In the rapidly growing Triangle, news of a restaurant opening a second location is a fairly common occurrence. But in the case of Crook's Corner, a local landmark that has played a major role on putting the Triangle on the national culinary map, it's especially noteworthy.
And the significance of the news is not diminished by the fact that Crook's Atrium Cafe (100 Europa Drive, Chapel Hill; 933-2473; www.crooks atriumcafe.com ) offers a streamlined menu and is only open for weekday breakfast and lunch. In fact, according to chef Paul Covington, the new restaurant was opened in response to customers who have long clamored for daytime hours beyond the popular Sunday brunch offered at the original Crook's. The Atrium Center, a six-story office building that offers seating in the ground floor dining room as well as in the building's glass-enclosed atrium and on a secluded patio overlooking a pond, proved an irresistible setting.
Covington, who has worked for 11 years alongside executive chef Bill Smith in Crook's kitchen (and who revived Crook's brunch service several years ago), has built the new menu on a foundation of longtime favorites such as shrimp and grits, hoppin' John and fried green tomatoes. The breakfast offering is rounded out by the likes of buttermilk pancakes (with real maple syrup, naturally), omelets and other egg variations, and biscuit sandwiches. Homemade soups, salads and create-your-own sandwiches (options range from tarragon chicken salad to house-roasted beef, available on a variety of breads) highlight the lunch menu. The new restaurant is also offering dinners-to-go, including soup or salad, entree and dessert for $20.
When Covington is not busy working at one of the two restaurants, he's catering out of Crook's new state-of-the-art trailer. He described it as a 28-foot kitchen on wheels tricked out with a 12-burner stove, grill, fryer, refrigerator and freezer. "We can cook everything in that trailer - fried oysters, shrimp and grits, you name it," Covington said. "We just catered a wedding with 300 people."
As I said, when a restaurant of the caliber of Crook's Corner ventures into new territory, it's big news.