Crook’s Corner, the restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC that helped initiate a renaissance in Southern cuisine beginning in the 1980s, is closed forever, owner Shannon Healy said Wednesday.
Mr Healy said the business, which stalled in the spring of 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic, was struggling to regain its foundations after opening last fall. He serves his last meals on Sunday night.
“The pandemic is crushing us,” he said. “We were trying to reorganize some debt and we just couldn’t do it.”
Crook’s Corner was opened in 1
This was unusual in the early 1980s, said Bill Smith, a longtime chef at the restaurant. “Crook’s southern cuisine treated it like delicious food instead of Beverly Hilbilis food,” he said. Mr Neil “insists that southern cuisine belongs to the pantheon.”
The restaurant caught the attention of Craig Claiborne, a New York Times food editor who was himself a Southerner. In a 1985 article, Mr. Claiborne called Mr. Neil “one of today’s best young chefs from the South” and praised Crook’s versions of John’s jumping, shrimp and grit, and the fish stew from the North Bank’s foreign banks. Carolina.
Crook’s, as locals mentioned it, has become part of a national movement of chefs and restaurants, focusing on local cuisine and ingredients, said Marcy Cohen Ferris, an honorary professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“It was one of those places – and there weren’t many in our country in the ’80s – where restaurateurs, farmers, food businessmen and local artisans were starting to gather,” said Dr. Ferris. “Then Crook’s became this incubator of a new southern cuisine because so many young people pass by.”
James Beard Award winner John Curons of Oxford, Miss. And Robert Stelling of Charleston, South Carolina, are among the prominent chefs of the South who worked with Mr. Neil early in his career.
Mr. Neil died of AIDS at the age of 41 in 1991. Mr. Smith, who works with Mr. Neil at La Résidence, takes over the kitchen at Crook’s and continues to present signature southern dishes, such as fried oysters with garlic mayonnaise and Atlantic Beach Pie, a lemon pie with a salty cracker crust.
The casual restaurant, famous for its fiberglass and pig statue on the outside, never relied on the attributes of European gourmet dishes. And the menu was always seasonal. “If you can take crabs with soft shells and honeysuckle sorbet that night, that was a reason to celebrate,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith retires shortly after Mr Healy and his business partner, Gary Crankleton, bought Crook’s from Mr Hammer in 2018. Carrie Schleiffer took over as chef from Justin Burdett, Mr Smith’s successor, in April .
Mr. Healy was a bartender and restaurant manager for years before becoming an owner. He said he was attracted to the restaurant in part because of a lack of pretensions.
“Instead of making simple things look fantastic, they did the opposite,” he said, using the words “garlic mayonnaise” on the menu instead of aioli. “The tables deliberately looked like an old diner. When it opened, the idea that you were making excellent food in a white tablecloth was quite different. “