Home Around Town Crook’s Corner Owner Chats about Celebrating the Holidays

Crook’s Corner Owner Chats about Celebrating the Holidays

Gene Hamer talks cheese pork, parades and decking the pig

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Photos by Maria Brubeck

Any memories from the first holiday season at Crook’s?

We opened 34 years ago in the spring of ‘82. On that first December menu, we didn’t even have Shrimp and Grits but we did have desserts like Mt. Airy Chocolate Soufflé Cake and Hot Fudge Brownies, two of my all-time favorites. We were booked for numerous office parties and family events.

What’s your favorite holiday tradition in Chapel Hill/Carrboro?

I like the tree at Townsend Bertram & Company, the outdoor store a few blocks from Crook’s. It’s inspiring. Scott Bertram and his family and friends hoist up lights on every limb, and it’s a real Christmas tree, worth coming over to see.

What’s your favorite wintry dish that Crook’s Corner serves?

I heart Cheese Pork. It’s a schnitzel (with melty and crispy Swiss cheese covering a thin pork cutlet and topped with a Madeira sauce). It’s the sort of food that you want on any cool to wintry night. It lands on the menu reliably during basketball season.

We have been scheming to start a restaurant challenge for the [Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday] Parade. … Who knows – this could have the potential of one day rivaling the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Gene Hamer stands outside his restaurant
Gene Hamer stands outside his haven for Southern foodies

What’s the Crook’s holiday party like?

We have our party outside the restaurant these days and after the regular holiday season, usually at one of the local bars. We start out with food and a cocktail hour, and by the end most folks are dancing and making merry.

How did Crook’s Corner celebrate the holidays in the past?

We used to put a wreath around the pig’s neck but haven’t done that in a few years. I used to make the wreath, put the lights on it and climb up on the roof to slide the wreath down the pig’s back and over her head. A three-day ordeal. Now I put a modest mistletoe wreath over the front door and a lighted wreath at the entrance. One year we had Vivian Howard (“A Chef’s Life”) in for a Christmas Sweaters party to benefit the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina. That was a lot of fun. We don’t play holiday music so as to give people a rest.

Will the restaurant serve special dishes this holiday season?

This is the first time we’ll be open on New Year’s Day, which is on a Sunday. We’ll offer a brunch from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Hoppin’ John and Collards are mainstay [items] on the menu, but they get more popular this time of year. Bill Smith does a “Holiday Duck” (confit leg and seared duck breast) with juicy cranberries. He likes to make rum baba, too.

What would you like to see become a Chapel Hill tradition?

The Parade. We have been scheming to start a restaurant challenge for the [Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday] Parade. We’re thinking a lot of floats and music with a trophy for the winning entrant. Who knows – this could have the potential of one day rivaling the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Spectacular.


Photography by Maria Brubeck

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Jessica is the Executive Editor for Chapel Hill Magazine. As a 2010 grad of UNC, she's happy to be back in town writing, editing and eating around the Triangle.