When Mere and I had the opportunity to spend an evening in the Chapel Hill area on our last trip down to North Carolina, a Map & Menu post about a meal from one of our favorite towns was a given, but we were faced with the almost impossible decision of where that meal should come from. We’re far from strangers when it comes to the cuisine in our college town, but picking a single place from all of our favorites is a lot to ask. We wanted a meal with history and tradition, a meal that captured the regional flavors, and a meal that encapsulated so many of the things that make Chapel Hill such a special place for the two of us. With those criteria, a dinner from the James Beard American’s Classic, Crook’s Corner was the obvious choice for what ended up being a tasty and delightful evening.
We kicked off our evening with a couple of drinks (a frozen mint julep for her and the befuddled old fashioned for me) and a dish that strikes near and dear to this southern heart – the pimento cheese and hot pepper jelly. Many of our Maine readers might be unfamiliar with this fantastic yet underrated dish and I’d recommend Scratch Baking Co.’s pimento cheese if you’re looking to give it a try. I had heard wonderful things about the cajun ribeye, mashed potatoes, and sauteed vegetables, and every last one of them turned out to be true. Mere’s dish however, is what many would say put Crook’s Corner on the map – the famous and often-copied shrimp and grits. Many sources credit Crook’s Corner with being the birthplace of this classic southern dish, or at least the popular dinner version served in restaurants, when the meal was featured in the New York Times by Craig Claiborne. Having sampled the dish myself, I’d be hard-pressed to find a better version of it on any menu. Loaded with perfectly prepared shrimp with bacon, mushrooms, and scallions over a bed of nothing but the best cheese grits (of which we picked up a bag from A Southern Season the next morning) – we simply can’t wait to return to Chapel Hill for another fantastic meal from this classic establishment.