Having been featured in Garden & Gun and awarded 2011 America’s Classic by The James Beard Foundation Crook’s Corner was entered with extremely high expectations – even for brunch. We were not disappointed. The meal was excellent, the decor was eclectic – there is even a story behind the restaurant that is nothing short of amazing –
In the late 1940’s, Rachel Crook ran a fish market & cafe where Crook’s currently stands: at the corner of West Franklin Street and Merritt Mill Road just before the West End of Chapel Hill ends and turns into the town of Carrboro.
In 1951, at this intersection, Rachel Crook was murdered. The case was never solved.
Since then the Crook’s building has served as a taxi stand, bait & tackle shop, pool hall and then, for years stood deserted. In 1978, Cam Hill (a local boy & former Town Council Member) remodeled the dilapidated building and opened a BBQ house.
Soon after, 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.
Bill Smith came to Crook’s from the Bill and Moreton Neal-established La Residence restaurant by way of the Cat’s Cradle, which he co-founded in the 1970’s. His musical, literary and culinary interests may explain why the Sanford Herald called him “Chapel Hill’s most quintessential resident.” A writer as well as an intuitive chef, his essays (commenting on such profound pleasures as “Cuisine de Gran Mere and Covered-dish Suppers,” “Why Collards May Have Saved the South and are a New Year’s Tradition,” “Foraging for Flowers to make Honeysuckle Sorbet”) are often featured in newspapers and on radio and television.
Brunch was great. Now we need to go back for a Carolina ‘Cue Wednesday. If you are in the area or up for the short ride from Raleigh I highly recommend this place. It rivals many of my favorite spots close to home and while eggs and biscuits may not be worth traveling for on a regular basis – taking a ride for BBQ is never a problem.