Oakleaf (Pittsboro, NC)

Oakleaf in Pittsboro has got to be one of the most beautiful restaurants in the Triangle area.  Located in historic Chatham Mill, this place has it all: aged wood floors, enormous windows, simple but elegant wooden tables and chairs, fabulous pendant lighting, classicly understated white dinnerware, stunning metalwork including a massive old sliding door…  I could go on and on, but the point is this: the entire aesthetic, down to the simply printed menu, has been executed in exquisite detail.  It makes for a lovely dining room, with tables not too close together, a gorgeous large centerpiece table, and a fine balance of formal and casual.

But does the food match the decor?  It certainly aims to.  We visited for brunch on a recent Saturday, and entree selection was exceedingly difficult – everything sounded just right.  The menu is what I’d call American-locavore-modern.  I went with the potatoes bravas/fried egg/chorizo gravy ($9) plus a biscuit ($2).  My wife opted for the “aged gruyere/sage/fried egg/extra cheese sauce” sandwich, which came with a side of fries ($9).  Another in our party ordered the challah french toast ($8, I believe).  We were pleasantly surprised when a small bowl of freshly fried beignets arrived at our table shortly thereafter.  These were soft and delicate, and just a touch underdone and undersweetened – but that’s pretty nitpicky – they were quite good.  The rest of our food took a very long time to arrive, even though we were one of the first customers of the day.  My plate was sort of an unattractive mess of potatoes covered in a spicy reddish brown gravy.  It was ok, but I wouldn’t order it again.  The biscuit was large and included a very small amount of herbs – not really even enough to taste; it was pretty average.  My wife’s sandwich, on the other hand, was very good.  I’ll also note that it was huge, featuring two very thick slices of bread.  “Dressed” in cheese sauce, it was most certainly a fork-and-knife affair.  Anything with that much cheese would probably be good, but the fresh sage brought a real vibrancy to it.  The fries were outstanding.  The challah french toast was actually a little plain, despite a (too) small amount of excellent peach-ginger compote accompaniment.  This dish was also enormous, with four very thick half slices of bread.  Like the sandwich, it probably could have been enough for two people.  The bacon on the side was fine.

So, though it wasn’t an exciting meal, it really was an exciting place to eat a meal.  The prices are terrific for brunch, considering the portion sizes.  Service was terribly slow in our case, but that wouldn’t stop me from coming back.  Heck, I’d come back again and again just to sit in that awesome space.