Crook’s Nook, a Landmark North Carolina Restaurant, Has Closed
Crook’s Nook, the restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., that helped spark a renaissance in Southern delicacies beginning within the Eighties, has completely closed, Shannon Healy, an proprietor, stated Wednesday.
Mr. Healy stated the enterprise, which shut down within the spring of 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic, struggled to regain its footing after reopening final fall. It served its ultimate meals on Sunday evening.
“The pandemic form of crushed us,” he stated. “We have been attempting to reorganize some debt, and we simply couldn’t get it achieved.”
Crook’s Nook was opened in 1982 by Gene Hamer and Invoice Neal inside a former fish market. Mr. Neal had made his title domestically as a chef with the French restaurant La Résidence, which he opened along with his spouse, Moreton Neal. He envisioned Crook’s as a new form of Southern restaurant: a place the place the area’s meals could be handled with reverence.
This was uncommon within the early Eighties, stated Invoice Smith, a longtime chef on the restaurant. “Crook’s handled Southern delicacies prefer it was scrumptious delicacies as an alternative of the meals of the Beverly Hillbillies,” he stated. Mr. Neal “insisted Southern delicacies belonged within the pantheon.”
The restaurant caught the eye of Craig Claiborne, the New York Occasions meals editor, who was himself a Southerner. In a 1985 article, Mr. Claiborne known as Mr. Neal “considered one of in the present day’s most interesting younger Southern cooks,” and praised Crook’s variations of hoppin’ John, shrimp and grits and muddle, a fish stew from the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Crook’s, as locals referred to it, turned a part of a nationwide motion of cooks and eating places specializing in native delicacies and substances, stated Marcie Cohen Ferris, an emeritus professor of American research on the College of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“It was a type of websites — and there weren’t many round our nation in Eighties — the place restaurateurs, farmers, meals entrepreneurs and native craftspeople have been beginning to come collectively,” Dr. Ferris stated. “Then Crook’s turns into this incubator of recent Southern delicacies, as a result of so many younger individuals come via there.”
The James Beard award winners John Currence, of Oxford, Miss., and Robert Stehling, of Charleston, S.C., are among the many distinguished Southern cooks who labored with Mr. Neal early of their careers.
Mr. Neal died of AIDS at age 41, in 1991. Mr. Smith, who labored with Mr. Neal at La Résidence, took over the kitchen at Crook’s, and continued to introduce signature Southern dishes, like fried oysters with garlic mayonnaise and Atlantic Seaside pie, a lemon pie with a saltine cracker crust.
The informal restaurant, identified for its fiberglass pig statue and hubcap assortment outdoors, by no means relied on the trimmings of European superb eating. And the menu was at all times seasonal. “When you may get soft-shell crabs and honeysuckle sorbet on the identical evening, that was cause for celebration,” Mr. Smith stated.
Mr. Smith retired quickly after Mr. Healy and his enterprise associate, Gary Crunkleton, purchased Crook’s from Mr. Hamer in 2018. Carrie Schleiffer took over as chef from Justin Burdett, Mr. Smith’s successor, in April.
Mr. Healy was a bartender and supervisor on the restaurant for years earlier than he turned an proprietor. He stated he was drawn to the restaurant partially by its lack of pretension.
“As a substitute of creating easy issues sound fancy, they did the other,” he stated, like utilizing the phrases “garlic mayonnaise” on the menu as an alternative of aioli. “The tables regarded like an outdated diner on goal. When it opened, the concept you have been doing glorious meals in a non-white-tablecloth atmosphere was very totally different.”
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