When Executive Chef James Clark took over the kitchen at Carolina Crossroads three years ago, he surprised some regulars by replacing the upscale fish long featured in signature dishes with lesser-known sustainable species. It took courage then to print words such as grunt and jolthead porgy on the famously elegant menu, but now it's the norm.
During its 90 years of operation—the restaurant began service when the Carolina Inn opened on Dec. 30, 1924—each executive chef has made his mark on an institution that has seen its share of academic all stars, blushing brides and assorted world class dignitaries. Their efforts will be celebrated at 6:30 p.m. Saturday during a "commemorative chef's dinner."
The four-course meal with wine pairings reflects the contributions of Clark and two of his predecessors, Brian Stapleton and Jimmy Reale. All three are expected to cook side by side to produce the meticulously researched meal.
"We have been looking at a lot of the menus that dated back to the 1950s," Clark says. "It has been fun to see the food they did during this time. We have had some laughs on the prices in those days, but what's been the most fun is taking the old ideas and doing some more updated versions of those dishes."
For example, Clark says a popular dish from the 1960s was a Jellied Madrilène, a cold consommé with tomato. That has morphed into Celery Tomato Gelee Garnished with Crawfish Salad, one of the nibbles that will be passed around before the meal formally begins.
Here is the rest of the menu:
• Passed Items: Pickled Salmon and Sour Cream on Rye; Crispy Oyster with Leek Country Ham Reduction and Artichoke Relish; and Cured Duck Foie Gras with Macerated Raisins and Brioche
• First course: Sea Salt and Sorghum Brined Shrimp served with Celery Root Black Truffle Puree and Chervil Ruby Red Grapefruit Salad
• Second Course: Braised North Carolina Bison Short Rib Ragout, Old Mill of Guilford Creamy Grits, Walker Farms Butternut Squash, Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Hillsborough Company Chevre
• Third Course: Tea Spiced Muscovy Duck Breast served with Acorn Spoon Bread, Confit Mushrooms along with Pear Watercress Emulsion and Smoked Honey
• Dessert: Chocolate and Salted Caramel Hazelnut Torte and Chocolate Frangelico Ganache
Artifacts from the Carolina Inn's storied history are featured in a display that stretches from the lobby down the North and East Halls past the restaurant entrance. It was built in 1924 by UNC alumnus John Spring Hill and designed by award-winning architect Arthur C. Nash, who also designed other campus landmarks. According to its website, Hill donated the hotel to UNC in 1935 with the stipulation that all profits were to be used to support the university's library system.