Crook’s continues to live up to its national reputation as a temple of Southern cuisine. Whether you opt for traditional fare such as fried oysters and gumbo or New Southern dishes such as sweetbreads sautéed with Wild Turkey and the restaurant’s standard-setting shrimp and grits, it’s hard to go wrong. Desserts, from homemade ice creams to better-than-mama’s banana pudding, are worth the calories. The narrow dining room can get noisy; a bamboo-enclosed patio offers escape in warm weather. Brunch: Crook’s dinnertime reputation as one of the area’s best spots to sample the new Southern cuisine translates beautifully to the brunch menu. Here you’ll find what some consider to be the original shrimp and grits, as well as an a la carte selection including huge buttermilk pancakes, omelets, oyster po’ boy or fried catfish sandwich, and eggs Benedict on country ham and a homemade English muffin. If the weather’s nice, you can brunch on one of the area’s prime patios.
Everything that happens in Chapel Hill radiates from Franklin Street ... but single-minded, we head to the end of Franklin Street to Crook’s Corner. Crooks is hard to miss. There is a pig on the roof. I have yet to eat an average meal at Crook’s Corner - the food is consistently outstanding, sort of nouvelle down home.
Sacred ground for Southern foodies ... Crook’s is a nightly celebration
ON THE TOMATO & WATERMELON SALAD: FIVE STARS: “refreshing.. Bill Smith says he developed this dish after paying a visit to his former chefs in Mexico, where he discovered a range of dishes that melded sweet, spicy and sour flavors.”
ON THE GREEN PEACH SALAD: “It was so simple, but salty, sweet, juicy, savory ... I am absolutely dying to have it again...”
The best place to eat in Chapel Hill, in North Carolina and possibly on Earth.
ON THE HOUSE-CURED CORNED HAMS FROM EASTERN NC: FIVE STARS “deliciously moist ham is cured in salt (a process known as corning)”
ON HONEY SUCKLE SORBET: “Bill Smith is an expert at dishes with ethereal, rustic ingredients, such as honeysuckle sorbet made from flowers he collects on bike rides.”
We are lucky in that a lot of people who work here have stayed for a long time. And, to have just had two chefs through all these years is remarkable. I think we’ve been pretty fortunate.
It may seem an odd claim to fame, but the shrimp and grits introduced on the menu here by the late Bill Neal helped bring respectability to Southern Food everywhere. The tradition continues with the kind of regional favorites that are so in vogue now, served in a lively atmosphere in this quirky restaurant.
At first glance, the Crook’s Corner menu remains mostly vintage Neal ... but a closer look reveals the personal stamp of Bill Smith. The combination is a winner.
Country Cookin’ Gone Cool ... Then: bait shop and juke joint. Now: crazed folk-art animals on the roof, postgraduates in the kitchen. Waiters deconstruct the War Between the States as they serve your jalapeno-cheese hush puppies and oyster-and-filet mignon scalawags. Get in line for Crook’s signature dish: shrimp and grits with bacon, scallions, and mushrooms.
It’s outside on the patio where the restaurant transforms ... bamboo stalks surround the patio .. Small details make Crook’s a perfect meal from the beginning. Sitting beside the iced tea was a syrup container filled with lime-green liquid - mint-infused water ... This incredible eatery is accessible to students, and the intimate atmosphere is perfect ...
“When I do get to my parent’s home in New Bern, the holiday is a real event. Sometimes we have up to 40 people. Everyone stays late and talks. It’s really loud. If we bring guests, they just sit, stunned. They can’t get a word in.” The Smith family tradition includes, thanks to Bill’s twist his Dad’s tradition: “Corned Ham (short-cured ham an Eastern North Carolina specialty),Collard Greens with Cornmeal Dumplings,and Pig-Pickin’ Cake among other fine things.”
“Cooks like Smith have learned to keep the best of Southern cooking - it’s farm-based freshness, seasonality and variety ... Smith’s style of modern Southern cooking includes honeysuckle sorbet, catfish amondine and chicken roasted with green Tabasco. And Smith, who says he eats a bowl of collards and a bowl of black-eyed peas every day, grows positively rhapsodic when it comes to Eastern North Carolina corned ham. (His father used to send him hams from New Bern before Smith learned the curing technique himself.) “Southerners who come to Crook’s Corner like to be reminded of their childhood ... “
“My cooking harkens back to things I ate when I was growing up, but not in a museum-like way”, says Bill Smith, a New Bern (Eastern North Carolina) native. “This is not a theme park.”
“I’ve had to tap into my childhood and stir it up: ... the big midday meal, everyday ... the things I remember from Church picnics ...”
Bill Smith shares truly magical southern dishes & unveils an exciting new chapter in our region’s cuisine.
I love what Bill Smith does,
He always seems to remember, uncannily, his guests’ favorite foods...
Bill Smith’s South is not fixed in some moonlight and magnolias past. At Crook’s Corner, kindly grandmothers, Vietnamese immigrants, and scraggly rock and rollers hold sway; saffron and salt pork coexist; and the door swings wide to welcome all.
Media Contact: Katharine Walton Represent