking forward to that experience.  Check out the schedule now booked through the end of 2015 on our webpage.

In case you missed Bob Garner's television report or Kirk Ross'sIndependent Weekly cover story or the Stasio WUNC radio interview, Bill Smith has a new book out: CRABS & OYSTERS. 

Thanks are in tall order for the 100+ who joined in at Shannon Healy's cocktail bar, Alley Twenty Six, for the terrific kick-off hosted by the Alley Twenty Sixers, the UNC Press team and the Durham chef posse that cooked their favorite recipes from the book: Phoebe Lawless of Scratch (Oyster Cobbler), Matt Kelly of Mateo (Grilled Oysters), Amy Tornquist of Watt's Grocery (Crab-Deviled Eggs), Andrea Reusing of Lantern and the Durham Hotel (Crab Aspic), Billy & Kelli Cotter of Dashi and Toast (Louis Osteen's Oyster Stew), and Ricky Moore of the Saltbox (Crab Dip).  Thanks to all who joined in the fine party to toast Bill Smith, including Beth Smith who ran the show and Andrea Healy's mother who did the flowers. 

Sorry if the above made you sorry you missed!  We have copies of the book with all these recipes on the bookshelf behind the bar.

"And these Crabs & Oysters recipes will unfurl on the menu and come and go all season," promises Bill Smith.  "I'm especially looking forward to serving Louis Osteen's Oyster Stew (with toasted sesame seeds)...Louis has always done things I think I wish I'd thought of myself." 

On this week's Crook's Corner calendar: 

Wednesday: Q from Pick-n-Pig in Carthage. 
Thursday: Bill Smith is co-hosting an early evening wine-and-seafood pairing class w/ glasses of great wines served by Max Kast at Fearrington -and a copy of Crabs & Oysters. And back at the restaurant, we expect to see the return of Fried Oysters! 
Weekend: Bill Smith is on daytime panel at Terra Vita (Chapel Hill's food festival). And back at the restaurant we welcome all those in town for Terra Vita to stop by before or after the events for get-togethers, drinks, dinners and Sunday Brunch.  

THE CROOK'S TOP EIGHT.... a.k.a. the foods you might want to consider ordering in October (up to you to decide the order): 

1/ Persimmon Pudding (The taste of fall.  Bill Neal's recipe.  Persimmon's from Mrs. Andrews.) 

2/ Braised Pork Shank w/ Mississippi Fried Corn (The dish that wowed the Southern Foodways Alliance last October.  Fried Corn adopted after an early SFA trip to Jackson, MS.) 

3/ Fried Oysters (Bill Smith's unequaled masterful Maseca dusted, crispy rendition.)

4/ Brussels Sprouts and Blue Cheese Salad.  (A fall salad with olive oil, sea salt, onions, walnuts, greens.) 

5/ Carolina Fish Fry (Crazy-good-enough to inhale this flounder.) 

6/ Spicy Macaroni & Cheese (Made w/ Farmer's Daughter Brand Hot Sauce topped with Sriracha drizzle.)

7/ Carolina Q on Wednesday, October 7 (Pik-n-Pig from Lexington.)

8/ Carolina Q on Wednesday, October 21 (Scott's from Hemingway, SC.)

Bar Notes: Manager Kyle has put together a nice fall Italian wine feature for us with wines that range from the crisp and refreshing Macrina Verdicchio (with notes of fall apple) to the Ma RoatValpolicella which Kyle claims is "The best wine for 'Q Wednesday. It has a nice medium body, so it doesn't wrestle with the pork.  It features fine notes of smoke, tobacco and surprisingly, a slatey-coal essence. Really delicious."

On the WallsJamie McPhail's encaustic paintings through October.

As always, thank you for your friendship and patronage. 

Gene Hamer