Alpharetta Restaurant News – April 2015

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

A new burrito joint may soon be rolling into town. Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina has plans to open at 5215 Windward Parkway in the former Uncle Maddio’s space. Started in Charlotte in 2000, the fast-casual Mexican concept is rapidly expanding through franchising. Currently they are in 19 states but curiously not in Georgia. That’s about to change.

salsaritas logoThe company at one time had a location in Savannah but closed it in 2013. This year they plan to test that Savannah market again with a new store. Their Windward location will be the first in metro Atlanta but they promise several more.

The location is an interesting pick and has proven to be unsuccessful to a few chains. Mini burger purveyor Krystal tried a test concept called K-Cafe here a few years ago. And of course there’s Uncle Maddio’s and their slow death spiral. A source very close to this piece of real estate once suggested to me that Your Pie was interested in the space but that didn’t come to fruition.

Then there’s the competitors. Chipotle, Qdoba and Moe’s have all had a long presence on Windward Parkway. How will Salsarita’s compare?

Avalon recently announced on social media that Chick-fil-A will open at the mixed use development. There were rumors of this years ago when Avalon was first zoned. However another Chick-fil-A operator once told me he didn’t think it would happen due to the real estate being too expensive. So the announcement came as a bit of a surprise to me, albeit a welcomed one. Avalon needs a cheaper food alternative.

That’s about it for restaurant news this month. Since last month Cookout opened on Haynes Bridge, but based on the crowds I think everyone in town has been there already. And Senior Fajitas Mexican Grill has opened on Highway 9 and McFarland in south Forsyth.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Extremely slow progress on this coffee shop in Johns Creek.
Cafe at Pharr – Also slow but steady progress on their new location off Windward.
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.
Mondo’s Pizza Kitchen – Coming to Highway 9 in Milton in the original Zola Bistro location.
Starbucks – Tiny new free-standing location coming to Haynes Bridge near the mall.
Bawarchi Biryani Point Indian Cuisine – Replacing Mayuri in the old Pizza Hut near the mall.
CamiCakes – Another cupcake joint, North Point near REI.
Mugs on Milton – Second location for this indy coffee joint to open in Crabapple, former Scoops location.
Pura Enchilada Taqueria - Coming to Jones Bridge in Johns Creek.
Varasano’s Pizzeria - New buildout within North Point Mall. Construction has not started.

Dan Merkel announces candidacy for City Council

It looks to start early this year. Campaign season is kicking off in April as Dan Merkel announced yesterday he is running for City Council. He plans to run for the post 6 seat currently held by DC Aiken. According to a press release he has DC’s endorsement.

Merkel, who lives in the Kimball Bridge area, is a 20 year resident of Alpharetta. His community resume is consistent with that of an established guy running for office in Alpharetta. He’s served the newly-formed Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce as well at the Rotary, Public Safety Foundation and the YMCA.

While 2013 was a snoozer for municipal elections in this area, 2015 promises to be much more, especially in Alpharetta. DC Aiken is term-limited out of his post 6 seat. Michael Cross has announced that he will not seek reelection leaving that position up for grabs too.

Jim Gilvin’s seat is also up. As the most homeowner friendly and anti-establishment guy up there, you should expect a challenger to emerge for this spot as well. Mayor David Belle Isle will also face the voters this year.

With qualifying in August it is rare for candidates to announce this early. However David Belle Isle started very early in 2011, a move that obviously turned out well for him. Perhaps Merkel is taking a page out of this playbook.

Merkel will soon host a campaign kickoff party at Pure Taqueria. It was an unusual part of this announcement as most of these political guys party at Ron Wallace’s joint, Olde Blind Dog in Crabapple. Merkel’s campaign also appears to be managed by Fred Hicks who in past campaigns has had close ties to Wallace. But maybe we’re looking too much into things. With four months to qualifying and seven to the election, there is plenty of time yet to talk election politics in Alpharetta.

Show Me the Money – Alpharetta’s most expensive steak

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

I recently received a $100 gift card to one of Atlanta’s fine dining establishments. Reading the menu online made me realize that a hundred bucks wasn’t going to cut it. It got me thinking, where in Alpharetta would a sawbuck not be enough? Continuing on that line of thought lead me to want to find the most expensive single menu item in Alpharetta.

oak steakhouse logoThere aren’t a ton of “$$$$” priced places up here. As expected, most of them are steakhouses. If you want a prime slab of cow, you’re gonna pay for it. Cabernet, Ruth’s Chris, and Viande Rouge in Johns Creek all are candidates. Keep in mind, the steak joints are all al a carte, which is French for “You ain’t gettin’ nothin with that”. All sides are extra, so we’re just talking the price for one steak.

So, who’s steak will cause your wallet to cry for mercy? The most expensive menu item in Alpharetta isn’t in any of the above mentioned places. The distinction belongs to none other than Avalon’s Oak Steakhouse. Its “Master Purveyors of NYC 24oz. Dry Aged CAB® Prime Bone-In Ribeye” is far and away the most expensive steak I’ve ever seen at $85. You read that right. In fact, three of the five steaks offered are $50 and over. I’m sure the Millennials will be lining up to drop that kind of cash on dinner.

Ruth’s Chris and Cabernet barely touch the $50 mark and Vinny’s on Windward isn’t even in the discussion. Oak’s got them all beat. I’m sure the steak is good, but really, who’s going to fork over that much money? That’s a “I earned my PhD” or “I was just elected President” or “I really want to sleep with my date so I’ll try to impress her” kind of a meal. Would even an expense account justify that price? Maybe it’s one of those menu items like the Ol’ 96er or the 10 pound burrito where no one really orders it, but the restaurant has bragging rights. Well, go ahead and brag, Oak Steakhouse, you’ve got the most expensive menu item in Alpharetta.

Varasano’s Pizzeria coming to North Point Mall

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

You’ll soon have a reason to eat at North Point Mall again. Atlanta’s highly lauded Varasano’s Pizzeria is planing to open a location inside Alpharetta’s mall.

varasanoslogoPlans call for them to build a 4,500 square foot restaurant with outdoor patio adjacent to American Girl. The mall office and watch store will be relocated to a different part of the mall to accommodate the restaurant.

Varasano inked a strategic partnership with mall operator General Growth Properties that would have them anchoring restaurants near mall entrances. The first such location will be at Perimeter Mall and, after some delays, is very close to opening.

Alpharetta’s location will be nearly identical to that at Perimeter Mall. The concept will be a hybrid fast casual restaurant that focuses on a more convenient experience at a lower cost. Locally brewed beer and hand-crafted cocktails are also in the mix.

Despite being in the rear of the property, this entrance is the mall’s busiest. It’s something General Growth wants to exploit with the addition of the restaurant. And American Girl, rumored to have been saved from Avalon poaching, continues to be a huge regional draw.

Varasano should fit in well here in Alpharetta. It seems that a new Neapolitan-style pizzeria opens each year. First to market was Campania then 850 in Crabapple and of course Antico at Avalon. And all that is on top of a very crowded yet top notch offering of New York-style pies in Alpharetta. Varasano will carve out a niche with a cheaper option that doesn’t skimp on quality. Expect an opening in the Fall.

Where are the millennials at Avalon?

I liked this article from the Revue & News the other day about the residential development at Avalon. It was written like your standard economic development fluff piece they are so experienced in writing. But there are some interesting tidbits tucked away in the story.

First, only about a third of the apartments at Avalon have been rented. That came as a bit of a surprise to me considering how awesome North American Properties billed them. During the phase two proposal they talked of “unprecedented demand” for the apartments and long waiting lists.

The more interesting part of the article is the average resident age. An anonymous source reported to me that the average age of the Avalon renter was pushing 50 years old. The Revue & News article seems to confirms this citing an average in the mid to high 40′s.

Where are the throngs of millennials?

Remember that we have to build these dense mixed use developments to attract them, right? Alpharetta will die if they don’t move here and millennials don’t like the tired old suburban life we have. They will never buy a house or have children so we have to build apartments, apartments and MORE APARTMENTS! Apartments stacked on top of apartments!

Baloney.

Avalon is attracting rich empty-nesters. There’s nothing wrong with that as Avalon is very attractive to those who want to downsize yet still live the Robin Leach lifestyle.

So let’s call it what it is. Despite what you might hear during land use discussions, millennials are simply not moving to these developments in large numbers.

City Center Development. Bad Design. Broken Promises.

Today we feature a guest post from Alpharetta resident Frank Wingate.

The proposed high density City Center development in downtown Alpharetta, adjacent to the new City Hall, is winding its way through the approval cycle.  The proposal is flawed on a variety of levels.  There are better ways to manage this valuable resource owned by the citizens of Alpharetta.

So how did we get here?

G-Alpha_town-greenIn 2011 the voters approved a $29 million bond issue for a new City Hall with small, village style, detached buildings for retail and restaurants on the north and south boundaries of the city center.  At the time of the vote, architectural renderings and descriptions of the project were unveiled by the City Council, as well as sent to each household as part of a-get-out-the-vote campaign.  Including cost overruns during construction and prior land acquisition, the taxpayers are on the hook for about $40 million.

The currently proposed, radically different City Center design almost completely obscures the new City Hall.  And we’re talking some serious urban density – 172 rental apartments (just where did these appear from?), and about 110,000 sq. ft. in restaurants, retail, and office in three separate four/five story buildings — all in two city blocks.

As Jay Leno once famously asked Hugh Grant, “What … were you thinking?”

If the often stated desires of Alpharetta’s citizens are green space, uncrowded schools, and minimal disruptive traffic jams; this high density proposal accomplishes zero.

So what should the Mayor and City Council do instead?

Well, it’s not as if the City Center land is going to move to Detroit tomorrow if there is no development.

PLAN A -  Patience.  Take the long time horizon.  Shelve the development.  Current high density, pseudo-urban developments are a fading fad, not the norm.  Great cities know that significant greenspace around public buildings is the model for success, whether it’s the National Mall in DC or the Tuileries in Paris.  And Alpharetta has success in-hand.

Truck in some dirt to level the grounds in front of City Hall, plant grass, and add a few trees, benches and lighting.

Let the city develop, including Thompson Street, setting the stage around this highly valuable, green oasis in the center of the city.

PLAN B -  Keep the commitments that the City Council made to the voters.  If the Mayor and City Council absolutely, positively cannot wait; then proceed with the original village style development, but slowly.  Wait for financial success by erecting the less obtrusive south side buildings first, then the north side buildings only when south side success has been achieved.

The proponents on the City Council state that the original design doesn’t work, and that high density apartments and offices are required.  Work for whom?  The developer, secretly negotiating with the City Council?  The City Council members with ties to real estate development?  Or the City Council members with offices downtown?

If PLAN B doesn’t work for economic reasons, then revert to PLAN A.

In an economic downturn, today’s fashionable urban-style development is tomorrow’s vacant commercial property with declining apartment rental rates — especially with the overbuilt retail shopping in Alpharetta.  Does Alpharetta really want to take the risk right in front of City Hall?  And why are the economic and real estate lessons of 2007/2008 so quickly dismissed?

The City Council made commitments to the voters of Alpharetta, both at the time of the bond issue vote and in written campaign promises.  At a minimum, the City Council should keep the commitments that they made.

And at best, the City Council can inspire a much greener, thoughtful, long-view PLAN A approach.

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.

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