RIP Growler Stores

The era of the standalone growler store in Alpharetta came to an end with the recent closing of The Beer Growler on Main Street at Windward Parkway. Let’s all pour one out of our 64 oz amber glass bottles for the ones that we lost. Places like Blind Murphy, Tap It Growler, Draft Beer Market and Crafty Draught have all left us.

beer with frameI have to admit, the growler concept lasted longer than I thought it would. The city of Alpharetta embraced the idea, making it legal for the growler stores to give up to three one ounce samples per person per visit and later approving the sale of flights. I spent many minutes in Blind Murphy sampling beers from breweries I had never heard of, from places I had never been, and styles previously strangers to my palate. I got turned on to many new and exciting breweries, many of which were small and only distributing their beer in kegs. Community became one of the really good things about the growler stores. It helped small and local craft brewers to get the word out about their products.

Most of the growler stores had five to twelve taps, but Draft Beer Market in Johns Creek went nutty with 64 brews on tap. That place was fancy. Video screens replaced most place’s chalk boards to list what was on tap. While the majority of growler stores gave samples in plain, boring plastic shot glasses, Draft Beer Market went all out with glass mini brandy snifters. My pinkie was in the air when I took those samples.

So if these stores were so cool and hip, why have all of them closed? Well, the standalone growler concept isn’t really good from a business standpoint. People come in, maybe try samples, fill their bottles, and go. There’s no hanging out, no other products for people to spend money on and no reason to stay. These guys were paying rent on a sometimes large, sometimes prime real estate and all they sell is beer to go. A lot of the stores sold glassware or beer in bottles and cans. I’ve got plenty of beer glasses already. If I wanted beer in bottles or cans, why am I going to the growler store when I can go to Kroger or to a liquor store? You went to the growler store for growlers.

That brings me to my next point. The 64 oz jug o’ beer is not suitable for most situations. There’s a party? Perfect! You really, really, really like that type of beer? Awesome! The majority of beer drinkers aren’t going to stomach all that beer before it goes flat and loses its right-out-of-the-tap-on-draught specialness. I found myself losing interest in the growlers and buying my beer in bottles. The smaller 32 oz size growlers were a step in the right direction. But lugging those things around was inconvenient. I had worked up an idea for a growler tote, but that dream was never realized. I did find that my child’s car seat was the perfect transport device for getting my beer home.

Look at the growler places that are still around in Alpharetta. There’s the gas station at Bethany Bend in Milton. Labeled as the first growler gas station in Georgia, it’s perfect. Get gas, buy some lottery tickets, and fill your growler, all on the way home from work. There’s also a growler station at the Whole Foods at Avalon. Again, do your shopping and if you can still afford it, fill up on beer. Two liquor stores in Cumming have growler stores attached. Due to Georgia laws, the entrances are separate, but it’s still relying on another business. These growler stores are a convenience, not a destination.

So let’s not shed too many tears for the passing of the standalone growler store. Changes in the laws let you buy beer right from the brewery, and that’s what we really wanted anyway.

Stepping back

For nearly six years Roots in Alpharetta has brought Alpharetta and the surrounding community compelling content on news, politics, technology, restaurants and general stuff. At least I hope it’s been compelling content. That’s always been the goal. It’s taken a great deal of time to research and write the articles you find here each week. It’s been well worth the effort, a very rewarding experience.

Unfortunately I need to cut back on my blogging schedule and frequency. Why? I simply don’t have as much time to devote to writing. My work schedule is changing and I’m spending more time working from home. This means my time in Alpharetta is less than it used to be. I’m not walking the beat like I used to.

Additionally there are concerns in my Forsyth County community that are extremely pressing. There’s a role for me to fill here, I’m just trying to figure out exactly what that is.

This doesn’t mean goodbye Roots, just a little less. It means that you might not always find a fresh article when you point your browser here on Friday mornings. I hope my readers understand because I value your feedback and contributions to the discussion. You’re the best and you’ve made this a lot of fun.

Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’ – Sunday, August 30

Crankin-logo1-300x225The Drake House provides transitional housing for homeless women and their families. Their small facility in Roswell stays full almost year round. They do tremendous work.

They also host one of the most unique food festivals in our area, Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’. We don’t often post events to this blog so you know this one is worth your time and a few of your hard-earned dollars. The cause is certainly worth it. Volunteers from the business and faith communities make some amazing homemade ice cream and offer samples. For a donation of $6 you get all you can eat. There are also activities for kids and families. For more information visit The event starts at 2:00 but we suggest you arrive early before the product melts in the hot August sun.

What: 11th Annual Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’. A fundraiser to benefit The Drake House.
Where: The Roswell Square
When: Sunday August 30 from 2:00 to 4:00
Cost: $6 per person, $20 per family

Alpharetta Restaurant News – August 2015

It’s been quiet in the restaurant news department this month. Either the pace of new restaurants is slowing or I’m been derelict in my restaurant sleuthing duties.

5d3b5e_9309835518f64dd796b24dfb04c32b9d.png_srz_p_334_129_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzLending credibility to the derelict argument is the fact that I completely missed reporting on The Nest Cafe. This coffee and sandwich shop has been in the works for a while now, planning an opening at Alpharetta Lofts. They’ll join Real Chow Baby at the condo development on Canton Street. It’ll be interesting to see how restaurants do here considering it is a block or two off the Milton Avenue main drag. And while I hope both Mugs on Milton and Nest make it, I don’t think downtown Alpharetta can support two indy coffee joints.

Speaking of Mugs on Milton, their new Crabapple location is now open. Also coming to Crabapple is a second location for fishmonger Kathleen’s Catch. Their original location is on Medlock Bridge Road in Johns Creek.

Demolition has started on two projects that should bring new restaurants or perhaps a Starbucks or two. The former Tilted Kilt building on Windward will become a small stripmall with a Starbucks drive thru. And demo and grading has begun at The Atwater, a series of small shopping centers adjacent to Avalon. They’ve been tight lipped about the retailers and restaurants planned here, but something tells me Starbucks might make the list. Expect a new trend to emerge in town where the chain closes older stores in favor of these newer locations with drive-thru lanes.

We’re hearing rumors that another growler store closure may be imminent. I’m not ready to publish the name until the closure is confirmed. The implosion of the growler fad is nearly complete.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Donut Theory – Promising doughnut shop opening bear Bite on Kimball Bridge Road.
Baldinos Giant Jersey Subs – Expect an opening very soon on Highway 9 in Milton.
Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.
Varasano’s Pizzeria - Coming to the back entrance of North Point Mall. Opening delayed to Spring 2016.
Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina – Also delayed or stalled. Announced opening on Windward in the former Uncle Maddio’s space.
The Real Chow Baby – Stir fry joint coming soon to downtown Alpharetta.
Windward Tavern – Building in the former Cinco’s on McGinnis Ferry near Publix.
Moctezuma Mexican Grill – Mexican concept to open in Milton in the original Bobby G’s location.
Tacos on the Run – Small taco restaurant on Jordan Court near Costco.
Black Walnut Grill – New free-standing restaurant to be built at Windward and North Point.
Anabella’s Table – Mom and pop French joint coming to the former Cosmic Deli location on Windward. Expect another slow buildout.
Flavor Juicery – Juice bar opening near Bite on Kimball Bridge.

The Bowl, Modern American Cuisine

Attention, Alpharetta. A restaurant has opened that’s not a burger, pizza or cupcake place. Quick, gather your battered palates and head down Old Milton to The Bowl, which is located in the former Wok and Chopstick location. The main thrust of The Bowl is “Korean style bowls, with a collection of cultural influences”. While I am not an expert on Korean food, I do know what tastes good. The Bowl tastes very good.

The BowlI have yet to have eaten anything here that wasn’t filling and satisfying. While I have stuck primarily to the bowls themselves, The Bowl does have several entrees to offer. Meatloaf, herb chicken, crab cakes, soups and salads round out the menu. Be aware, the lunch menu is quite a bit larger than the dinner menu. The portions may be larger at dinner, but some of my favorite lunch items aren’t offered at dinner.

The bowls come with your choice of white or brown rice or egg noodles with vegetables mixed in. On my first visit I ordered the beef stroganoff bowl over noodles. The meat was crazy tender and was combined with a mushroom sauce, onions, broccoli and carrots. Each bowl comes with a roll to sop up all the juice, which I did.

My wife had the crab cake dinner. We were told that the crab cakes were one of the best selling items on the menu. It wasn’t bad. Not the best she’s ever had, but better than a lot of crab cakes that use Miracle Whip or something along that line as a binder. Note I did say, “it” was good. The crab cake dinner came with one large softball sized crab cake. Odd. The corn succotash and spinach that come with it were very good and complimentary.

I will also recommend the spicy pork bowl. It’s a whole pig’s worth of pork belly cooked with chili pepper and mixed with veggies over rice. I wish they had chopped it up before putting it in the bowl. Each piece was too big and unwieldy on it’s own. The spice level was just right, and by just right I mean way up there. Delicious.

This may sound like a 100% positive review, but alas, there are problems. While the food has been outstanding, the experience has been less than stellar. The lunch procedure and dinner procedure are opposites, which can be confusing. At lunch, you order fast casual at the counter. At dinner, you sit and are waited on. As I pointed out before, the dinner menu is smaller than the lunch menu.

The service has not been up to snuff either. At one point a manager or owner was having a “this is how this place is run” discussion with an employee at the front desk in full view and sound of the dining room. It was awkward for the diners. And in our last visit, an appetizer we ordered was forgotten. When I brought it up to our waitress, we were told flat out that no, we had not ordered it. Not good.

I’m hoping they can get these issues worked out and soon because I am willing to fight the Old Milton traffic to get at this food, but not if this is how The Bowl is run. Straighten up guys. You have a good genesis here, help it grow.

The Bowl, Modern American Cuisine is located at 4000 Old Milton Parkway, Suite 200.

Rumored restaurant concepts at RocaPoint’s Forsyth development

Late last night I published a long-overdue article about RocaPoint Partners’ proposed (and still unnamed) mixed-use project on McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. Scroll down or hit this link to read about the project as a whole. There’s a lot to it and a scant amount of ink has been spilled on the project.

krog street marketThe development is, at best, 18 months away from opening but the potential restaurant and retail lineup is promising. It could be the culinary shot in the arm McFarland Parkway desperately needs. After meeting with the RocaPoint guys a few times, I’ve been able to glean a few nuggets worth sharing.

First and foremost is an upscale food hall. Comparisons to Atlanta’s Krog Street Market started immediately. Several small chef-driven concepts would exist in an open market setting along the main vista in the development. The RocaPoint guys suggest they have this concept in the bag, the lease essentially already signed for their McFarland development.

Along the Ronald Reagan Parkway portion of the development will be a few free-standing restaurant buildings. Among them may be a Mexican concept with a rooftop bar. Rumor is that it will be Pure Taqueria from Alpharetta’s Sedgwick Restaurant Group although Cinco has a concept meeting this description at nearby Vickery Village.

A small movie theater is promised in the development, one that features a dining component similar to Studio Movie Grill.

An organic grocery store is planned on the corner of McFarland and Ronald Reagan Parkways. The chances are good this will end up being Sprouts. Like at Avalon, grocery stores in mixed-use developments insist on surface parking lots, even though structured parking will abound. RocaPoint actually plans an expensive underground structured parking deck at the development, but the grocery store will have a parking lot.

The site plan depicts several other restaurant locations but no other names or concepts have been suggested. This developer has a resume deep with restaurant development experience. If they can pull off this mixed-use project then I have no doubt they can land some quality grub. And hopefully a successful restaurant scene would be contagious to the surrounding properties.

Photo credit: Christina Kwan (creative commons)

RocaPoint seeks to bring mixed-use project to McFarland Parkway

What promises to be the largest mixed-use development in Forsyth County may come to McFarland Parkway. The yet unnamed project from RocaPoint Partners would mix residential, commercial and hotel uses at the southwest corner of GA-400 and McFarland Parkway and hopefully elevate this neglected portion of the county. But the project certainly isn’t without concern.

RocapointThe development would sit on 134 acres, 43 of which are unbuildable thanks to being in wetlands near Big Creek. 430 apartments are planned, some of which are senior living. 92 single family homes and 168 attached homes are also included bringing the total residential component to 690 units. The amount of commercial footprint varies from a minimum of 250,000 square feet up to a max of 550,000. Two hotel properties are included but will likely be suite products and not full-service.

Six years ago this parcel was zoned mixed-used (or MPD in the Forsyth UDC parlance). The plan was largely a strip mall concept with big-box retailers and apartments. A few years ago the plans were amended to permit apartments to be built without a commercial component. Today you can see these large and undesirable garden-style apartments along Ronald Reagan Parkway. Commercial development remained elusive.

RocaPoint’s concept is promising and unique for a few reasons. First, it potentially pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into McFarland Parkway. This is desperately needed.

Second, the developer would pay for a short extension to the Big Creek Greenway. The new path would extend behind the residential portion of the development and end at a newly constructed trailhead on Ronald Reagan Parkway with more parking and a new bathroom. But more important than this, it links the trail system up to a commercial development, something akin to the Atlanta Beltline. This is certainly more forward than Alpharetta’s near-term plans for its greenway.

The project is promised to be upscale. They’ve inked partnerships with noted mixed-use architect Lew Oliver and homebuilder Monte Hewett. In a public meeting Oliver made the bold claim that this development will be “more sophisticated than Avalon”.

And that gets into the concerns on the project. While this blogger would love to see an Avalon-like development in his backyard, comparisons to Alpharetta’s crown jewel are certainly premature and probably overly optimistic. Here’s why.

First, the commercial development is anemic compared to Avalon. RocaPoint is way too heavy on residential, in particular on the southern end of the property. Forsyth’s planning staff agreed and suggested a smaller residential footprint, a suggestion the Planning Commission unfortunately ignored this week when they signed off on all 690 residential units.

Second, the property is awkward in layout. The developer couldn’t get the Wendy’s restaurant and gas station properties under contract so the project wraps around them. The entire development is bisected by Ronald Regan Parkway, a four-lane divided road that isn’t exactly a walkable road to traverse.

Third, the hotel properties are lower end and not full service. They are some distance away from the commercial core. Office space is also less than Avalon.

RocaPoint lacks experience with projects of this significance. It poses a risk that the deal could fall through, something that weighs heavy on the minds of those concerned about granting more apartment entitlements on McFarland. A great deal of effort was expended to condition the project’s residential component to be high-end, appealing to rich empty nesters. Hopefully, like at Avalon, the price point will be high enough to discourage residents with children from moving in and adding to already overcrowded schools. But if RocaPoint skips town or goes belly up, all bets are off.

And finally, this project is flying way under the radar. By the time Avalon was at the Planning Commission stage, the North American Properties PR and branding machine was in full force and everyone was talking. There has been scant coverage in the media for RocaPoint. The derelict reporting in this Forsyth County News article last week was embarrassing and lacking of detail. Is there a reason this is being considered and approved in a vacuum?

Nevertheless, the principals at RocaPoint have been pleasant and professional to this concerned citizen, even when pushed hard in negotiations. They’ve not resorted to name-calling like their counterparts at North American Properties. That goes a long way. And while they don’t have mixed-use experience, these guys have worked in the restaurant development business. The potential restaurant lineup here is very promising, something we’ll write about tomorrow.

While there is a lot to be concerned about in the RocaPoint development, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of McFarland Parkway. That can’t be all bad.

Cook Out – Haynes Bridge

Haynes Bridge Road between GA-400 and downtown has been a graveyard for restaurants over the years. The only real success has been Village Tavern. The Varsity has been there but for the life of me I can’t figure out why it’s still open. No one is ever there and the food is terrible. It’s cheap eats, plain burgers, chili dogs and onion rings. Maybe it’s there because there’s really no other option.

CookOutRestaurantWell, the fat lady may be warming up for the Varsity since Cook Out opened nearly next door a few months ago. We have a new king for cheap eats in Alpharetta, and you know what? The food’s actually pretty good.

We went to Cook Out about a week after it opened, and it was a madhouse. All the tables were full, the line was out the door and the staff was scrambling to keep up with demand. People were going crazy!

Burgers, chicken breasts, sandwiches, hot dogs and wraps are the main items. It’s basic stuff but everything I’ve had has been done well. The chili dogs kick the stuffing out of the Varsity’s. The burgers have a smokey grilled flavor like you’d get at a, you know, cook out.

The fries are nothing special but you’re not stuck with them as the only option for side items. Onion rings, fried okra, hush puppies and slaw round out an impressive list. The onion rings were most likely not freshly prepared but weren’t bad. My favorite side is the bacon wrap. It’s bacon, cheese, lettuce and a ranch sauce wrapped in a flour tortilla. Yeah, it tastes better than you can imagine.

Cook Out has only one combo on the menu. It’s called the Cook Out Tray and is declared the “Best Combo in Alpharetta”. I have to say, it’s hard to argue. Choose a main entree, two sides and a drink or Coke float. All of that food costs a whopping five bucks. It really is the best combo in Alpharetta.

In fact, everything on the menu is crazy cheap. Five chicken nuggets for 99 cents, chicken wraps for $1.79, hot dogs for 99 cents, chili cheese fries for $1.85. Heck, the most expensive burger is the “huge” burger for $3.39. The food I’ve had has not reflected the prices. It’s all been pretty good. And with those prices, that’s a deadly combination.

Save room for a milkshake. I recommend the fresh peanut butter. It took me twenty minutes to get a taste up through the straw, it’s that thick and creamy.

One more item that’s at Cook Out that isn’t found in a lot of other places is Cheerwine. Cook Out is a chain that’s based in North Carolina, the home base of Cheerwine. It’s a really good cherry flavored soda. Give it a try.

And Cook Out is open late! It’s the perfect late night grub alternative to Waffle House. I’ve seen people eating there at midnight on a weeknight. What was I doing there? Milkshake cravings, man. You can’t fight em.

The combination of decent food, insane prices and long hours have made Cook Out the champion of cheap eats in Alpharetta. Your days are numbered, Varsity. Whaddya have, whaddya have, whaddya have? I’ll have Cook Out, thanks.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – July 2015

I have a theory about doughnuts. They’re the trend in Alpharetta right now. New shops will open in just about every corner of the city.

First up is Delightful Donuts which opened a month ago in the former Scratch location (yes, in Milton). This joint is remarkably similar to Sweet Apple on McGinnis Ferry, selling product probably made from a mix. Oh and they have those pigs in a blanket too as well as a small line of DaVinci ripoffs, mini cake doughnuts with cereal toppings.

A much more promising store to watch is Donut Theory which is building out in the same shopping center as Bite on Kimball Bridge and Webb Bridge Way. Their website and Facebook page promise refined and made-from-scratch doughnuts. Cooking from pre-made commercial  mixes is common at every joint in town save one – Dutch Monkey in Cumming. So obviously these comparisons should be made immediately.

Baldinos Giant Jersey Subs is set to open a restaurant near Scratch on Highway 9 in Milton. They have a handful of other stores in metro Atlanta. Del Taco is still in talks to open up the street in front of Aldi. And rounding out our tour of Milton is Moctezuma Mexican Grill which will open in the former Bobby G’s location at Webb and Morris Roads. That name is uncomfortably similar to a certain colloquial term known to bathroom-weary travelers south of the border. What are they thinking?

And speaking of the runs, look for Tacos on the Run to open in the former Quiznos location near Costco. An Indian joint called Dancing Mouth was set to open here but plans fell through.

Texas-based Black Walnut Grill will soon begin construction of a new free-standing restaurant on the corner of Windward and North Point Parkway. Additional locations are planned in Dunwoody and Peachtree Corners. The casual restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in the $8-13 range. Given the prime location and growing cubicle dweller lunchtime business, this restaurant should be a hit.

Kickshaw Japanese Style Tavern appears to have kicked the bucket. The restaurant was beautiful but lacked visibility. Close proximity to popular Campania wasn’t enough of a boost.

Opening since last month is LottaFrutta at Avalon as well as Bawarchi Biryani Point Indian Cuisine near Northpoint Mall.

Big thanks to Mike Christensen for his help with this article.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.
Mugs on Milton – Second location for this indy coffee joint to open in Crabapple, former Scoops location.
Varasano’s Pizzeria - Coming to the back entrance of North Point Mall. Opening delayed to Spring 2016.
Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina – Still waiting on their construction to begin at the former Uncle Madio’s space on Windward.
The Real Chow Baby – Stir fry joint coming soon to downtown Alpharetta.
Windward Tavern – Building in the former Cinco’s on McGinnis Ferry near Publix.
Anabella’s Table – Mom and pop French joint coming to the former Cosmic Deli location on Windward.
Flavor Juicery – Juice bar opening near Bite on Kimball Bridge.

How Far Would You Go?

Over the last several years writing for this blog, I have seen the Alpharetta restaurant scene evolve from a chain wasteland to a thriving, diverse, indy hip place. Yes, there are a great number of pizza parlors. A lot of them have really good pizza and different styles from Neapolitan to stuffed Chicago style to classic NYC pies. The taquerias, the brew pubs, the Indian places, we’ve got ‘em all.

Sometimes, though, when I cruise through downtown, Windward Parkway, or even across 400 to the “other” side, I want what I can’t have. I want restaurants that don’t have a location in our area, places where I love to eat that aren’t close by. Lots of really great places from around Atlanta have opened Alpharetta locations. Antico at Avalon, Cafe at Pharr on Windward (psst, it’s near Firefly under the trees. You still don’t see it? It’s ok, sadly not many will find it), Big Pie in the Sky on Mansell. Ok, that last one isn’t that great, but you get the idea.

Many people I’ve spoken to don’t want to drive a long way to visit one of these spots, and by a long way I mean Cumming is too far. Come on guys, it’s a couple of exits north and there are some really good options. Georgio’s for example. Excellent Italian and Greek food. Plus that guy from the Bachlorette’s family runs the place, so you’ll probably see him.

Bub-ba-q logoThere are places that I will make the drive to because I love them so much and can’t get them here in Alpharetta. Bub-ba-Q is one of them. They have locations in Jasper and in Woodstock, each is about 30 miles from my front door. I will make that drive. Yes, Cue and Grand Champion BBQ are good and a lot closer, but the ribs at Bub-ba-Q are something to behold. Skip the sauce and order them dry. They’re tender, but not fall off the bone sloppy. The millions of competition trophies littering the place are testament enough that this is Q worth the journey. I don’t go on a regular basis, and folks say I’m nuts for spending 40 minutes in the truck to get there, but I don’t apologize when my mouth is full of delicious ribs.

There are a handful of other spots scattered throughout the metro that I visit. Guthrie’s and the Mad Italian in Dunwoody. The buffalo chicken pizza at the Mad Italian draws me down to the perimeter every time. I was sad when the one on Windward closed. My wife went to Alabama (Roll Tide), so Guthrie’s is a staple to her.

There was a frozen custard place in Tucker called Sheridans that we went to all the time. It closed several years ago, and with it, went the best desert place I can think of. Creamy custard made on site mixed with fresh fruit and toppings or blended into a smoothie was the best. Wild cherry mango was my smoothie of choice. Can we get a custard place up here please?

Let’s not forget the 57th Fighter Group and the Downwind at PDK. Sometimes the drive down 400 isn’t pleasant, but the view at these Atlanta institutions always is.

What are the faraway places that you will make the trek for to get some good grub? How far do you travel to answer the siren song of your favorite place? Now is your chance to voice your desires for the next restaurant to either pull up stakes and transfer to Alpharetta or to open a new location. Comment, and we’ll see just how far you go for that elusive meal.

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