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New restaurant -- Oakleaf, in Pittsboro, NC

My wife and I had dinner last night at Oakleaf, a new restaurant in Pittsboro, NC, just down 15/501 from Chapel Hill.

We had a really fine meal, and encourage folks to check this place out.

They bill themselves as a restaurant that "strives to support local farmers to the greatest extent possible and to serve incredibly fresh, sustainably harvested seafood."

The website is http://oakleafnc.com/ and the restaurant is in Chatham Mills at 480 Hillsboro Street, in Pittsboro.

The place is physically very attractive, in an old mill, with brick walls, high ceilings, and elegant fixtures.

The food we had was really first-class. We had the bruschetta, which is described as featuring "heirloom tomato and shaved vidalia onions, with crumbled blue cheese."

We also had the sauteed NC black sea bass, which was served with a bean cassoulet and chive butter sauce and also the tagliatelle, which came with rosemary butter, a farm egg, and black truffle pecorino.

The wine list was well-chosen, with a number of wines by the glass. Prices are reasonable, given the ambiance and the quality of the food.

We think this place is a real find, an excellent addition to the Triangle dining scene, and well worth a special trip to Pittsboro.

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  1. Sounds really good - thanks for telling us about it. I look forward to some other reports (and to trying it myself).

    1. Great find! Can't wait to try it.

      9 Replies
      1. re: bbqme

        The chef at Oakleaf, I've learned, is Brendan Cox, who won a bunch of awards while working in Washington, DC.

        He cooked at Washington's Circle Bistro and then became the chef at DC Coast.

        He was named Rising Star Chef of the Year and Washingtonian Magazine’s “Best Chef Under 40," before deciding to move to NC to run a small, sustainable family farm and to open Oakleaf.

        So far, I'd say, Washington's loss is our gain.

        1. re: jnwall

          I absolutely loved DC Coast when I was there, back about 8 years ago. I have heard it has gone downhill, so it would kind of matter when he was there, but that is a good thing to have on one's resume. Circle Bistro didn't excite me much the one time I went.

          1. re: LulusMom

            Just did a bit of research. He was chef at DC Coast more recently. But (for any other former DC-ites) he also was responsible for Equinox and seems to have gotten his start at Galileo. These are/were all very well regarded places in DC. Good sign.

            1. re: LulusMom

              DC Coast and Equinox I've heard of. Both getting good reviews for their respective foods. Never was at either. Is this the place you are going? I'd go at some point maybe for dad's birthday...

              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                Yeah, I think we'll attempt Oakwood this weekend. We'll see what happens (babysitters cancel, etc.). We really loved DC Coast, and liked Equinox a lot. Not sure if the latter still exists in DC. Talked to a bartender at Il Palio who fairly recently worked at DC Coast and said it was no longer up to its old standard. Anyway, if we end up at Oakwood I'll report back.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  Yes, Equinox is still around. Although, it was started by and remains under the helm of Todd Gray. Cox must have been a sous chef there. Still, these are all quality places in DC, so it bodes well for Oakwood. Thanks all for mentioning this place and the chef as it was not on my radar. I look forward to trying it.

          2. re: jnwall

            He was also the chef at Peak City Grill in Pittsboro.

              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                In Apex. Never had a Peak City Grill in Pittsboro.

          3. Just had brunch there today (they serve Saturday brunch from 10-1). It's a la carte plating, not a buffet. The setting is in a large open room, obviously once the old mill working room. Walls are brick, there are huge glass windows making up the wall, and tables and chairs are wood, without tablecloths. Service was pleasant and attentive.

            Coffee is served in a French press brought to your table, which gives you one mug's worth. My S.O. had their burger and fries. The burger is a 1/2 pound of house-ground beef. The waiter happily said they would cook it as rare as we wanted (improperly using the excuse that house grinding waives the old cooking temperature requirements, but we'll let that pass). The burger was very thick, nicely pink as ordered, and very juicy. I had a bite and liked the beef, although I wasn't crazy about the flavored aioli they spread on the bun. The fries were exactly like you get at the Five Guys burger chain... Skins on and cooked dark brown. She was quite satisfied with her food.

            My plate was a different story unfortunately. I tried a Southern breakfast plate. Two biscuits, honey, maple bacon, and a lightly fried egg. The egg was fine and cooked exactly as I requested. No complaints there. But the bacon was flavorless and almost completely made up of fat. The biscuits took up the bulk of the plate and were the major disappointment. They were thin, dense, chewy hockey pucks. Exactly the opposite of what a good Southern biscuit should be. I was very dissatisfied with my meal. It's not something where I would complain about the food being spoiled or cooked incorrectly... It just did not suit my expectations of what those meal components should be like.

            That's not enough of an experience to pass judgment on the restaurant, so take it as a single anecdotal reference point. Hopefully we'll collect other views (especially for dinners).

            5 Replies
            1. re: klmonline

              The good news on the burgers (sorry about your meal, which doesn't sound at all appealing) is that by the end of this month the law will change and those who like their burgers less than medium can get them the way they like them.

              1. re: LulusMom

                Actuallly, the new rules covering cooking temperatures, and other issues, went into effect today (September 1).

              2. re: klmonline

                Effective Sept 1 restaurants can cook hamburgers as rare as you order them; providing there is a disclaimer that it can kill you :-)
                part of NC's following federal guidelines.

                1. re: winedine

                  Question really is.. is it the rareness that kills your or the stuff they pump into the cows. My mom has eaten raw chopped beef a few times and never once gotten ill.

              3. Maybe this thread should be combined with the "pulling all the stops" thread? Dinner for four, eight glasses of wine, a single malt, 3 apps, four mains, 1 dessert, for $222.
                Menu is online each day, as fresh and local dominates. NC smoked trout app is delicate, and the blinis are lovely. The NC shrimp app was beautifully plated and delicate. The porcini risotto is more explosive than Nana's, and even creamier. Dayboat scallops were cooked precisely, caramelized on one side, and luscious all through. The NC snapper sat on a bed of unusual slaw, fennel included, with a chili aioli. The brined pork chop was large, moist and tender, and sauced in a cauliflower reduction. Wines by the glass plentiful at around $8 per full pour. Service more informal than Magnolia Grill, but Pittsboro friendly. I sure hope OakLeaf catches on -- if tonight was "normal",
                pretty full, and reservations were helpful, and people dressed in all manner from older folks with jackets to younger with jeans and whatever, this place seems happy. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they can keep it up, since it's the food that is the real draw for our group. The chef is serious and talented, in our non-professional tasters' experience, in that the dishes we had all "worked". And surprised. Go and comment -- am I wrong?

                1 Reply
                1. re: walras

                  You are right, in my experience, in all respects. My wife and I had dinner with 2 glasses of wine each for under $100, but we had two appetizers and shared an entree.

                  This is definitely a serious chef. Long may he thrive in Pittsboro.

                2. We finally got to Oakleaf last week, and we liked it a lot. The menu seems like the type that changes often, so not sure how worthwhile it is to tell you what we got, but I'll do so anyway. The fried oysters on remoulade were wonderful. We both started with those and neither of us could think of a single bad thing to say. The house bread is high quality (I have a real buggaboo with people serving bad bread: I'm looking at you, ACME). I loved both the wines by the glass I had, LulusDad was just so-so with the ones he got (different from mine). I very much enjoyed my entree - salmon with dill, pickled shallots and something else - really tasty and full of flavor. L'sDad's trout with hazelnut brown butter was just ok. There were a LOT of hazelnuts on the menu (husband joked that maybe he farms them), and a lot of pork. I am not a big fan of either of these, so that was kind of disappointing, but I know many people love them. Neither of us got dessert. I loved the look of the place, and the service was spot on (if possibly a little TOO available, but it was a quite night there and they looked bored). We'll definitely go again.

                  We also made it to Mateo this weekend and loved that too. When I'm not rushed like a madwoman I'll report, but I was very impressed. Between those two and Yamazushi I feel like I've found 3 great places to add to the mix.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: LulusMom

                    We've got to work on the pork thing (unless its religious). I was able to stop in for a quick drink and appetizer and can't wait to go back. Sat at the bar and the bartender was great. Ordered a mini cassoulet that was delicious, bacon studded beans with perfectly cooked duck leg

                    1. re: veganhater

                      Not religious, but 30 years in the making and my system can't deal with pork at this point.

                      I really liked this restaurant.

                    2. re: LulusMom

                      We split some great discussion of Mateo out to its own thread so it would be easier for people to find. Check it out here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/901317

                    3. V and I went yesterday - probably a 6/10 for brunch. Atmosphere is totally awesome. Service was slow. And one thing I can't stand is having to wait on drinks. Bloody Mary was weak and not even remotely spicy. Chicken Salad Sandwich was overpowered by onions. If it was an onion salad sandwich it would have been terrific!

                      On plus side, mimosa, sea salt fries, and chorizo sausage & gravy biscuits were very good. Sugar torte with berries was disappointing. Very cool venue aesthetically speaking.

                      Printed menu listed Bloody Mary as $7, but their website said $5. Brunch entrees were around $9; I think the torte was $8 or $9.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Tehama

                        I am so with you on waiting for drinks. If nothing else, make sure the customers are happily imbibing while the wait staff is in the weeds or whatever.

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          Exactly! The drink situation was not up to OUR standards!

                        2. re: Tehama

                          Was it busy? We arrived at opening for lunch and service was leisurely but not slow. They did seem to offer a longish amount of time for us to look over the menu but the drink my friend ordered arrived swiftly. I had a bite of the chicken salad offered that day and it was unusual. It had whole mustard seed giving it a bit of a bite. Not bad but not the flavor I'm thinking of when I want chicken salad.

                          Over all I felt there was quite a bit of potential and would try them again. Plus the bread served on the side was some of the best I've had in the area.

                          1. re: meatn3

                            Ohhh - I forgot the beignets they brought out while we were waiting on brunch.

                            Not sure HOW I forgot about the beignets because they were freaking awesome. Yum! Yum!

                            They weren't busy at all ... maybe like 6 tables in a fairly large space. I think I'd go back if I was in the area, but not enough for me to make the trip from Raleigh again. The bread on V's "chicken" salad was like a toasted brioche and it was really delish.

                            The space was super cool - definitely has potential!

                            1. re: Tehama

                              Wow, this conversation certainly wandered a long way from my initiating comment about Oakleaf. I guess good conversation does that.

                              1. re: jnwall

                                Good conversation with people who have ADHD or tend to ramble :-p

                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                  Poo. They were talking about beignets at the restaurant the OP was talking about, right? So what is the problem? And a place with bad service - that should be mentioned in a review.

                        3. We had dinner at Oakleaf yesterday in celebration of our 21st anniversary. We both had the soft shelled crab with pea shoots as our apps. Tasty but at $14 a bit pricey for a 3 inch crab. For entrees my wife had the duck breast with beet greens and baby turnips. It's good but nothing special. I had the caramelized ricotta gnocchi in a butter sauce. This dish is outstanding! The bread that they served is very good and was perfect for sopping up the butter sauce. For dessert my wife had the lemon pudding with sponge cake and berry sauce and I had the strawberry crisp with ice cream (forgot the flavor). My desert could easily be shared by two people-- hers was tiny.

                          The restaurant is beautiful. One odd thing, however: there is a large table in the middle of the restaurant that holds dishes, glassware, and silverware, and some nice flower arrangements while several of the tables where diners sit, including ours, is right against a wall making one feel cramped. Service is passable: we weren't offered coffee and she took away my dessert before I was finished.

                          Every time I go to a high dollar restaurant such as Oakleaf, while I generally enjoy the meal, a part of me laments the closing of Magnolia Grill. Man I wish that place!

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: bbqme

                            Ohhh - that seems disappointing; especially when you all were celebrating your anniversary. Though we were just there for brunch, I can totally see the same experience at other times based on our trip.

                            1. re: Tehama

                              Don't get me wrong, we had a nice time. We plan to go again. Just noting the good with the bad. I had my druthers about Magnolia Grill too. It was a noisy restaurant with so so ambiance-- Oakleaf is so much nicer. But the food was special.

                            2. re: bbqme

                              If ya want Soft Shells, I hear Crooks is the place to go.

                              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                It has been *ages* since I went and had them there, but they were overly breaded and overly fried. One hopes they've gotten it together since then.

                                I had amazing soft shells at Vin Rouge a little over a week ago.

                                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                    Well, they were most certainly overbattered in their pan fry, I assure you. For someone who considers himself such a purist I can't see why I wasn't allowed to have naked crabs.

                                  2. re: LulusMom

                                    I totally disagree about the soft shells at Crooks - I think they are fabulous - the best I've had besides my own family cooking them. And I don't think they are overly breaded either.

                                    Don't understand your comment below - so you asked for no breading and they refused?

                                    1. re: Jeanne

                                      Yes, I asked for no breading and they refused.

                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                        The fishmonger at the University Mall farmers market had soft shelled crabs last weekend. They were all gone by the time I got there. The quality of his fish is fantastic. It's not fishy at all, just clean, salty ocean.

                                        1. re: bbqme

                                          Apparently soft shells haven't been coming in on our coast yet but have been in virginia. OR they just started this week.

                                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                            According to Core Sound Seafood (e-mail from last night) they have started in NC!

                                            1. re: meatn3

                                              Right they have started but like a week or so ago.. not so much.

                                        2. re: LulusMom

                                          Well - that is Chef Smith's prerogative. I've never had them fried without light breading- have you?

                                          1. re: Jeanne

                                            Absolutely his perogitive, but no harm in asking. And then they were way overcoated in breading and kind of burned.

                                            I fry them without any breading or flour myself- just a bit of garlic in butter.

                                            1. re: Jeanne

                                              Pan fry them, that is. Sorry, out of the country and cellie is behaving weirdly.

                                              1. re: Jeanne

                                                He also may not have been the person behind the flame so to speak.

                                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                  I am going to assume he wasn't. But I still wouldn't go there for them because what if he wasn't again?

                                    2. The first time was excellent. The second time taught me to not believe a word written on their "daily" on line menu. Completely different choices when I arrived at the restaurant after driving over twenty miles for the nonexistent Grouper. Junior manager not even aware of on line menu. Wait person not aware what was on the presented menu. Real disappointment with no one at the restaurant in charge of anything. Seems to me like the original forces behind the restaurant have lost interest. I am not returning.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: dvhartley

                                        Mr. Hartley - I am so sorry to hear that you were not able to have the dish you wished to have when you were last with us. Our menu does change every day and there are times that the menu is not completed until literally moments before we open. I am the one who updates our daily menu and much to my chagrin, on weekdays I am not always able to stay at the restaurant late enough to update the online menu before we open (children have a tendency to take up quite a bit of time and attention). Our floor manager did tell me that a gentlemen had become upset that the menu had changed but I didn't know who that was until now so I am sorry that I am responding to you here instead if in person. I do hope that our guests will try to understand that while we make every effort to update the menu for every shift, we are only human (and only two people) and sometimes are unable to complete everything that we would ideally like to do. Sincerely, Leslie Cox

                                        1. re: Ljcox

                                          Thank you. It was the response I got from your bar tender, who said he was the assistant manager, that sent me over the top. I certainly do understand what you are saying. Possibly a disclaimer with your on line menu stating when making a reservation with a particular dish in mind, check to be certain it is still available.

                                          Again Thank You for your response.

                                          David Hartley

                                          1. re: dvhartley

                                            That is an excellent idea - consider it done!