Have your parents treat you to Oakhart Social

Although it comes at a steep price for students, Oakhart Social is the perfect place to enjoy a night out with your family

It has officially happened — I have reached my breaking point with the University Dining. Something changed after spring break, and the usual salad bar and peanut butter toast — I so diligently ate every day since the beginning of the year — now seem intolerable. Luckily, I have the best roommate ever, who has the best mom ever, who took us to a much-needed dinner at Oakhart Social last Friday night. 

Oakhart Social is not a place I would have gone on my own for a few reasons. As a first year, I do not have a car, and it is located pretty far down Main Street without a convenient trolley stop nearby. I will also add that even if you do have a car, finding street parking on West Main can take a ridiculous amount of time and energy. Secondly, it’s expensive. Everything on the menu ranges from about $11 to $15, which may seem manageable at a first glance. But when our server informed us that the menu was entirely shared plates, and she recommended two dishes per person, it became clear that Oakhart Social is a strictly when-the-parents-come-to-town place for me. 

That being said, I would highly recommend Oakhart Social to anyone who is willing and able to drop $30 per person on dinner. We had an incredibly relaxing experience from the moment we arrived. The day was warm, so we were very excited to sit outside. They have a lovely patio in front of the restaurant, with spacious rustic wooden tables, hanging fairy lights and a heater by every table. We ended up being very thankful for these heaters as it got colder, and our server even brought out blankets for all of us when it was clear we were freezing. This was an incredibly thoughtful touch that I will definitely remember the next time anyone asks me for a restaurant recommendation. 

Because we sat outside, I cannot fully speak to the atmosphere inside. However, I will say that it smelled absolutely divine and was filled with well dressed people having lots of fun. It was very loud inside and the exposed brick and vintage bar stools made me wonder if I was cool enough to eat here — but in a good way. The patio was much more relaxed, as we could easily hear each other without yelling, and no one seemed to really mind that I was wearing Nike shorts and a tee shirt. Needless to say this dinner was not planned, and I would definitely recommend dressing nicer than I did when eating at Oakhart. 

If you are someone who needs to get to know their server on an emotional level before you order drinks, the service at Oakhart Social may seem less than ideal to you. However, I loved it. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable and efficient, without being too chatty. In my opinion, this is how service should be. As a server myself, I believe that eating at a restaurant should be more about the food and less about hearing every detail of your server’s day, and at Oakhart they seemed to share this mentality. 

As I previously mentioned, the menu consists of small shared plates that come out one at a time when they are ready. But to be clear, this is not a tapas place. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what type of food Oakhart Social serves. They have a variety of vegetable appetizers, fancy toasts, larger plates like hanger steak and catfish, as well as woodfired personal pizzas. The menu is filled with surprising-but-delightful flavor combinations and local and fresh produce. 

Our meal had three stand out dishes and the first was the shaved salad. A sweet salad with arugula, fennel and apple. Although I am usually hesitant to choose a sweet salad — they tend to remind me too much of the West Range Colonnade Classic — this one did not disappoint. The fennel and apple both added a unique, subtle flavor and the sweetness was cut nicely by the watermelon radishes. Bread crumbs added the necessary crunch — and were a great alternative to croutons — and the salad was tossed with the perfect amount of homemade dressing. 

The next highlight of the meal was the grilled octopus with butter beans, red endive, mizuna, grapefruit vinaigrette, aioli and garlic bread crumbs. This was my first experience with octopus in non-calamari form, and although I was initially a little alarmed by the very visible suction cups, it turns out I’m a big fan. 

Charred on the outside but very tender on the inside, the octopus was cooked perfectly — in my clearly not expert opinion. The salty flavor was excellent and complemented perfectly by the tartness of the vinaigrette on the fresh greens. I love aioli, but hate when it tastes like mayonnaise. Oakhart knew exactly how to avoid that problem — it was creamy and flavorful without feeling heavy. The butter beans, which resembled very large lima beans, were also surprisingly tasty. 

My favorite dish of the night was the preserved mushroom pizza. The personal pizza consisted of a homemade crust, tomato sauce, arugula pesto, red onion, gouda, mozzarella and of course, preserved mushrooms. To be honest, this pizza sounded like something I would have loved without the mushrooms, and they seemed like a random addition that could potentially ruin the always wonderful margherita pizza.

I could not have been more wrong. The sweet vinegar-esque flavor of the mushrooms complemented the saltiness of the pesto perfectly without overwhelming the pizza. You could taste each flavor separately in every bite — sweet tomato sauce, salty pesto, creamy cheese, sour mushrooms — but they also combined together beautifully. I would go back to Oakhart just for this pizza in a heartbeat. 

Overall, I would say Oakhart Social is worth every dollar you spend there. The food is fresh, healthy, flavorful and unique, and the atmosphere will make you want to sit and chat for hours after you’ve licked every plate clean. 

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