(Part 3 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series!)
After occupying a permanent address in North Carolina for almost fourteen years, the fact that i only made my first sojourn to Crook’s Corner this past Sunday is, frankly, embarrassing. Crook’s is more than one of the most hallowed restaurants in town – it is something of a local landmark, the pig on a stake soaring above the traffic clouding the corner unction of Franklin and South Merritt Mill. The New York Times was so bold to describe Crook’s as “sacred ground for Southern foodies,” so to have gone neglected on my budding-foodie palette is a travesty.
My first impression of Crook’s was from afar, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. The pig-on-a-stick is pretty unmistakable on this frequented crossroads in the town of Chapel Hill, and the word-of-mouth rumblings over the delectability of Crook’s shrimp & grits had me salivating at the opportunity to enter this hive of thieves and villainy.
Apparent to me now, in retrospect, is the trueness and spirit present in Crook’s Corner that was then salient in my first impressions. Crook’s is a place of quirks found in the small places; the sign is unusual, distinct, and very much detail-oriented. In much the same way, the hullabaloo over the food wasn’t over the breadth of the menu – it was over, most famously, the flavorful and well-attended grits. They say the devil is in the details and, in a place named (in double entendre) for crookery and criminality, it makes sense to me such attention to particularities transitively carries through.
Such attention to distinction is displayed for all to see when entering crooks on the walls lining the way to the door – walls lined with hub caps of fascinating patterns and sizes. I’m sure to someone who knows (or cares) about cars, there is a story to be told here, but i mostly find them intriguing because of their geometric intricacy and characteristic quirk true to this restaurant.
Once inside, the artistry is unceased. Lining the interior surfaces are works of art that fill the inside dining space with color and vibrancy. And on every surface there are pigs – along the tiled walls around the booths, above the bar, and in some of the artwork. Alas, from where we were seated i couldn’t really get a good enough picture to share! And though Crook’s has been awarded for its phenomenal patio seating, we opted for the indoors to stave off the heat. I suppose, then, that shall require a second visit to experience the outside dining adventure!
In such idiosyncracies the nature of Crook’s southern cuisine shines through; the Tabasco sauce on the table, the tea served with a minty simple syrup to sweeten to your preference, and a menu dripping with fatty foods and more grits than you could swim through.
So when it came time to place our order (from a wonderful and attentive server, i might add), i went for the “Eggs New Bern” which are a (true to form) bit of a twist on your standard Eggs Benedict. The company i was with went for a myriad of selections; to name a few, my mom went with the bold choice of the renowned shrimp & grits, and J went for the steak tenderloin omelette.
For me, the food certainly did not disappoint. Ever a fan of Eggs Benedict, i loved the twist of the doughy biscuits with the thinly sliced ham, hollandaise sauce, poached eggs, and topping of some kind of yummy spices. J was singing the praises of his omelette, exclaiming that the steak was cooked through the way he preferred but magically retained its tenderness and delectability.
My mother, however, did not care for her shrimp & grits, claiming they were “too salty.” Both J and i found them to be perfectly satisfactory; they were loaded with flavor and bursting with this (now beloved) Crook’s southern comfort with a quirk. So i suppose, future crooks and hog villains, be warned if you’re no fan of MSG or salty shrimp!
All food consumed and details considered, i would highly recommend this corner of the world should you be looking for something quintessentially Carolina with a subtle kick of unconventional flavor! Though the atmosphere is not nearly as entrenched in memory and feta cheese like Elmo’s, or urban-nerd like Bull McCabes, Crook’s has certainly won a corner of my foodie heart in the Triangle area of NC. The savory menu and pig paraphernalia makes it worth the wait!
Price: 1.8 – 2.5 (0 being fast food, 5 being somewhere super-fancy and of multiple courses (this menu is also contingent on size of portion & time of day)) Atmosphere: 3.8 (0 being fast food boring, 5 being the full experience of delicious things for eyes and mouth and ears!) Delectability of Food: 4.0 (0 being fast food, 5 being mouth-explosion crazed-good)
For future Crooks: the website, the menu, and a yelp profile. (Of note: the menu is changed daily, and though some staples are pretty consistently present on the menu, i recommend going to the website for the most up-to-date munchies should you be reading this in the far-distant future!)
current jam: “free” zac brown band.
best thing: top gear and good tips.