Bonnie Raitt is singing Rainy Day Man, I’m sipping on an ice-cold bottle of water (I hate to tamper with the image, but it’s true) and I have a mind, body, and spirit that are full of holiday cheer. I could listen to some Christmas tunes, and I probably will before I turn off the lights, but Ms. Raitt and my iTunes mix will do perfectly for the next hour or so.
I’m gonna make this short and sweet. You have to go to Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill NC sometime in your life. You simply must. You guys read my stories; you know that I know a lot of stuff – I’m like way experienced. I have done it all, I have been everywhere, and I have seen everything, and of all the things I have done, seen, and been to…even the stuff that I’ve lied about, nothing in this world is better than a plate of shrimp & grits at Crook’s Corner.
Nothing… I would eat this meal if they called it ‘Puppies & Grits’.
Crook’s Corner has a rich history that you can read about and appreciate on their website, they also have a beautiful bartender named Susie that you cannot appreciate from the website…you must go to the restaurant site, in person, and feel the embrace of her smile, and be cast under the spell of her eyes. My only regret about this evening’s visit is that I just shook her hand; I didn’t talk her into a hug. I’m more of a hugger than a handshaker, and I think a hug with a girl like her would stay with you for a while. Susie has an energy, or maybe an aura, that my humble writing skills won’t even attempt to capture; in fact, I’m beginning to wonder if she was even real…she might be some kind of spirit or something.
The restaurant is an artsy looking building (with a big pig on top) that stands at its original location on the corner of West Franklin Street and Merritt Mill Road. This is the western end of Chapel Hill where it borders with the town of Carrboro. You have no excuse now; I’ve told you exactly where it is. You should be looking at your calendar or at Expedia, right now, planning your trip.
The inside of the restaurant is decorated with lots of original art – I think most of it is from local artists, and I think most of it is for sale. (None of it matches the art that is Susie) Tonight, I dined with a slightly older crowd (my age) for a college town, but then again, I guess professors have to eat too. Crook’s is a foodie’s place – it’s not a ‘wings and beer’ place. They have an impressive wine list, and while the food prices are not budget breakers, it’s not a cheap place to eat.
My first visit to Crook’s was in 2003, I was traveling with an idiot boss, and while we were on an eastbound Delta flight, he told me to “…budget enough time to get some shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner for dinner one night while we’re in Chapel Hill.”
“I don’t like shrimp, or grits”, was my less than passionate reply.
“Trust me. You’ll like this place, and it’s not really an option” He was passionate.
I couldn’t “trust” him because I don’t trust idiots, but I would honor his directive because he was my boss, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal to me, I can always find something on a menu that works.
I didn’t give it much more thought, until about four minutes later, while thumbing through the Delta Sky inflight magazine, there is a feature in the ‘destinations’ section on North Carolina, and Crook’s Corner! The restaurant got a page and a half on its history, and how every President since Gerald Ford or so, has been to the place, and had eaten shrimp and grits. While I was amused by the coincidence, I felt the same way you’re feeling right now… I wasn’t that impressed. I didn’t really care.
And then we went. I had a nice beer – nothing memorable. I wanted to order a steak, but my boss insisted that I step outside my comfort zone. I did. It was delicious, fantastic, awesome, betterthansexexceptnotreallybecausethatisalwaysastupidanalogy, but…it was really, really, tasty. I loved it!
Then something terrible happened, the customer who had an office in Chapel Hill moved. They moved to friggin Canton OH. So now I can only stop when I’m passing through, and not in a rush…these conditions are extremely rare in my world. Fortunately, this evening, I wasn’t in a rush, and I just happened to be passing through. A Christmas miracle!
SHRIMP & GRITS – shrimp sautéed w/ bacon, mushrooms & scallions & served over cheese grits…
…this is exactly how it’s presented on the menu. But they can’t be telling us everything; it has to be more than this. Each bite is a multi-layered flavor explosion. That is the worst description of anything I’ve ever written, but it’s all I can think of. If I could properly describe it, it would make it ordinary.
What I love about my craft & micro-brewed beers is the depth and layers of flavor with the good ones. A good I.P.A. will have a citrus or pine nose just after you pour a glass, then a stronger citrus with some malt on the front end of that first sip, this comes from the hops in the beer, and then it will finish with a spice or a floral note. You taste three things in one sip. It’s similar to what you experience when you kiss my wife. Ask anyone.
The Shrimp & Grits entre` from Crook’s Corner has eight ingredients, and each bite gives you thirty-six flavors, about fifteen textures, and multiple foodgasms. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, renounce your faith for just one day, and go to Chapel Hill. Now that I’ve had it, I would eat this meal if they made it with lizards.
I had mine with beer tonight, because I roll like that, but the meal would be better matched with an appropriate white wine. I would ask Susie what she thinks next time I go there, and then I might ask her for a hug.
Okay…some Christmas tunes now.
Thank you so much for reading, and for another year of giving me a place to shout. As I hit this publish button, I’m doing my absolute best to resist ranting about freedom of speech, thoughts, beliefs, and the right to be wrong, or different…or stupid. John F. Kennedy said, “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs”…this makes sense to me.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays…may you all have a Happy, Safe, & Prosperous New Year. Big Love!