The Oak is the second of three neighborhood kitchens in the Raleigh restaurant group JMR Kitchen. While JMR Kitchen’s first restaurant, Taste, focuses more on wine and tapas style dishes, The Oak serves up bourbon and plenty of different meal options. Open since spring 2014, The Oak switches up their selection seasonally to ensure the freshest food possible, but they keep customer favorites on the menu year-round.
The Oak is situated in a quiet plaza off of Lake Boone Trail, which makes it a little more accessible than the always-packed restaurants of Downtown Raleigh, but we did make a reservation just in case. We were greeted at the door by a friendly host and were shown to our table shortly after. Since we got a table by the window, the first thing I noticed was the little herb garden outside. I don’t know if it’s just the dietitian in me, but this made me even more excited about our meal. The dining room was fairly small, but very open and didn’t feel at all crowded. The atmosphere felt casual but sophisticated, with dark wood and barrels of bourbon on the wall.
Our server greeted us with water and explained both the bourbon and food menu. While I skipped the bourbon this time, it looked like they have a pretty extensive list, and all of the cocktails looked amazing as well. They even offer bourbon flights, which I thought was a really great idea for people who might not be as familiar with the drink. If you’re bourbon lover I think you’d feel right at home here. The menu at The Oak may not be huge, but it is packed with amazing dishes, making it very difficult to choose. We started with the Pimento Cheese Frits ($9), which were essentially three large balls of fried smoked Gouda pimento cheese. They were placed on top of a tomato jam, which complimented the cheese surprisingly well. I was expecting more of a tomato sauce, but the jam was perfectly sweet. The Pimento Cheese Frits were crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. There were about three or four other appetizers that I wanted to order as well, so you could easily do a tapas style dinner here and just split a few appetizers with a friend.
For my entrée I ordered the Blackened Salmon ($17), which was served over angel hair pasta with pesto. The Salmon was cooked to a perfect medium and the seasoning wasn’t overpowering, which allowed the taste of the pesto to really come through. Even though I had more than enough food, I also decided to get a side of fried brussel sprouts ($4), which I can never resist. They were a little bit greasy, but perfectly crispy and very flavorful. My boyfriend chose the Braised Pork Shoulder ($15) for his entrée. His plate looked like a piece of Southern heaven with shredded pork shoulder on top of Southern-style mac and cheese, with some fried brussel sprouts, all topped with barbeque sauce. It was definitely a heavy dish, but he scarfed it down with no problem. The mac and cheese was creamy and the crunchiness of the brussel sprouts offset the texture of the mac and cheese and shredded pork. At the end of our meal we were stuffed and had absolutely no room for dessert, though the bread pudding did sound pretty tempting. Our waitress said that the desserts change pretty regularly, so you will likely have different options each time you go.
Overall I thought the quality and freshness of the food at The Oak was very apparent in their dishes. I also felt that most of the menu options were different than something you could get everywhere else. Everything had unique touches that I really appreciated. My delicious experience at The Oak has also made me eager to try Taste and More, the other two JMR Kitchen restaurants.
Melissa Guido is a currently a dietetic intern in the Triangle area. She studied nutrition at NC State and Meredith College. Her favorite part about nutrition is showing people that healthy food can be exciting and delicious. Melissa loves travelling and learning about how food fits into different cultures. In her free time she loves trying new restaurants, cooking, and obsessing over her dogs. Follow her on Instagram @made2order and at www.madeorder.wordpress.com.