Wedding Favorite Liberty House Shakes Things Up Under AJ Capella

Liberty House in Jersey City is best-known for its events, but its new chef is hoping to attract patrons without a special occasion.

Liberty House
Chef AJ Capella wants people to eat at Liberty House all the time, not just when there are special events. Photo courtesy of Peter Bonacci

It’s not all about banquets, weddings and parties at Liberty House in Jersey City, where Chef AJ Capella is aiming to attract people without a special occasion.

One of the state’s most desired events venues—a regular on the pages of New Jersey Bride—the restaurant itself is sometimes overlooked. Capella has been working to change that since last August when he took on the role of executive chef.

Approaching his one-year anniversary with the Cretella family’s Landmark Hospitality Group, Capella is pleased with the menus he’s introduced. Changing it four times a year, his new seasonal menu was built from scratch.

“The food here was old-school and simple,” Capella says. “I wanted to go in a direction that highlights local farms and purveyors.”

What drew you to Liberty House?
AJ Capella: I worked for the Ryland Inn about eight years or so ago, so I’ve known Landmark Hospitality and the Cretellas for a long time. Landmark is a huge company that is constantly growing, and as far as NJ hospitality goes, they’re the best.

Is Liberty House different from past kitchens where you’ve worked?
It’s definitely different. This restaurant does a lot of catering, so it’s more of a banquet style. The restaurant hasn’t really been the main focus of the property, so I came in to try to make Liberty a well-known restaurant rather than somewhere known as a venue for weddings. We’re growing a new culture in the a la carte side of the business.

What can patrons expect from the menu?
When I came in, I changed the whole menu and started from scratch. We’re doing seasonal, Italian-influenced, modern American food—just like what I’ve always done. We have a bigger focus on more locally driven products.

Who are some of the local vendors you get products from?
Our main cheese purveyor is Jersey Girl Creamery. We get our oysters from the Barnegat Oyster Collective and more. I just like to support New Jersey and the people who produce food in the state as much as I can.

What’s on your spring menu?
We did a lamb meatball appetizer with citrus, Greek yogurt and cilantro; fried calamari made with fresh squid from Rhode Island, and a couple of entrées. We also get local chicken, and I always say if you can make chicken the star of the menu, you’re doing something right. Anyone can cook chicken, but it’s always important to try to make it interesting. This chicken dish comes with a goat cheese polenta, and the sauce is made of a reduction of the bones, and is finished with tomatoes, kalamata olives, roasted garlic and parsley. We also love using seasonal vegetables in tons of different ways.

What’s in store for summer?
June 21 we change for summer. We will most likely be using New Jersey corn, tomatoes and all that fresh, bright and summery stuff. I will probably keep halibut on the menu and switch to a cold soup, like a tomato or chilled watermelon gazpacho. 

Do you have a favorite part about working at Liberty House?
I really love the restaurant, and the freedom Landmark has given me is rare to find. Especially for me to come in and erase the whole menu on my first menu change. They understand my food philosophy.

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