Chapman’s Eat Market
Writer: Amelia Jeffers
Photographer: James Henthorn
For serious foodies, the arrival of Chef BJ Lieberman to the Columbus restaurant scene is the equivalent of signing Joe Burrow to the Buckeyes...with the hope that we don’t lose him to a city who recognizes his talents before we do. With a pedigree that basically reads right out of a Michelin Guide, Lieberman and friends have descended on the capital city during what has undoubtedly been the single most challenging year to run a fine dining establishment, much less open one. Nonetheless, with a penchant for timing and risk management, Lieberman opened the doors to his first solo effort, Chapman’s Eat Market in late summer.
Note: Lieberman will likely take exception to the use of “his” and “solo.” Unassuming and affable, Lieberman definitely leads with the team and lists his staff and their accomplishments like a proud father. His Chef de Cuisine, Wes Grubbs, was Lieberman’s boss at Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, where General Manager Pam Berry was the GM at Minero. Sous Chef, Justin Singer (described as “insanely talented”) was interviewed by Lieberman to be his replacement at Little Pearl in Washington, DC, where Nicholas Say was a Line Cook.
To understand the significance of recruiting this cadre of restaurant talent to central Ohio, you really need to understand what they left behind. Husk is the unabashedly southern kitchen that was named “Best New Restaurant in America” by Bon Appétit magazine in 2011 when it was launched by Executive Chef Sean Brock, who was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef, Southeast” title in 2010. Brock got his start at McCrady’s, the restaurant that is said to have put Charleston on the culinary map. Little Pearl is the trifecta of Michelin Guide stars (after Rose’s Luxury and Pineapple & Pearls) for Chef Aaron Silverman, who had worked at McCrady’s with Brock before launching his own establishments in DC — where he was crowned “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic” by the James Beard Foundation. Silverman’s first of the three, Rose’s Luxury, was named the 2014 “Best New Restaurant in America” by Bon Appétit magazine. Dizzying, right? And here’s the kicker: BJ Lieberman was on the starting line of every one.
Walking into the former Max & Erma’s site at 739 S. Third in German Village, most guests are likely unaware of the experience and aptitude collaborating in the kitchen. The salmon pink walls, preppy green wallpaper, and homey bookshelves that line the main dining room lend to the laid back and convivial vibe exuded by Lieberman and team, which is best summed up by their tagline, “Friendly Food, Delicious People.”
My dining experience was a welcome return to dining in person, though my date and I felt totally safe with the generously distanced tables and fully masked team. Arriving early, I sampled a handmade cocktail recommended by my server while browsing the printed keepsake tasting menu with translucent overlay listing of the beverage pairing for the night. The Sweet Pea could be named Spring in a Glass, the refreshingly light and bright drink marked by a snap pea-infused gin, sake, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and topped with aquafaba. Our first course, Old Bay Onigiri, is a nod to the Mid-Atlantic and an indication of the innovative and adventurous approach to dish development. The Gougeres, our second course, is a bite-sized and delicate mimolette-filled pastry topped with poppy seeds. With the casual and simple start, we were totally unprepared for the incredible depth and range of flavor in the Khao Soi (Chaing Mai Style), a rich yellow curry with shrimp, pea leafs, fried noodles, banana, tomato, and peanut. Delivering our fourth course, Chef Lieberman engaged us in a brief conversation about the concept of the menu, explaining “We view this dinner as having two different crescendos. Course 3 is the first, then we bring it back down with a light salad.” The Mini Wedge may be light, but it is a stunning and sophisticated presentation full of taste with tender gem lettuce, bacon, soft boiled egg, tomato, and refreshing ranch dressing topped with delightful and bright flower petals.
As I continued to veer off the paired beverage offering, my server recommended Anybody Wanna Peanut?, a house favorite. The mildly sweet rum punch is served over shaved ice in a whimsical tiki-inspired mug, with peanut-infused coconut milk, thai basil syrup, lime and pineapple juice.
Our evening continued with Marco’s Gnocchi, slathered in sage butter and parmesan and topped with crispy potato skins served just before crescendo #2, the Steak Frites, the marinated flank steak served atop boardwalk fries with sauteed mushrooms and chimichurri. Every course in a Chapman’s tasting dinner informs the one before and after; and each course is an opportunity for educating the palate. In fact, if dining like this could be viewed as a class in the epicurean experience, BJ Lieberman would be a PhD.
After a palate cleanser of Frozen Lychee & Cucumber, our server delivered a special selection of six different flavors of housemade ice cream, offered by the scoop in house or pints to go. Teasing Chef Lieberman, I suggested that it takes a lot of chutzpah to tackle ice cream by the pint in the backyard of America’s ice cream sweetheart. He smiled and affirmed an admiration and appreciation for Jeni’s that hasn’t thwarted his dream of owning a scoop shop. Devouring the sampling we were served, it’s hard to argue that Lieberman has earned a seat at the table.
For now, Chapman’s Eat Market is focusing on a la carte takeout (delivery through Chow Now) and limiting reservations to small groups at tables that are generously distanced. For more information, visit eatchapmans.com.
Chapman's partners quarterly with a local nonprofit. At the time of this article, their charity partner is Freedom a la Cart, whose goal is to empower survivors of sex trafficking. Chapman's is collecting donations from patrons to aid in the efforts of empowering local survivors and providing workforce development training. Learn more at freedomalacart.org.