Chapel Hill: Crook's Corner
As a new arrival to Chapel Hill, it didn't take me long to find my way to Crook's Corner, which had been recommended to me as far north as Chicago.
The garden was pleasant and amusing, but the food was disappointing all the way around. We started with a crab claw salad in citrus vinaigrette, which was fine but nothing to write home about, and cheddar-jalapeno hushpuppies, which were burned and tasted unpleasantly of char. The problem was obvious: the suckers were so large that the interior could not be cooked through without burning the exterior. I sent the hushpuppies back to the kitchen and left the choice of substitute dish to the discretion of the chef. We were sent an extremely large cheese plate: cream cheese (goat cheese?), some kind of orange (pimento?) cheese spread, a chile-infused jelly, and supermarket-style crackers. Except for the somewhat interesting jelly, this was more the stuff of a late-night snack in front of the refrigerator than fine or semi-fine dining. I give the waitress kudos however; she handled our complaint graciously and expeditiously.
For main courses we opted for chopped barbecue and barbecue ribs, thinking -- incorrectly? -- that this was the way to go. Both were dry and tasteless. The chopped cue was the worst I've had anywhere in the state of North Carolina: not only dry and tasteless, but somehow mealy and mushy. I joylessly picked at the leftovers for three days and finally threw it away.
Was this experience typical? Is the mighty Crooks a paper lion?
I don't know how in the world Crook's always gets good reviews. They must serve different dishes when there are reviewers...
I love Panzanella in Carrboro. The outdoor seating is great.
I also love the Tomato Cream Soup at Elmo's.
Acme is good, but my graduation dinner there was horrible due to a really upty waitress who, after a particularly horrible beginning, proceeded to spill soup on my dress, only to snicker while saying "Ops, I'm sorry". I loved that place, went to all the wine dinners there, and generally had such a wonderful time during the four years I was in grad school, it was really sad to have my last celebratory meal there with a terrible after taste. I still go back to Chapel Hill quite regularly, but I have not been able to go back to Acme.
Weathervane by Southern Season is nice too, esp. since you can get a nice bottle of wine from the store and bring it to the restaurant.
Spotted Dog has some excellent vegetarian options.
Akai Hana, the Japanese restaurant, is OK, but for better Japanese, I always went to the sushi bar at the Teppan-yaki place in Durham. Kabuto? Kabuki? I sat at the sushi bar and chatted with the chef every time I was there, though, so I don't know if the sushi at the table is comparable to what I had.
Lantern is a really good new place, also on Franklin Street. Haven't had a bad meal there.
Elaines is east of Crooks Corner. Acme is west of Crooks Corner (down Main Street in Carrboro, only about 1/3 mile away from Crooks Corner) and is also quite good.
I've been here almost three years and never eaten at Crooks Corner because it gets such mixed reviews. The shrimp and grits is supposedly the specialty of the house.
For great 'cue, drive up 86 (aka Airport Road) north of 40 and make a beeline for Allen and Son. There's a new barbecue place in the same little mall with Bagels on the Hill that I've been hearing great reports about, too.
You seem a man who knows his Chapel Hill/Carrboro eateries:
How's the Japanese restaurant in Carrboro, whatever it's called?
Are there any good butchers/fish mongers in the area?
How's 411 West?
How's the Trattoria a couple doors down from 411 West?
Anything else you'd recommend in Carrboro, which happens to be my stomping ground?
I haven't tried Acme yet, but I certainly will before long. I pass by at least twice a day.
re: David A.
The best area fishmonger is Tom Robinson in Carrboro. A block south of Main Street, behind Acme and a little bit east. I believe he goes down to the shore Sunday through Wednesday and is open Thursday through Saturday. Bought some jimmies from him a few weeks back, they were very good and quite reasonably priced.
I use the Wellspring for most of my butchering needs. They have a pretty good counter. Cheeses there are excellent, too. Fowlers in Durham is good for aged steaks.
411 is solid but unspectacular. The wife and I have avoided it lately but not because of the food--rather, because they don't take reservations and the place is popular enough that it can be quite a wait to get in. I think Pop's Trattoria in Durham does essentially the same thing, but better.
I've always been intrigued by the little Chapel Hill trattoria on Franklin, which looks quite authentic from the outside (I think its official name is Cafe Trilussa), but I've read mixed reviews at the triangle.dining newsgroup so when the wife and I are in the mood for Italian we always end up somewhere else.
re: David A.
David and others-
I'm happy to help any way I can, and thanks for the compliment, but I'm certainly no expert in terms of CH/Carrboro dining.
I have not been to the Japanese restaurant, 411 or Cafe Trilussa, and I echo Tom in terms of what I've heard about the places. In terms of Italian, I want to recommend again Panzanella in Carrboro. I thought it was fantastic.
In Carrboro--- definitely give Carrburritos a try. I remember some debate about this place on the board a while back, but I find their burritos fresh and more innovative than the average place. And although filthy Cosmic Cantina has its charm, there really isn't a comparison.
I have eaten several times at the cafe inside Weaver St. It's nothing to write home about, but the buffet-style service is usually pretty good, especially at breakfast.
And though I've never eaten there, I've heard only good things about the Spotted Dog on Main St.
Elmo's is fine, too. But for a similar style restaurant I think is better, try Breadman's in Chapel Hill on Rosemary St.
I have been to the Spotted Dog -- twice! The first time I was brought for lunch by my real estate agent. We had shrimp po'boys and broccoli salad, both light and tasty. A nice simple lunch. My wife and I went back for dinner and had grilled tuna and pasta primavera. Both entrees were lacking in any real subtlety or delicacy, but were fresh and simple enough to be passable. Dessert however -- a blueberry brioche bread pudding --was distinctly and surprisingly good. The tab was something like $45. The atmosphere is more bar than restaurant, but in a pinch one could do worse. I hope this fills in a blank for you.
re: David A.
I'll answer anyway.
I totally agree that Crooks Corner sucks. I've gonna back a couple of times and it was just as bad.
411 is awesome! Great Italian/Med food. There lunches are the best values around for upscale food. When we lived in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, we went there religiously every Saturday for lunch. The sushi joint it carrboro (akihana?) is good but nothing special. I like sushi yoshi just outside chapel hill a little better.
Other Chapel Hill/ carroboro favorites: armadillo's (great tex.mex fast food), Mediterranean deli (excellent gyros and fresh-made middle eastern food), and Mio's Pizza inthe university mall.
For upscale dining, head down 15-501 to Durham. Magnolia Grill and Four Square are my favorites, followed by Nana's and Pop's. Several very good restuarants are Tosca's, Niko's Taverna in Brightleaf Square,Torero's has excellent Mexican food...
I could keep going but that should keep you busy for a little while. Don't ask me about Cary or Raleigh, I have no clue.