Located two doors down from Farmhouse Tacos, the white, no-frills exterior of Rocket Surgery doesn’t necessarily scream cocktail bar. But the front French-style glass doors give way to a modern, eclectic space with a vaulted ceiling and exposed wooden beams. The focal point is the sputnik lights over the half-moon-shaped bar.
One dark gray accent wall is adorned with more than a dozen pewter round mirrors of various sizes. Co-owner Andy O’Mara, of Sidewall Pizza, says the arrangement is meant to resemble the solar system. The opposite wall features a large, framed, preserved moss art piece that reminds O’Mara of the moon. He deliberately avoided live plants.
“I’m struggling to keep the succulents alive,” O’Mara jokes, referring to the planters filled with succulents that serve as dividers throughout the dining room.
Upholstered dining and bar chairs and banquet benches provide comfortable seating at lightly finished wood tables for two to four people. No white tablecloths here.
The polished concrete floors – a Sidewall distinguishing feature – are sleek and low maintenance. A back door visible from the front has the numbers five, four, three, two, and one in descending order as a nod to a NASA countdown.
Overall, the appearance is organically eclectic, yet tastefully simple, with elements of outer space.
“We’re not trying to be a theme restaurant,” O’Mara says.
As for the menu, it offers creative twists on small plates and more traditional bar food.
Snacks include an impressive preparation of calamari that’s been buttermilk battered, fried, and tossed in butter, garlic, roasted red peppers, sweet banana peppers, hot cherry peppers, kalamata olives, and garnished with pecorino and “just a little bit of spice.” Served on a rectangular plate, that colorful pile of crunchy and savory is made for sharing.
The crispy Brussels sprouts, while not uncommon to see on menus these days, have the delightfully unexpected addition of a honey lemon Sriracha glaze.
Speaking of unexpected, the burrata and squash served chilled, rather than hot, allows for the individual flavors of the balsamic-marinated veggies and fresh basil to shine.
Snack-sized burgers served on house-made brioche buns or in a butter lettuce wrap include a traditional beef patty; a ground turkey with Brie, cranberry apple chutney, and Dijon mustard; lamb with feta, spicy harissa, and fresh spinach; soft shell crab, pickled red cabbage, and toasted paprika aioli; and a beet, lentil, and pinto bean burger with butter lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, and sweet pickle aioli. Grab one for a snack or two or three for a meal.
O’Mara says the menu will change as often as they think it should.
And of course, the whole reason he and his partner Loren Frant created the new restaurant was to showcase craft cocktails. The program is headed up by O’Mara’s cousin, Casey O’Mara, who previously worked in a Rochester, N.Y., cocktail bar.
The base spirits of Casey O’Mara’s creations run the gamut – gin, bourbon, rye, rum, tequila, and vodka. There’s something for every flavor palate, from sweet to sour to smoky.
The Gabrielle with gin, elderflower, gentian, honey, lemon, and bitters served up with a lemon twist is refreshingly complex.
The Bless Your Heart! with bourbon, Ancho reyes, lemon, sweet tea, cucumber, strawberry, and house-made bitters is the perfect Southern grown-up iced tea.
The rum-based, tropical Painkiller, served in a tall, narrow glass, is impressive in both presentation and flavor when that nutmeg hits, while the Prospector is O’Mara’s twist on a Manhattan, featuring bourbon, Averno, house-made bitters, and port instead of vermouth.
It’s clear this concept, which opened Aug. 24, is a departure for the Sidewall owners. “It’s totally different than what TR is used to,” Andy O’Mara says. “It’s open later. People can eat at a real place and not a seedy bar.”
Rocket Surgery is open Thursday through Monday at 5 p.m. for dinner.
164-D S. Main St., Travelers Rest
Small plates, cocktails
Thursday–Monday, 5–10 p.m.
11 p.m. closing on weekends