Watershed Distillery shares details about its chef-driven Kitchen & Bar, set to open at the distillery this winter. Chef Jack Moore, who most recently worked at The Black Pig in Cleveland, has been tapped to lead the kitchen.

Watershed Distillery has joined the restaurant arms' race, moving quickly to open its chef-driven Kitchen & Bar at the Grandview distillery by February.

Watershed's new 2,000-square-foot restaurant will seat 70 in the dining room and bar (with a glass wall that looks into the distillery), 40 in an adjacent event space and 30 on the patio, says Watershed co-founder Greg Lehman. The space was formerly home to product inventory, offices and storage.

The move by Watershed follows the opening of Rockmill Brewery's Rockmill Tavern in October and Middle West Spirit's announcement of a forthcoming restaurant named the Service Bar. The three craft alcohol purveyors are looking to extend their brands by jumping into the restaurant game. But what's most exciting for Columbus diners is this: All three are serious about their food.

Lehman and his partner Dave Rigo have tapped Alex Chien as bar manager and Jack Moore, called a "rising star chef" by Cleveland Scene, to lead the kitchen.

Moore, who studied at the Columbus Culinary Institute and worked at the former Sage American Bistro in Clintonville, returns to Columbus after a three-year stint in Cleveland, where he worked at two of the city's top restaurants, The Black Pig and chef Jonathon Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern.

I interviewed Moore and Lehman in late October at the distillery just a week after the chef left his job in Cleveland, got married and moved to Columbus. Here's an edited version of our conversation.

***

CM: It looks like you were ready to hit the ground running once HB 351 passed, allowing distilleries like Watershed to operate a full bar and serve food. Why does opening a restaurant make sense?

Greg Lehman: We've talked about this for a long, long time. And it wasn't until May when it passed that we were really like, "Let's do this." We really liked it as an extension of our brand. When we first started, people would come and tour. We'd show them the place, let them taste ... and they'd say, "Can I buy a bottle?" and we'd say, "Sure you can, but here's a map to the liquor store." And even when you tasted it here you were tasting gin at room temperature at 88 proof. … So the ability to mix cocktails and then add a food component, we think it will really add to the experience and give people a reason to come back to the distillery.

CM: What's the restaurant concept?

Jack Moore: Touchy subject for me. I'm not the person to really narrow down a concept. I think we're going to be a nice, upscale-casual place that does very classic, Midwestern American food. I really don't like it when people put a title on it because I feel like you really narrow yourself on what you can do. I love that kind of tongue-and-cheek kind of stuff, like pork and beans. That means so many things it could be anything. It could be a really good pork chop on a bean puree. ... I think that's where people have fun with food.

CM: What can you tell us about the menu?

Moore: Where we're kind of leaning is a fairly small menu, probably 20-30 items. I think probably eight to 10 of those items will be entrees and the rest of the menu will be smaller plates. I would much rather have a group of people come in and, as opposed to just ordering a cocktail and one entree, I would much rather they order three to four plates and get the table interacting with one another.

CM: You have a lot of experience with fermenting and preserving. Are we going to see that on the menu?

Moore: I hope so. It's definitely one of my passions. Growing up, the food we ate was very convenient, but what I remember most is we also had huge gardens and so there was always a time in late summer, early fall where the family would get together and it was this huge canning party. … I lost that a little bit when I got to culinary school, because they're like, "No, your green beans are called haricot verts and they're supposed to be crunchy." I thought I grew up wrong. I was almost smacked in the face when I was in culinary school. It really opened my eyes when I went to Cleveland and got a job with Jonathan Sawyer at Greenhouse. Sawyer's definitely . . . the craziest, funkiest idea that you can possibly get, he's like, "Do it." Being able to work with Sawyer and his whole group ... it really opened my eyes that there's definitely a place for what I grew up doing and what I grew up eating. And obviously … we're not set up to can [at Watershed]. But it will probably trickle its way on the menu.

CM: What are you excited about either rediscovering or discovering in Columbus?

Moore: I'm really excited to come back and eat at all the new restaurants that that have opened up since I've been gone … make farmer connections that have come to light since I've been out of town. I'm really excited about making all those new connections. And Cleveland's scene is a little different than Columbus' scene and I'm hoping I can bring a little bit of that, bring something new and fresh to talk about. … I want to bring a little bit of that Cleveland mentality down here.

CM: How would you describe that Cleveland mentality?

Moore: Even though people might seem to have a kind of brash attitude about them, they're really open to a lot of things. Three years ago if I would have put a whole roasted hog's head [on the menu] at Sage, we wouldn't have sold one of those. But when I went to Greenhouse, that was one of their signature things. We couldn't keep them on the shelf. I'm not saying I'm necessarily going to put a pig's face on the menu, but I definitely want to take that same concept-that was really pushing the limits when it hit Greenhouse's menu. I want to try to be able to do the same thing and be just as successful at it. I've got a bit of a learning curve. I don't know how the dining scene has grown up since I've been gone, so I'm curious and I'm excited about that.