JALAPENO-CHEDDAR HUSHPUPPIES w/ cocktail sauce
HOPPIN’ JOHN – a bed of rice & black-eye peas flavored w/ bacon, topped w/ tomato, scallions & cheddar cheese
SHRIMP & GRITS – shrimp sautéed w/ bacon, mushrooms & scallions & served over cheese grits
Black Pepper Cornbread
GOOD BANANA PUDDING w/ meringue
Unable to resist a visit to a Beard Award recognized America’s Classic, no matter how aggressive the days dining plan, it was mere minutes after opening that we crossed the cusp of Crook’s Corner and greeted by a pleasant older man who would later turn out to be our waiter it was at a cozy two top in the retro-style cafe that we soon found ourselves sat, the days specials quickly highlighted though there was little doubt that the order would be focused on the iconic space’s classic plates.
Long heralded for its influence on Southern Comfort Food, and said by some to have conjured up the very idea of pairing shrimp with grits under the toque of Bill Neal, the small café at the corner of Merritt Mill and Franklin is now helmed by native North Carolinian Bill Smith and sourcing everything from the ingredients to the art on the walls locally it would be difficult to say there is a more ‘quintessential’ restaurant in all of Chapel Hill.
Full of Southern Hospitality, both waiters and bussers all “Sir, Ma’am, P’s and Q’s,” it was not long after seating that water was filled and drinks were offered but short on time due to a later dinner reservation the later was declined, an order of two appetizers, an entrée, as well as a side soon ordered and requested to be delivered all at once.
Every bit the lively space, nearly every table talking loudly with broad smiles as light music played overhead, it was just as the dining room reached 75% capacity that our meal arrived and with portions quite modest considering the size of the celebrated entrée while appetizers proved a much better value it can only be said that both the dry-as-dust cornbread and small shrimp and watery grits were a major letdown, the golden fitters and hoppin’ john far more appealing with the later offering a complex balance of nutty black eyed peas juxtaposing briny pork while crisp vegetables added levity to slowly melting cheese.
Still a bit miffed about both the price and quality of the shrimp and grits, but willing to give the sweets a chance to shine, it was with a few puppies as well as the rest of the chickpeas and rice boxed to go that Banana Pudding was ordered and with ripe bananas amidst a sweet custard base the bowl was indeed “good,” the cloud of meringue and lack of soggy wafers actually bordering on great.