A group of friends wanted to celebrate our friend’s upcoming wedding, so we decided to go to the Oakleaf Restaurant, located in Chatham Mills in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The Oakleaf recently opened in this old textile mill, and touts itself as an upscale farm-to-table restaurant. The menu changes frequently, depending on what is available at the farmer’s market. Many of the ingredients, in fact, are purchased at the Chatham Mill Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, which is just outside the doors of the restaurant.
Chef and co-owner Brendan Fox spent several years as a chef in the Washington DC area before he and his wife chose to move back to North Carolina. His wife, Leslie, is originally from Sanford. They liked Pittsboro, because it is close to so many small, organic farms.
The dining room is casual, with exposed brick, (some of the brick was painted cream and gray), and duct work from the mill and black and white paintings depicting the mill days. The renovated pine wood floor and wooden tables give a warm feeling to the room. Large dark gray pendant lights dangle down from the ceiling, giving a bit more of the industrial feel of the space. Lots of windows on either side of the dining room provide lots of natural light to the space as well.
We are greeted by a very friendly waitress, who was not afraid of our table of 10. She explained what the special was in addition to the menu for the day. The menu does change daily, so it is printed on plain white paper. And, of course, Pittsboro being the small town it is, we see many of our friends in the dining room as well. Word has spread like wildfire about this place, so we knew that even if we had a small party, it’s best to call ahead for a reservation. We were also impressed with restaurant manager Aaron Hall who checked on our table a few times and even stopped and took our picture at the end of the meal.
Despite the very extensive wine and beer list, and the choice of many enticing mixed drinks, I just had water because I had worked some long hours and was too tired to drink, but the lady we were honoring had the special drink of the night which was a blackberry mimosa, that was served in a martini glass. She said it was very sweet and fruity.
One of my friends and I decide to split both the appetizer and the dessert, so we have enough room to try everything. We decide to order the thorn garden vegetable “Beignets” with a roasted olive sauce. When the dish came out we were a little surprised as both of us agreed we could have identified this more as a vegetable tempura dish. The vegetables were fried with a light and crispy batter. The roasted olive sauce gave it a nice bit of saltiness. I loved this dish, but to me a Beignet is more like a doughnut and this was not a doughnut.
There were many choices for entrées, but I decided to try the trout. The restaurant says the seafood is sustainably harvested, so I don’t have to feel guilty about eating the fish. The trout was cooked in a little bit of lemon and had a toasted hazelnut brown butter sauce. It was topped with glazed filet beans, that had a nice kick of lemon in them. The trout was light and flaky, and cooked to perfection. The sauce was very buttery and the hazelnuts added a different texture to the dish.
I also had a taste of my friend’s tuna, which was the special that night. The tuna was caught off the coast of North Carolina and was cooked with roasted leeks and topped with parsley flowers. The tuna was cooked medium rare, which made it really silky and buttery. It had soaked in that roasted leek flavor, which added more dimension to the dish. I liked this dish even more than my own!
Another friend tried the pan roasted salmon, which was served over a bed of sweet peas, radishes, dill, and Lamb’s Quarter. It was topped with some pistachios. It looked so good. I only wish we could have passed all the dishes around and tried everything, but we didn’t, so all I can tell you is that she said she liked it.
Same comment from another friend who had the sheep’s milk riccota gnocchi with a five-herb pesto, that was topped with crumbles of Gorganzola cheese and garlic bread crumbs. It looked really appetizing and she said it was great.
For dessert, we split the steamed lemon buttermilk pudding, which was served with a macerated blackberry sauce. It was light and a nice way to end our meal. Both of us thought the pudding was a little bit on the sweet side, and would have like to have more of the tartness of the lemon instead, but the blackberry sauce was great!
Most of the dishes here are in the $18 – $25 range for entrées. It would be a great place to take a date or go for a special occasion. It certainly is a great place to have a wedding shower dinner! There is no doubt I will be back again and again to this special new addition to the Chatham County restaurant scene.
Oakleaf is located at 480 Hillsboro St., Pittsboro, and is open for lunch 11a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Friday; dinner, 5:30-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; and 5:30-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Oakleaf also offers brunch from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturdays and is closed on Sundays. You can follow their Facebook page, on Twitter: @oakleafnc, or go to their website: www.oakleafnc.com.