Minis by Maria – North Point Mall

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

Alpharetta has been buried under a mountain of cake the last few years. Cupcakes, regular cakes, bundt cakes, gluten free and organic cakes. I have had to go to the dentist to get several additional sweet tooths implanted to handle it all.

minis by mariaThere’s a small kiosk at North Point Mall at which North Georgia native and self taught cake decorator Maria Lawson has carved out a niche in the sea of frosting. She makes tiny little bite-sized cupcakes. If you left your normal cupcakes in the dryer and they shrunk, you’d have these cupcakes.

Although these are not your normal cupcakes. Scratch made daily from old family recipes in 15 normal and one rotating flavors, these cupcakes are the perfect little treat. The cake is moist and the icing is just the right sweet hat for the cake. It’s not super heavy like a Jilly’s cupcake.

Minis by Maria opened right before the Christmas rush in 2013 and they have been going gangbusters ever since. People love these little cakes. Maria’s husband Scott runs most of the day-to-day operations. You’ll find Maria on hand Saturdays. Minis by Maria does a ton of work with corporations for events and parties. They did all the cupcakes for the Avalon’s opening. No job is too big or too small ranging from a few cupcakes to hundreds. They also can make custom cakes for birthdays, graduations, etc. Just email a picture to Maria and she will make it happen.

In addition to the cupcakes Maria is churning out, you can also get cake pops. Normally, cake pops are soft and mushy, falling off the stick after the first bite. Not in this case. Maria’s cake pops are dense and chewy and delicious. I would go back to the mall just for those and that’s saying a lot. I hate the mall. And if you don’t want to go inside, call ahead and they will meet you at your car at the mall entrance by the parking deck for carside pickup.

I have tried nearly all of the flavors that are available. (except coconut, yuck) Here are my top 5:

1. Lemon Drop – Topped with a Teddy Graham
2. Cotton Candy – Crunchy sprinkles
3. Red Velvet – Red sugar crystals make this one
4. Brownie Bite – Chewy brownie cake
5. Salted Caramel – A small pool of salted caramel instead of a drizzle is the way to go.

So how does the cost of these mini cupcakes compare to their larger siblings? A dozen will set you back less than $11.00. Considering you could get 12 different flavors, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal. And there’s no paper wrappers, so nothing will get in your way to cupcake glory.

You can find Minis by Maria on the web, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Minis by Maria is a welcome addition to Alpharetta’s cake scene. I guess you could call it the little cupcake shop that could.

Disclaimer: I received some free food during my interview with Maria. I had previously visited and had paid for several cupcakes.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – March 2015

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

The rumors seem to be true. Ricco’s Italian & Tapas will not open as planned in the former Zola Bistro space in Milton. Instead a restaurant called Mondo’s Pizza Kitchen is building out in the space along Highway 9.

Senor Fajitas coming soon signA little ways up the street you’ll soon find Senor Fajitas Mexican Grill & Cantina. They’ll open in a rundown little space just above McFarland Parkway. It’s been home to a few Mexican restaurants, most recently Picante Grill.

The scene changes almost daily down near North Point Mall. We reported earlier this week about the drive-thru Starbucks set to start construction next to Taco Bell on Haynes Bridge Road.

Mayuri Indian Restaurant has closed in the former Pizza Hut space close to the mall. The concept will change and become Bawarchi Biryani Point Indian Cuisine. The chain has a smattering of locations across the country including one in Sandy Springs.

Cupcake purveyor CamiCakes announced recently on social media that they will open in the Mansell Crossing shopping center near the new REI. There’s no word on exactly which storefront they will occupy and buildout has not started.

Also making an announcement on social media was Mugs on Milton. Downtown Alpharetta’s little coffee shop will open a second location in Crabapple at the former Scoops Ice Cream store. It would be great to see an independent coffee shop thrive here but it’s proven hard to get people out of Starbucks. Element Coffee Company brewed a very good cup of joe there in Crabapple a few years back yet folded.

And not to be confused with the Sedgwick’s concept, a Mexican joint called Pura Enchilada Taqueria will open at 11550 Jones Bridge Road near Kimball Bridge in Johns Creek. These guys also operate a restaurant at the Pendergrass flea market. Definitely not the Sedgwicks.

anabelles table logoWe’re watching for a French-inspired concept called Anabelle’s Table to re-emerge soon. They pulled back on plans to open last year on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth. Recently on Facebook they teased that they may lease space on Windward very close to GA-400.

And finally, let’s take a quick trip through south Forsyth. Jay’s Mexican Grill opened about a month ago on McFarland Parkway. We had high hopes for these guys, but they’re bush league compared to our beloved El Trompo. Jet’s Pizza will open a store on McGinnis Ferry in the shopping center with Sweet Apple Donuts. And Cuoco Italian Table has closed on Peachtree Parkway near Sharon Road.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Cook-Out – Moving along on their buildout on Haynes Bridge. No word on an opening date.
Cafe at Pharr – The sign went up this week at their new location off Windward in the old Pig-n-Chik.
Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen - Coming soon to Milton in the old pretzel store near Target.
Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.

Special thanks to Mike Christensen for his help scouting restaurants around town.

Alpharetta’s March gambling madness

I play in a monthly poker game. It’s hosted by a co-worker and frequented by friends and acquaintances. After the news of this week I’d rather not comment on much else about the game. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the players have concealed carry permits. And who knows, maybe a few of them have prior convictions.

Shocking huh? Hardened criminal this blogger must be.

So when news of the Pepperoni’s Tavern bust hit this week, guys like me uttered a collective “what the…?” Comments on the Alpharetta Public Safety Facebook page suggested that the SWAT bust was excessive, a misuse of resources and heavy-handed.

In my mind there is a vague and unclear line between a friendly game among co-workers and a large, organized gambling enterprise. Certainly Alpharetta’s police are not going to kick in the doors at McKesson because Bob from Accounting is collecting five spots for the March Madness pool. At least let’s hope not.

So I attempted to ask Alpharetta’s police this very question and got promptly ignored on every call I made to them. It still isn’t clear where this line is or at what point they wire up an informant and infiltrate your neighborhood poker game.

But by yesterday afternoon the story became a little more clear with a new press release from the city. Pepperoni’s game was large, with six figures in the kitty. It crossed that line and probably needed to be busted. Overkill on the SWAT team? Yeah.

In the end, Alpharetta isn’t really any safer. A handful of regular dudes are feverishly stacking books at the library, quickly earning those community service hours to get their arrest records removed. The owners of Pepperoni’s, who no doubt were stupid, may lose their restaurant in the process. It remains closed at this time.

Stories like this are interesting to follow for another reason. Alpharetta’s Public Safety Department is very careful to control the crime narrative in this town. News of this bust was quickly pushed to every media outlet in metro Atlanta. Perhaps it fits the mold and image of this city. The biggest crime problem we have is affluent people with so much money they can gamble big bucks on college basketball, right? Yet when a meth lab blows up an apartment, you won’t hear a peep.

In the meantime, I’ve got Kansas going all the way. Wish me luck. Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.

Starbucks brewing up drive-thru locations in Alpharetta

Seattle-based coffee behemoth Starbucks isn’t done with Alpharetta. The company seems to be moving forward with plans for more drive-thru locations in the city.

200px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgToday only two Starbucks locations serve coffee to you in your car. Both locations are at the corners of the city, Crabapple and Old Milton to the east.

The company has filed plans with the city to build a free-standing drive-thru location on Haynes Bridge Road near the mall. Look for them next to Taco Bell on a very narrow strip of land that’s currently undeveloped.

And as reported here on Roots a few weeks ago, the company will also open a drive-thru location on Windward in the former Tilted Kilt space. That building will be renovated to become a small shopping center. Starbucks will occupy a space on the end and will eventually close their adjacent store on west Windward. The project is lead by Alpharetta’s stripmall mogul Penn Hodge.

And near Avalon we’re watching two new retail projects, The Atwater and the Fuqua development near Thompson Street. Both might be prime candidates for a Starbucks. The company doesn’t have a presence near Avalon at all. The Atwater will come out of the ground first and site plans suggest an end-cap drive-thru restaurant might be in the works. The Fuqua project received a Planning Commission recommendation last week but still needs the nod from City Council.

Starbucks’ new Haynes Bridge location requires only design approval from the city so construction may begin soon. This area has become a hotbed of redevelopment in Alpharetta so keep your eyes peeled for future projects. This blogger wouldn’t be surprised if the wrecking ball hit a few more free-standing restaurants near the mall this year.

St. Patrick’s Day 2015

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

GuinnessThree years ago I wrote an article profiling several locations to celebrate the luck of the Irish in and around Alpharetta. Sadly, most of those places back then are now out of business. (See Firkin and Crown, Crafty Draught, Erwoods Kitchen and Keg, and the Tilted Kilt) While I don’t mind throwing back a green beer, like most everyone else the closest I get to being Irish is watching Irish Mike make huge swords on the Discovery Channel. Let’s dive in to see how you can green it up this year in the Alpharetta area.

The Olde Blind Dog – Crabapple

The area’s resident Irish pub is the place to do St. Patrick’s Day right. With live music, drink specials and Irish eats, you can’t go wrong. The Olde Blind Dog will be partying on both Saturday the 14th as well as the 17th. Check the web site to see the countdown clock as well as the band lineup. Did I mention that the Olde Blind Dog was recently named the 2015 Irish Pub of the Year by the Irish Pubs Global Federation at their convention in Dublin? Yeah, this dog is legit. Aim your shamrock here for a good time.

Tower Burger – Alpharetta

After a bit of research I found an event listed for March 14 at Tower Burger on Highway 9 called the “Spring Break/St. Patrick’s Day Mash-up”. It’s listed as going on “all day and night”. No other details are listed. So I guess don your green swim trunks and floaties and check it out if you dare.

Avalon – Alpharetta

Alpharetta’s newest and largest attraction is hosting what sounds like the largest and most confusing St. Patrick’s Day celebration. They’re calling it Luck of Avalon and it runs from 2-10 PM on St. Patrick’s Day. Many of Avalon’s retailers will be participating in crafts and activities from 3-7 PM. There will be a pub crawl of sorts all afternoon and evening. Check the website for all the specials and/or offerings from the eateries at Avalon.

There will be a pipe and drum band playing late in the afternoon. I was at first thrown because pipe and drum bands are in fact Scottish not Irish. I was told by a co-worker that St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into more of a Celtic holiday.

But then I read that the band that will turn the streets of Avalon into a dance party is Az-Izz. According to the website, Az-Izz “will transform Avalon’s plaza into a dance floor for a special Motown performance.” Motown? I guess they are just going with a good party band no matter the holiday. Since most of us aren’t really Irish, I’m sure it will be a rockin’ good time.

Whatever and whenever you celebrate, drink responsibly and either have a designated driver, call a cab or have your Uber app installed. Do not drink and drive. The police will be out in force and a DUI is not the way you want to go. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Photo credit: Sami Keinänen (creative commons)

Michael Cross should resign

A lot of people have asked what I think of Michael Cross after this week’s news. So here goes.

michael crossI’ve found Michael to be a pleasant and likeable guy who, as an elected official, has been very approachable and helpful. His voting record suggests that he’s been willing to push back on high residential density, something that’s a rarity these days.

He’s also been booked on criminal charges while in office, twice.

He beat the rap on his 2013 DUI charge. Now comes charges of battery after allegedly throwing a trash can at his wife.

While Cross says he will not run for re-election this year, he should go ahead and resign now. Why?

Distraction.

Alpharetta is on a roll. Hundreds of millions of investment dollars are pouring in. Thousands of high tech jobs are relocating here. The city is the envy of metro Atlanta right now.

What the city does not need are embarrassing news headlines that draw attention away from that fact. The city needs leaders that can stay out of the back of police cars, off trashy reality television shows and otherwise not suggest the appearance of criminality, malfeasance, impropriety or general stupidity. Is that too much to ask?

Secondly, domestic violence is a serious issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ask the NFL about what happened when they brushed off this issue. If Alpharetta handles this in their usual way then you won’t hear a peep about it at City Council meetings. Circle the wagons and wait for things to calm down is the standard operating procedure. That mentality could come back and bite the city, potentially doing more damage than has already been done.

Michael Cross deserves his day in court, is owed due process and presumed innocent until proven otherwise. But what’s best for the city is for him to sever his ties right away. He’s a nice enough guy but he needs to move on from public service.

Chain restaurant substitutions in Alpharetta

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

We’re big believers in supporting local restaurants here on roots. It’s not just about supporting our home grown businesses either. We just prefer the food over the homogenized sameness the big corporate players serve up. That’s not to say we never eat at these places as occasionally a hankering for scattered, smothered and covered hits me.

But if you’re still eating at these chain restaurants all the time, here are some direct alternatives you should consider that are 100% local.

mugs on milton logoPour out your Starbucks latte and try Mugs on Milton. It’s a shame this area can’t support local coffee shops. But it’s a hard business and standing up to Seattle’s goliath is tough. Spend a few more minutes one morning and seek out this indy shop in downtown Alpharetta.

Replace Olive Garden for Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant in south Forsyth. Is there anything parent company Darden Restaurants does well? Certainly not Italian food. While we have some outstanding Italian restaurants, particularly in Johns Creek, Casa Nuova probably matches Olive Garden the best. It’s pretty good Italian grub that’s not so refined to keep it out of the price range. And you won’t be a stranger at this place very long.

Ditch the North Point Mall food court for Mama’s Pizza. It is a shame that mall operator General Growth Properties doesn’t try to attract better food options in the mall, although we’re hearing rumors that this might be about to change. Nevertheless, your best bet for local grub near the mall is Mama’s. They often get overlooked as Alpharetta’s pizza scene flourishes and that’s too bad. Their New York-style pie is a solid contender and a great value at lunch.

Say adios to Speedy with beans and try El Trompo Mexican Taqueria. I still can’t convince my frugal co-workers to ditch El Porton. They are seriously missing out. El Trompo’s street tacos cost almost no pesos and are packed with flavor. I won’t spill too much digital ink on these guys because we’re written about them a bunch. But please, for the love of God, don’t set foot in the Jones Bridge El Porton when El Trompo across the street.

Put the plate down and leave Golden Corral for Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. If putting on the feed bag is your only motivation here, then I guess GC gives you the best ratio of carb or protein for the buck. But it’s disgusting. Instead try Pappadeaux on Mansell Road. You’d be hard challenged to find a better all-you-can-eat buffet in Alpharetta.

And finally, scatter from Waffle House and try breakfast at Scratch Fresh. It was tough to think of a decent replacement for this Atlanta institution. The burgeoning high-end breakfast scene, with players like Egg Harbor, Another Broken Egg and First Watch, doesn’t really fit into the Waffle House genre. So we went with Scratch here for their affordable cost and super friendly staff.

Chicken and Waffles

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

Chicken and waffles is, let’s say, a unique menu item. It’s not for everyone. The appeal is the combination of the hot savory fried chicken and the sweeter waffle. Combined with syrup and honey mustard, it’s an odd pairing. Let’s compare and contrast a few of Alpharetta’s offerings.

Bantam Biddy Chicken WaffleBantam and Biddy’s chicken and waffles consists of a few freshly prepared chicken strips on top of a cheddar waffle. Served alongside is pure cane syrup and vanilla bean apple sauce. As waffles go, the cheddar waffle wasn’t all that sweet. The syrup made up for it by being sticky sweet. The chicken was tender and breaded just right. Dousing the whole thing with the syrup is the way to go. The waffle wasn’t too dense and actually complimented the chicken. It’s pricey though at $14.

Here’s where all the hate comes in. IHOP? On a foodie blog? How dare I. Hey, they’ve got chicken and waffles and I would be remiss if I skipped them. Know what? For frozen chicken strips and a waffle made from most likely a mix, it was pretty darn tasty. The waffle was sweet and the chicken tenders were a good balance with the very light waffle. The meal comes with honey mustard and of course your choice of maple syrup. If someone gave these chicken and waffles, I would not turn them down.

On the other hand, Top Golf’s chicken and waffles were a complete disaster. It’s very surprising considering how good their food is normally. It’s presented as chicken and waffle sliders instead of the normal chicken on top of the waffle configuration. Two cost $9 with no sides. They do come with maple syrup and some kind of jalapeno gravy stuff. The waffles are made in-house and were extremely dense and heavy. Take two of those as the bun combined with a rather thin piece of chicken and it’s just too much waffle. You’re chewing through tons of bread to get to a tiny morsel of chicken. Adding the syrup just makes your hands sticky. I ended up ditching the waffles altogether and dipping the chicken into the gravy which was very good. Overall it’s disappointing.

Out of the three chicken and waffles that I tried I would give the trophy to Bantam and Biddy. IHOP is a close second, and Top Golf sliced it into the woods. Take a chance, try something different and order the chicken and waffles. Tell me what you think.

Fish sandwiches in Alpharetta

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

This week marks the beginning of the season of Lent. While I personally don’t observe this Christian tradition, many do and I respect that. Often those who participate abstain from eating meat on Fridays and of course Friday is the day we write about food here on Roots. So what happens if an observant, and hungry, Catholic stumbles upon our little blog on a Friday and reads about a juicy steak or delicious smoked barbecue? I don’t want to be responsible for breaking their Lenten penance!

rosa mia seared sole panini

Seared sole panani at Rosa Mia

Strangely enough fish doesn’t count as a meat for this Friday meal. So three years ago at this time we reviewed fish tacos. This week we’ll do fish sandwiches, one of my favorite lunches. There’s only one ground rule today – no farm-raised fish. Sorry tilapia, you’re a fish out of water in this article. Here are three choices that won’t leave that observant Catholic floundering.

Wade over to Rosa Mia in Johns Creek for their seared sole panini. Their menu touts it as a number one seller and I can see why. It’s a generous helping of pan-seared fish on pressed focaccia bread. Roasted red peppers also make an appearance as does a little, almost unnoticeable smear of pesto mayo. But the flavor of this flaky fish really shines through. The downside is its construction. Hard bread doesn’t work against a delicate fish filet. About half way through the sandwich it starts to disintegrate. It can also be a tad bit greasy. But don’t let this stop you from ordering Rosa Mia’s seared sole panini as it easily makes the medal podium today.

The fish sandwich isn’t on the regular menu at Wildflour on Windward Parkway, but they have it almost every day as a lunch special. And it’s hard to cast a net over this fish as the species changes everyday. One thing is for sure, chef Michael Fields uses only the best wild-caught fish in season. Recently it has been flounder, mahi-mahi, cobia and trout. Sometimes crustaceans scurry into their sammiches including scallops, shrimp and their popular crab cakes.

Whatever swimming critter they cook, fish sandwiches at Wildflour are always a winner. Occasionally they grill the fish which imparts a wonderful smokey flavor. Topped off with jalapeno lime sauce, this sandwich is terrific. And unlike most of Wildflour’s dainty lunchtime clientele, this sandwich is large and manly.

While certainly not large and substantial, South Main Kitchen‘s fish sandwich is far more refined. Downtown Alpharetta’s newest restaurant recently hooked this mahi-mahi sandwich onto their lunch menu and it’s decent.

I liked South Main’s chili lime sauce at the base of the bun. It’s a lot like Wildflour’s but with a little less heat. I only wish there was a tad bit more of it.

What I wanted less of was the pickled cabbage slaw on top. I liked its tartness and crunch for texture, but there was so much of it that it overpowered the delicate little fish underneath. And little should be emphasized. The piece of fish offered was pretty small, especially for the $14 price tag. It would have felt more at home on a slider bun.

Strangely enough the only thing generous here was their french fries. The plate was buried with their golden brown goodness. I was seriously impressed with these spuds, but that’s for another article. We’re fishing here.

There may be plenty of other fish in the sea, but these three shouldn’t disappoint. If you know of other sandwiches that are fishing for a complement, I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a comment.

A busy night in Alpharetta’s city hall

Tonight’s a busy one at Alpharetta’s City Council meeting and a handful of agenda items are right up our alley here on Roots. Unless you’re snowed under, it might be fun to head downtown and take it all in.

The fun starts early at 6:00 when the city hosts an open house to talk about city center development. It looks like MidCity Real Estate Partners is the favored developer. The big reveal will be how much residential will go vertical in downtown and if it will be apartments.

Alpharetta new logoLater on the City Council is expected to approve a new logo. I’m proud to say that my blog is the first to shamelessly reprint the logo without permission. Here’s what they are considering. I kinda like it.

Council will likely vote to oppose the transportation bill currently before the General Assembly in Atlanta. The bill would be very bad for cities, especially those in north Fulton who would hand over some transportation spending to the state and Fulton County. It’s always interesting to see the city cross their interests with their representatives. State Senator Brandon Beach was a big part of this initiative. Beach used to sit on Alpharetta’s Council.

Next Council will pass a resolution supporting the Beer Jobs Bill. If the bill becomes law then expect guys like Jekyll Brewing to get creative with their offerings. This council has shown they are very willing to tweak their alcohol ordinances for just about anyone peddling booze in town, from growlers to open containers on the streets of Avalon. Case in point, wine bottle sales at restaurants…

Tonight Council will consider a change to allow some restaurants to offer bottles of wine for sale by the package. The idea is that you can buy a bottle at a restaurant like you would at a store for consumption at home. We’ve heard that Cabernet on Windward is behind this request.

And finally, a workshop is on the agenda for the proposed convention center at Avalon. It’ll be interesting to see what the council is willing to discuss in public. Up until now, nearly every discussion has been held behind closed doors in executive session. This blogger thinks the council isn’t being transparent with this process. Considering the city may incur additional debt to finance the project and could be on the hook for its operation, the public should be more in the know. Hopefully this workshop is the beginning of a shift towards more transparency.

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