Eventually, people will want to eat. And if your craft brewery doesn’t have its own kitchen and sells food on site, your guests will go elsewhere to find it,
About three years after opening in downtown Huntsville, Rocket Republic finally has food together. Not only is there a kitchen in progress, but it’s run by Huntsville’s hottest restaurateurs right now: Stephanie Mell and Matt Mell, the married couple behind businesses like Purveyor, Catacomb 435 and Sea Salt, among others. .
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The Mells’ new venture in Rocket Republic is called Famous Eleanors. There, in a space that once housed beer fermenters, just off the brewery’s charming patio, they’ll be serving what Stephanie Mell calls “elevated pub food.” Their soft opening is Friday and Saturday. Famous Eleanors hours of operation will be 4pm to 9pm Tuesday and Wednesday, 4pm to 10pm Thursday, 4pm to midnight Friday and 12pm to midnight Saturday.
What exactly does this mean? Bar food, but, as the kids say, leveled. For example, breaded chicken fillets in a blue corn tortilla. A burger topped with applewood smoked bacon, fried green tomatoes and chili cheese, served with truffle fries. Taco salad with black beans, roasted corn and more, in a homemade tortilla bowl. Corn dogs wrapped in waffle batter. Most items are between $10 and $17, which is moderate for the Huntsville market amid the currently crazy food inflation.
The chef of the famous Eleanors is Kevin Wynne. Wynne tells Eleanors, “They’re going to give me a lot of freedom to really play around with the menu. So it’ll be fun to see how we can elevate things that a lot of people do and make them our own. That’s done by doing the details on For example, Wynne makes their own mustard. Their ketchup, polished with Asian chili paste. Sauerkraut and pickles are also made on site. Onion rings and fish & chips are battered with beer. RocketRepublic.
“On the terrace of a brewery,” says Wynne, “we are going to prepare very good food.” Asked about his culinary influences, he cites Wylie Dufresne and Anthony Bourdain. “Anyone who does things that are not normal. Anyone who goes beyond.
A 1996 graduate of Huntsville High School, Wynne spent about 20 years working in Destin, Florida, including at the Black Pearl, a restaurant where he was both chef and general manager. “Destiny is a great place to live. But I’ve always wanted to come back to Huntsville,” Wynne says, “with everything I’ve learned over the years. I’m thrilled. I love being here Most recently he was at Mezza Luna, the now defunct Jones Valley area Mediterranean/Italian restaurant.
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It’s a coup for Rocket Republic, now owned by Warren Ward, to team up with the Mells. They first connected years ago when Ward joined the Mell-owned Church Street Wine Shoppe wine club, which then stocked Rocket Republic beers. “I love the way they do business,” says Ward. “And that suited us really well. They are very creative souls”
Bringing the famous Eleanors to Rocket Republic also benefits the Mells. The kitchen is larger than at their other properties and they will do all their catering from there. “Our catering business had exploded,” says Stephanie Mell, “and was putting too much pressure on the restaurants we currently have. So we were looking for a catering kitchen space and this opened up. We are excited to partner with RocketRepublic.
In addition to catering, the Famous Eleanors kitchen will be where pastries are prepared for all properties in the so-called Church Street Family of the Mells. To do this, they called on pastry chef Indhira Gratereaux from Las Vegas. “She (Gratereaux) worked at the Bellagio (hotel and casino) before coming to Huntsville,” Stephanie says.
Stephanie, who is from New York, finds the names of all of the Mells’ restaurants. This one has a cool story behind it. Matt’s beloved great-grandmother was Eleanor Kenny, who was a nurse in New Jersey. Googling Eleanors, Stephanie noticed that there were a number who were accomplished, including the late first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, NASA seamstress Eleanor Foraker and astronomer Eleanor F. Helin.
Just like there is a Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a Mell Culinary Universe. And Famous Eleanors makes eight projects for the Mells. “I don’t see myself doing another restaurant and I have to use this name,” says Stephanie. Hence, famous Eleanors.
Going up past downtown Rocket Republic, Famous Eleanors is at the end of the patio. You order from a window (and for now, until it’s over, through a door), or using a QR code found on patio tables or inside the bar. You receive a ping when your food is ready to be collected. You also pay electronically. With the Toast TakeOut app, you can order and pay for takeout. Your Eleanors food bill will be separate from your Rocket Republic drink bill.
Rocket Republic was founded in Madison in 2012. In 2019, they opened their location in downtown Huntsville at 617 Meridian St. N. and near the longtime Furniture Factory watering hole. Just in time for the pandemic.
Rocket recently closed its bar in Madison. They are also ending production there and looking for a new production space. The brewery is currently between chief brewers. Rocket’s flagship beers include a Mach One IPA, Astronut Brown Ale, Vapor Trail Cream Ale, and Six Iron Pilsner. The downtown Huntsville location has 32 taps, including “guest taps” featuring beers from out-of-state breweries.
Ward, whose background is in real estate and as an entrepreneur, first bought as a minority owner in 2016. He became a full owner in 2020. A graduate of Lee High School in 1985, Ward grew up skateboarding. Decades later, the Huntsville area’s vibrant beer scene reminded him of what the skate industry was like in the ’80s. “Hey, that’s a cool little vibe,” he recalls thinking. He wanted to come in.
At the start of Downtown Rocket, they tried serving food from a rented food trailer. But the food didn’t connect, and it didn’t work. Downtown Rocket closed in December and has only been open a few times since then, mostly for private parties.
Ward says they hoped to reopen sooner. But setting up the kitchen, as well as (for the first time) bringing liquor and wine to the Rocket, took longer than expected. According to Ward, the staff for the restarted downtown will number around 10 people for the time being.
Live music also returns to downtown Rocket. The bar is equipped with a cool and cozy moon-themed stage. On the terrace, they make a design on the theme of the sun. And on Saturday at 7 p.m., they’ll host an album release party from 40 Watt Moon, a rock band from Memphis inspired by bands like Big Star and The Replacements. There is no cover.
After a few ups and downs, it looks like downtown Rocket has things in place. Drinks, space, music, food. It’s what you need to be competitive in the Huntsville brewing scene, where cornerstones like Yellowhammer and Straight to Ale have been delivering it all for years. “We want people to have everything they need,” Ward says, “right here.”