Stephanie Kennedy-Mell and Matt Mell want to be your purveyors of fine foods and great experiences. So they created a place where this can happen.
The husband-and-wife team own Purveyor Huntsville on the street level of The Avenue, a new, $36.4 million, mixed-use development downtown. “Let us be your purveyor” is the motto of their space with its wine, bourbon, beer and kitchen.
“Purveyor is an old word,” Stephanie says. “Essentially, it means someone who provides you with all things of high quality, with fine goods. That’s where we got ‘let us be your purveyor.’ Let us be your high-quality, fine-goods distributor of food, of service, of wine, of spirits, of catering – whatever it may be.”
The restaurant, which seats 75 inside and 50 outside, has been open since Nov. 1. It’s a lively, comfortable space with a classic metal- and wood-driven industrial design that feels warm and welcoming. The metal – mostly brass and copper – glints softly from the fixtures. A beautiful, long wooden bar, made from a single, enormous oak tree, deserves attention. Each of the tables, fashioned from that same tree, bears a small brand of the restaurant’s name. “Purveyor” also is subtly etched into the crystal wineglasses that sparkle atop these tables.
High-backed banquettes, covered in rich burgundy velvet, offer cozy seats in the busy main dining room. Tables everywhere are spaced to make conversation personal. A 100-year-old stained glass door from a church in north Alabama provides a spot of glowing color and separates the dining room from a private tasting (and dining) room in the back.
“We wanted it to be a warm, cozy atmosphere … for a fine-dining experience,” Stephanie says. “Fine dining in a more casual, easygoing atmosphere. Anybody is welcome, and any attire is welcome.”
The menu is adaptable, too. “We do have ‘shareables’ (small plates) as well as full-service menu entrees,” she says. “You can come here and just have tapas and a glass of wine or bourbon, but if you want a full-service dinner, that’s available, too.”
Everything made from scratch
Purveyor’s menu is very much wine- and spirit-inspired, and that makes a lot of sense. The Mells, not exactly new to the Huntsville business community, have owned the nearby Church Street Wine Shoppe since 2014. They made a name for themselves – and built a 500-member wine club – by bringing new wines to Alabama and offering expert advice about how to drink them.
Purveyor, though, was a different, larger kind of undertaking, so they teamed up with chef Rene Boyzo, who formerly worked at Gorham’s Bluff. These days, the executive chef creates dishes for the restaurant as well as for the wine shop, which, in addition to some 50 wines by the glass, offers tapas, flatbreads, salads and paninis each day and multicourse, wine-paired dinners for wine club members once a month. Boyzo is from Mexico and was influenced early on by his grandmother, spending lots of time in her kitchen where everything was made from scratch and grinding corn and making tortillas could be a five- or six-hour process.
The menu right now at Purveyor is an exciting fusion of Asian and Latin American flavors, but that will change. “We haven’t defined our cuisine,” Boyzo says, “not because we don’t know where we’re going, but because there’s so much that we can do.”
That’s also why diners won’t find a menu online. It changes so frequently, Stephanie says, that she doesn’t want to disappoint anyone who might come in wanting a specific dish only to find it’s no longer on the menu.
However, some things are constant when it comes to the food.
“We cook everything from scratch just like my grandmother did,” Boyzo says. “Some of the recipes take a couple days to make.”
The Guajillo chili Hudson Valley duck meatballs take about 48 hours from whole duck to plate. Tamarind, pineapple, yellow curry, black truffle pate shavings and Asiago puree finish the dish.
“You take a bite, and it’s a fusion of flavors,” Boyzo says. “That’s what takes our food to the next level. We are considerate of what the ingredients are. We make the best out of those ingredients. We have respect for those ingredients. And we have fun.”
Inventive twists on traditional dishes will always be a hallmark of this restaurant, Matt says. But sometimes guests bring their own ideas to the table. He mentions a man who, upon finishing his roasted marrow bones (served with Asiago toast, tomatoes, roasted garlic and smoked salt), poured a slug of bourbon into the empty channel of the bone and then drank it down.
“It’s just a sip and you’re getting all those oils and it just changes the bourbon,” Matt says. “It makes it velvety. Somebody did it for the first time last week. I was so excited to see him do it.”
Boyzo says another reason for the twists on traditional dishes (like adding creamy goat cheese and a little bit of bourbon to the guacamole) is out of respect for the original dish. Plus, it just makes things exciting.
“We take something that’s traditional (like Brussels sprouts), and we put our twist on it (candied bacon). It’s something that you’re familiar with that you’re not afraid to try. That’s the key – engaging with the customer the first time they look at the menu. When they leave they say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that something that seems so simple tastes that good.’”
A story with every drink
Attention to detail is everywhere at Purveyor.
The serving staff’s plaid and denim uniform signals to guests that jeans are just fine. Those servers know exactly how to describe every dish and every drink because they’ve tasted them all. There are dozens of wines by the glass and more than 50 bourbons (some available nowhere else in Alabama). Purveyor specializes in local and regional spirits like Redmont vodka and gin and John Emerald whiskey. Huntsville’s Straight to Ale made a beer just for them: the Church Street Tripel. Even the cocktail menu, fashioned by a mixologist who happens to be a history major, is special: The pages are tucked inside lovely old books, and the specialty cocktails are named after famous people, events and ideas. Consider the “Elizabeth Cady Stanton” with bourbon, sugar, walnut bitters and orange or “The Embargo Act of 1807” with gin, rosemary, pear, St-Germain and lime.
“There’s a story with every drink,” Stephanie says. But these also will change regularly because lots of the ingredients are locally grown and sourced and seasonal.
Right now, mixologist Justin Ennis is working on a summer-ready drink of muddled blackberries, fresh mint and rum topped with more fresh, juicy blackberries. He’s planning to debut another cocktail of juiced red bell pepper, fresh mint, lime juice and vodka that tastes like a very light Bloody Mary. And like any great bartender, Ennis appreciates the art of great conversation, too.
“I love classic martinis,” he says. “That’s my favorite thing to make. I love the flair of the vermouth in the glass. I love the conversation while you shake it. It’s just such an interactive cocktail. Everyone has a way they want their martini. I say, ‘Give me two seconds. There are 15 ways to make it. Tell me how you want yours, I’ll make it right in front of you, and we’ll chat and you’ll love it.’”
That attitude is important because no matter what fancy thing you’re selling, being a purveyor, in the end, is about ordinary, everyday transactions.
The Mells are taking that literally. They are stocking a small store in the front of the restaurant, the Sonoma Shoppe, where guests can buy wine, cheese, olives, olive oils (they will have tastings) as well as fresh fruits, local vegetables and artisan breads. It should appeal to the people in the 197 apartments above them as well as their dinner guests. “If you come in and have a glass of wine with dinner and fall in love with it, you can buy a bottle on your way out,” Stephanie says. “You can have your server put it on your tab.”
They and Boyzo also understand the personal side of being a trusted purveyor.
“If someone comes here … to dine with us, we take that very seriously,” Boyzo says. “We’re excited to be in Huntsville. And for us to make up for what Huntsville has given us, we have to do the best we can when we come to work.”
Matt says, “Our mission statement for both (Church Street and Purveyor) is you’re coming into our house; you’re coming into our living room, and we want to treat you like family. We want to give you an experience that is not just unique to Huntsville or unique to Alabama but unique to anywhere in the country.”
201 Jefferson St. in downtown Huntsville
4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, with the shareables menu available after 10 p.m.
Sunday brunch begins April 1 with service from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Susan Swagler has written about food and restaurants for more than three decades. She shares food, books, travel and more at www.savor.blog. Swagler is a founding member of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, wine and hospitality.