Crook’s Corner, a Landmark North Carolina Restaurant, Has Closed

Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which played a key role in the 1980s renaissance of Southern cuisine, has permanently closed, according to owner Shannon Healy.

After reopening in the fall of 2018, Mr. Healy claimed his business found it difficult to get back on its feet as a result of the Covid pandemic that struck in the spring of 2020.


Crook’s Corner, a Landmark North Carolina Restaurant, Has Closed

We’d tried in the past to restructure some of our debt, but we never succeeded, and he detailed how the pandemic had “kind of destroyed us.”

In 1982, Gene Hammer and Bill Neal leased an old fish market to house Crook’s Corner. He established a reputation as a chef when he and his wife, Moreton Neal, opened the French eatery La Résidence in New York City. He wanted Crook’s to be a different kind of Southern eatery, one that revered the cuisine of the area.

This was unique in the early 1980s, says longtime chef Bill Smith of the establishment. He claimed that “Crook’s presented Southern cuisine as excellent cuisine” as opposed to the meals from the Beverly Hillbillies. According to the adage, Neal “insisted Southern cuisine belonged in the pantheon.”

Craig Claiborne, a Southern native and culinary writer for the New York Times, was impressed with the establishment. In an essay from 1985, Mr. Claiborne referred to Mr. Neal as “one of the finest young Southern cooks today.” He particularly commended the Hoppin’ John-style preparation of the fish stew from the Outer Banks known as “muddle.”

Locals affectionately refer to Crook’s as “Crook’s,” and Marcie Cohen Ferris, an emeritus professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, claims that it joined a national movement of chefs and eateries emphasising regional cuisine and ingredients.

There weren’t many places like it in our country during the 1980s, but as Dr. Ferris noted, “it was one of those settings where restaurateurs… farmers, food entrepreneurs, and local craftspeople began to join together.” Due to the influx of young people, Crook’s becomes a breeding ground for cutting-edge Southern food.

Robert Stehling of Charleston, South Carolina, and John Currence of Oxford, Mississippi, two well-known Southern chefs, both worked with Mr. Neal early in their careers.

Mr. Neal had AIDS and Passed Away in 1991 at the Age of 41.

Mr. Smith, who had previously worked with Mr. Neal at La Résidence, continued to serve classic Southern dishes like Atlantic Beach pie, a lemon pie with a saltine cracker crust, and fried oysters with garlic mayonnaise at Crook’s.

The informal restaurant features a fibreglass pig statue and a hubcap collection outside since it has never depended on the trappings of European fine dining. The cuisine was also consistently fresh. Obtaining soft-shell crabs and honeysuckle sorbet on the same evening, in the words of Mr. Smith, was reason for celebration.

Mr. Smith retired when Mr. Healy and Gary Crunkleton acquired Crook’s from Mr. Hammer in 2018. Carrie Schleiffer, Mr. Smith’s chef, took over after Justin Burdett, his replacement, retired in April.

Last Words

Mr. Healy worked at the restaurant as a manager and bartender before becoming a business owner. He explained that one reason he chose to eat there was because the establishment lacked pretence.

He continued, “Instead of calling aioli by its real name, they called it garlic mayonnaise. The idea of quality cuisine being served in a non-white tablecloth environment was first unique. “It was purposeful for the tables to seem old-school diner.”