Restaurant News & Reviews

Acclaimed Oakleaf restaurant soon will be on the move, and closer to Raleigh

Chef Brendan Cox styles a North Carolina Vermillion snapper with vegetables from the winter garden, pickled shallots and rosemary at Oakleaf in Pittsboro.
Chef Brendan Cox styles a North Carolina Vermillion snapper with vegetables from the winter garden, pickled shallots and rosemary at Oakleaf in Pittsboro.

Oakleaf, one of the Triangle dining scene’s most far-flung stars, is on the move.

The 5-year-old fine-dining restaurant will leave behind its elegant light-drenched dining room in the old Chatham Mills in Pittsboro and make its new home on Main Street in Carrboro, in the same building as the Cat’s Cradle music venue.

Chef Brendan Cox, who owns Oakleaf with his wife, Leslie, said the new space will have more room for a bar and lounge area, outdoor dining and a place for private events.

“The move to Carrboro will be Oakleaf’s forever home,” Cox said.

Oakleaf focuses on seasonal ingredients and updates its menu daily, typically with influences from France and Italy built around the produce of North Carolina. When the restaurant first opened, News & Observer dining critic Greg Cox gave Oakleaf four and half stars and named it the best restaurant in the Triangle in 2013, alongside Yamasushi.

The last dinner service in Pittsboro will be Saturday, Nov. 25, with Cox expecting to open on 300 East Main St. in Carrboro in early February 2018.

In between closing in Pittsboro and opening in Carrboro, Oakleaf’s food will still exist, moonlighting with dinner service in Alberello, the Italian market and deli the Coxes’ other restaurant. Alberello is at 72 Chapelton Court in Chapel Hill, north of Fearrington Village, or a 15-minute drive from Oakleaf’s location. (Greg Cox gave Alberello four stars earlier this year.)

Cox calls it “Oakleaf in residence.”

“At lunch time it will be Alberello, and at dinner time we’ll flip it and serve Oakleaf food by Oak Leaf staff,” Cox said. “We wanted to keep Oakleaf going in the interim so (the staff) wasn’t left in the lurch.”

The original Oakleaf lease was signed for five and a half years in the Chatham Mills space, with the plan being an eventual move into the coming Chatham Park development in the next few years, Cox said. Talks of an interim lease were unsuccessful, and Cox said it was uncertain when Oakleaf might be able to move into Chatham Park, which led him to search elsewhere. When he looked at Carrboro he stopped looking.

“There’s this feeling of momentum in Carrboro, especially for food,” Cox said, pointing to major openings like Pizzeria Mercato. Pizzeria Mercato is owned by Chef Gabe Barker, who was named a James Beard Award semifinalist this year for Rising Star Chef, which is awarded to a chef 30 years old or younger.

“It’s the place to be, and it’s really becoming a hub for quality food and we want to get there and be a part of that,” Cox said.

Oakleaf’s biggest challenge was convincing Triangle diners to drive upwards of an hour to its Pittsboro dining room, Cox said, with Saturdays typically very busy, but weekday service much quieter. The Carrboro Oakleaf will be open seven days a week and serve Saturday and Sunday brunch and likely see a greater focus on vegetable-based dishes, Cox said.

But Oakleaf will still be Oakleaf, he said.

“When we opened Oakleaf, we were going for understated elegance,” Cox said. “It will still be our food. We’re not going to change from who we are.”

Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson