Restaurant news interim report

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

My restaurant news article usually runs the first or second Friday of the month but there’s a few little stories can’t wait for September. Let’s run an interim article this week to catch the latest.

oh boy logoOh Boy Rotisserie & Tacos in Johns Creek appears to have closed. While I’ve not been by to confirm, several readers have emailed and tweeted about it. Opening in June, Oh Boy offered a unique twist on a product that’s rather ubiquitous. Perhaps that’s what did them in.

And the rumors unfortunately are true. Ice cream purveyor Scoops will close their Crabapple location in late September. The store was one of the last full-service ice cream parlors around. I was particularly fond of their banana pudding ice cream. Delicious. Their concept also included gourmet and retro candy similar to what you’d might see at Fuzziwigs. There’s no word yet on what will become of the other Scoops franchise locations. However every other location is well east of metro Atlanta, a little outside our coverage area.

Chicken Salad Chick opened last week in the Stonewalk at Northpoint Commons Shopping Center across from Best Buy. Expect women to outnumber men 3 to 1 when you visit. My first impression was that it was decent chicken salad but not good enough to make a special trip.

The downtown Alpharetta restaurant renaissance continues with the opening of South Main Kitchen. Their first official day was this past Monday. Former F&H alum Louis Soon is part of the team which will make competition with nearby Salt Factory interesting to watch.

Next to open in downtown will be Made Kitchen and Cocktails from the Sedgwicks but they’re likely a few months away. And we’re hearing rumors of another possible restaurant conversion along Main Street in downtown. It should be noted that the explosion of Canton Street-like restaurants is happening organically. We like that. It didn’t take a gaudy mixed-use apartment highrise to bring these guys to town.

And finally on the retail side… the Cumming location of Costco Wholesale opens today. Why am I mentioning something that’s way up on exit 15? Because I really hope this new location cannibalizes from the Alpharetta location!

First Watch – Alpharetta

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature an article from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

first watch logoI rarely go out for breakfast.  I’m either too busy in the morning, or sleeping too late on the weekend.  Probably the best reason why I don’t eat out for breakfast is that I make terrible choices.  I’m drawn to the bacon, the sausage, syrupy pancakes and French toast.  Pretty much anything that makes me go “Ooo” on the menu at a breakfast joint is sure to alert my cardiologist.

I was intrigued to hear about First Watch, a national chain started in 1983 for breakfast and lunch that advertises fresh, premium, finest ingredients made from scratch with no use of heat lamps or deep fryers.  Looked like to me that this was one place that I could eat a meal that is yummy as well as healthy.  I’ve been to the Johns Creek location and had the bacon and onion hash, a mix of bacon, potatoes, onions, and cheese.  Ok, not too healthy, but man it was good.  The portions weren’t huge and yet I was more than satisfied.

But this isn’t Roots in Johns Creek, so what am I talking about?

Well, Alpharetta can now claim it’s own location of First Watch.  Located on the corner of Old Milton Parkway and North Point Parkway, the Alpharetta First Watch still has that new strip mall smell.

It’s a little difficult to get in and out of the parking lot due to the divided nature of North Point Parkway, but once you’ve been there once, you will have no problems navigating it.  The space is open, light and inviting with tons of windows and extremely comfortable seating.  Bright colors blast out of the decor to wake even the sleepiest of heads.  Every employee I’ve encountered has been very pleasant, sometimes to a fault.  I have felt a little rushed a couple of times with both ordering and “here’s the check”.  Not a lot of time to relax and enjoy the food.

First Watch french toastAnd what food it is.  I’ve eaten both breakfast and lunch and have been completely satisfied each time.  First Watch offers nutritional info on the web site, so if you are watching calories, check that before you go.  Some items that seem healthy are pretty high in calories and fat.  Who would have thought a pancake could be so bad for you?

For lunch, I opted for the grilled turkey sandwich with a side of Italian wedding soup.  The sandwich came on toasted sourdough bread with tomato, bacon and cheese.  There was a little too much ranch dressing for me, but overall, the sandwich had the right amount of turkey and bacon to be juicy to counter the toasted bread.  Everything was in balance.

I was pleasantly surprised with the Italian wedding soup.  It didn’t have a lot of veggies but plenty of herbs with little meatballs.  Delightful.

My breakfast choices were a little more narrowed.  A little searching on the menu brought me to a unique discovery, raisin bread French toast.  With nearly a third the calories and fat of regular French toast, the order was placed.  It was some of the best French toast I’ve had.  Sometimes with French toast the bread can be too creamy and falls apart.  The raisin bread had more substance while still being able to be cut with a fork.  The sweetness was offset by the raisins and that, in addition to the slightly chewy bread, really woke up my taste buds.

My one complaint was the syrup.  It came out in a glass bottle with a little metal pouring top that resembled the spout on liquor bottles in bars.  All that is just fine. But First Watch must keep these things in the oven to make the syrup warm because this bottle was nearly unholdable, it was so hot.  Even after ten minutes I couldn’t hold it to pour it.  I had to use a napkin.  Hot syrup is great, but maybe a complimentary oven mitt would be nice.

I have really enjoyed my experiences with First Watch.  The food is satisfying and delicious, the prices reasonable, staff (overly) friendly and the environment welcoming.  All of the other breakfast places in Alpharetta should pay attention to what First Watch is bringing to the party.

Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’ – Sunday, August 24

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

Crankin-logo1-300x225I write about the Drake House each year and their ice cream festival. We don’t often promote events here on Roots but this is one that’s unique and supports a cause worthy of getting behind.

The Drake House is a Roswell-based charity that provides transitional housing to homeless women and their families. I wrote about them in more detail in this space two years ago. If you’re not familiar with their work and mission then I encourage you to take a few minutes and read their website at thedrakehouse.org.

Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’ is the Drake House’s premier fundraising event. Volunteers from the business and faith communities make some amazing homemade ice cream and offer samples. For only $6 you’ll get as much as you care to eat. They’ve also got a handful of other contests for the kids.

The event starts at 2:00 but I always suggest folks get there early. The samples go fast. It also melts quickly in the hot August sun.

Here are the details:

What: 10th Annual Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’. A fundraiser to benefit The Drake House.
Where: The Roswell Square
When: Sunday August 24 from 2:00 to 4:00
Cost: $6 per person, $20 per family

Advice to a future Alpharetta relo

Alpharetta signMy blog’s name was inspired by a New York Times article, and later a book, about  corporate relos who migrated to Alpharetta by the thousands. So I really enjoy getting emails like the one below as they bring Roots back to its roots, my original theme. And with Joe’s permission, I’ve posted his email below.

Joe writes…

Hi Lee.

My family will be moving from Colorado to the Atlanta area in a few months due to a corporate relo. My job will be in Buckhead right next to the Lindbergh Center MARTA station.

My question is where should we buy a house?

Our budget is $500K and we are used to living in the affluent burbs. Is the commute from Alpharetta to Buckhead too far/difficult to consider? I’ve done a lot of research on the Atlanta metro but still feel lost/confused regarding where to live. We have a four year old son who will be starting Kindergarten next year.
Any advice you give will be greatly appreciated.
What advice do you have for Joe and other future relos to Alpharetta? Leave us a comment.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – August 2014

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

It’s been a quiet month of restaurant news. There’s nothing earth shattering here but let’s report on what we know.

Village Burger logoVillage Burger has opened in Johns Creek on Old Alabama near The Fresh Market. This is the second location for these burger flippers out of Dunwoody Village.

The Revue & News reported this week that local chef Boyd Rose has moved to Roswell’s Ertis Kitchen and Bar. Rose’s resume includes gigs at the former Rainwater, Milton’s and Sip Wine and Tapas.

In south Forsyth look for Pueblos Mexican Cuisine to open in the former Chepe’s location on Mathis Airport Road. Not far away is Senor Quintin Mex-Grill which is now open on Peachtree Parkway just north of Johns Creek. And just a little piece up the road was TPS Pizza. They closed a few weeks ago. I regret not reviewing this eclectic joint.

Back in Alpharetta, First Watch opened Monday. The breakfast/brunch restaurant anchors the small new Twin Oaks shopping center on the corner of Old Milton and North Point. The story here isn’t a new restaurant but rather that someone built a new stripmall, something that hasn’t happened in a very, very long time in this area.

Also now open in Alpharetta is Humble Pie Pizza Company. They took over the Johnny’s location near Taco Mac at Main Street and Windward.

tower burger signRestaurants Coming Soon

South Main Kitchen – Likely the next restaurant to open on this list. Downtown Alpharetta.
Chicken Salad Chick – Also very close to opening on North Point near Guitar Center.
Tower Burger – Officially two years in the making.
Costa Vida - Southwest grill very close to opening near The Collection Forsyth.
The Farmhouse – Coffee and crepe shop opening in Johns Creek.
Dancing Mouth Indian Restaurant - Small little Indian concept coming to Jordan Court near Costco.
Boneheads – Opening on Windward near Sri Krishna Vilas.
Anabelle’s Table – Promising new restaurant on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth.
Mavrick’s CantinaComing soon to Johns Creek Walk.
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse - Interior demolition has started. Expect an opening near the first of the year.
Made Kitchen and Cocktails – New concept from the Sedgwicks coming to Roswell Street in downtown Alpharetta.
2b Whole European Gluten-Free Bakery - New bakery to open on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta.
Tom and Chee – Near the chicken salad joint on North Point, but a good bit behind them in buildout.

Avalon Restaurant Lineup

Antico / Caffe Gio
Bantam + Biddy
Bantu
Bocado Burgers
Cru Food and Wine Bar
Goldberg’s Bagel Company
Kona Grill
Marlow’s Tavern
Oak Steakhouse
Ted’s Montana Grill

What to eat on opening day at Avalon

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

I stopped following the Avalon restaurant lineup a few years ago. It became tough to keep up as the lineup changed. Their PR machine would often blur the lines between a new restaurant announcement with rumor and hype. And I’ll admit, at times the back story of how Avalon itself came to fruition turned me off.

Nevertheless the lineup is complete for phase one and praise is most certainly due to this fine collection of eateries. And with an opening date of October 30th, these restaurants will open sooner than some on my restaurant news coming soon list.

Before I get into my first choices, let’s say a little about the October 30th opening date. I’ve seen how hard it is for a single restaurant to hit a promised opening date. There’s a lot to get right, from the construction to permits, inspections, etc. Then there’s the liquor licenses, something I’ve yet to see for many Avalon restaurants. It’s crazy ambitious to schedule a single opening date for this many restaurants and shops, a logistical challenge many don’t comprehend. Serious props are due to Avalon if they can pull it off!

Bocado logoHere are the joints I’d like to try first. We’ll also comment on their location within the project, something very important to the success of a restaurant in a mixed-use development.

Bocado Burger – We spend a lot of time talking burgers here. Bocado’s restaurant in the Westside area of Atlanta isn’t a burger joint, yet their burger is often mentioned as one of the best in all of Atlanta. So they want to open a burger-only joint in Alpharetta? Count me in. I’ll probably make a beeline here on opening day. And their outparcel location makes it easier for car lovers like me to get to as well.

I’m surprised no one has tried a ramen noodle concept in the burbs. Bantu at Avalon will be the first and I can’t wait to try. This is a fast-casual Asian concept that’ll be a bit tucked away in the site plan. But you should seek it out.

If the kids are with me I’m likely to try Bantam+Biddy. Their menu features a meat and two veggie style as well as having rotisserie chicken. And I see duck fat fries on the menu. Oh my.

Restaurants located near the movie theater will always be successful. That formula has proven to be true at The Collection Forsyth as even mediocre joints thrive when movie goers can walk there. I love Antico’s location and the idea that I can get a fast, delicious pizza and not miss the opening trailers. Kona Grill, the chain’s first location in Georgia, will also benefit from this proximity. Marlow’s Tavern is also in a great location as well but we in Alpharetta are certainly used to this joint. And we expect Goldberg’s to benefit from overflow restaurant crowds by the theater.

Frozen yogurt seller Pinkberry will be in a street median. I’m not a fan of fro-yo but their offerings are usually considered a notch above the competition. It’s worth a try. Also in the median will be Cru Wine Bar.

My first date night visit might include dinner at The El Felix, a Tex-Mex concept from Ford Fry. It’s around the corner from just about everything else. I might consider Oak Steakhouse even though their location seems almost like an afterthought. They’ll be practically in the townhomes on the west side of Avalon.

And finally, how will a mass opening of several very good restaurants effect Alpharetta’s current restaurant scene? I won’t say who but several restauranteurs have quietly expressed to me their concern for the increased competition Avalon will create. There’s no doubt that in the short term, say three months, business will suffer for these guys. Yet in the long run, rising tides will lift all boats. Between Avalon and a budding new downtown restaurant scene, Alpharetta is finally becoming a restaurant destination. Everyone will benefit.

More apartments at Avalon

North American Properties has submitted plans to the city for Avalon phase two. Buckle your seat belt because we’ll be talking apartments again.

Avalon logoThe second phase of Avalon will be in the eastern portion of the development closest to GA-400. The changes requested primarily alter maximums set in the previous zoning approved in April 2012. Under the plan filed this month the number of apartments would more than double from 250 to 526. The proposed convention center is better defined at a size of 100,000 square feet.

Building heights would also increase. The combined hotel and convention center would measure in at a staggering 14 stories. The office building would increase to 13 stories and a residential building could hit eight floors.

Trimmed back would be the number of hotel rooms. They decrease from 475 to 325 total rooms. Also the maximum number of for-sale residential units would decrease from 132 to 101.

Demand for all aspects of Avalon, commercial, residential and office, have exceeded demand. According to the application, NAP claims their one and two bedroom apartments “will rent rapidly at rates from $1,750 to $5,000 a month.” If that’s a typo it’s not on my end.

And it’s apartments that have always been a bone of contention at Avalon. Alpharetta’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan calls for a city-wide 85/15% split in for-sale versus for-rent residential. That ratio has tilted too far in favor of apartments in recent times, a sticking point that hampered the initial Avalon zoning. The city got creative and allowed for something akin to a transfer of development rights. Avalon could proceed with their apartments if other apartment zonings were extinguished. As it turned out only about a hundred commercially viable apartments were removed from Alpharetta’s future to make way for Avalon’s 250 units.

But enough with the history lesson. Longtime readers here on Roots are familiar with how this all went down in 2012. NAP doesn’t want a transfer clause to apply to their additional phase two apartments. After all, they’d have a real tough time finding R-10M zoned property to extinguish this time around.

We’ll have much more to talk about as this zoning works its way through the process. But here’s how I see it going down.

Apartment opponents will try to stand pat on the 85/15 ratio, as they should. It’s served the city well for many years. Most recently the city was able to defend itself in court against an undesirable garden-style apartment zoning just across the street from Avalon. That case went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court with the court upholding Alpharetta’s position. Violating Alpharetta’s sacred 85/15 ratio could set a precedent that may open the floodgates to apartments. It’ll be interesting to see which councilmen are willing to touch this third rail of Alpharetta land-use politics.

A potential compromise could come in the form of an exclusion to the CLUP’s 85/15 ratio carved out specifically for Avalon. It wouldn’t be the first time Alpharetta’s modified their code specifically for these guys. But the devil would be in the details and special cases should be the exception not the norm.

North American Properties will frame their argument in a unique way. They will approach this from the angle of corporate relocation, a hot topic in Alpharetta in recent years. Rumor has it that several technology companies have expressed an interest in creating a corporate headquarters at Avalon. According to NAP, these companies want to attract future employees who are likely millennials. And as the narrative goes, these young hipsters want to live in apartments close to work and play. The next logical argument NAP will make is that a denial of their apartment request may put in jeopardy future corporate relocation projects in Alpharetta. That argument will hit home to some on Council.

And finally, the timing of NAP’s request cannot be ignored. Their request will likely be considered in late September or October. The grand opening of Avalon’s first phase will be October 30. The Avalon PR machine is unmatched and will continue to build momentum ahead of the project. Opponents to the plan will face the prospect of casting a “no” vote during the heightened peak of anticipation for the project. This certainly wasn’t a coincidence. Well played, Mark Toro.

Gas Stations… Stop It!

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature an article from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

When I was a kid,we went to the gas station to get, well, gas.  I stayed in the car while my dad, or on rare occasions the gas attendant, filled the tank.  We didn’t venture inside. If we did there wasn’t anything for us save an ancient Coke machine and a bunch of racks of oil.

Gas station teaSomewhere along the line someone decided that there was money to be made and combined a gas station with a grocery store/restaurant. Now we have the gas stations of today. They’re bloated, sprawling properties filled with a multitude of treats and treasures to satisfy any vice.  Gambling, smoking, drinking, fatty food, occasional porn, it’s all inside.

After visiting two of Alpharetta’s newest stations, the Racetrac and the Quick Trip both on Old Milton, I say it’s time for these “destination stations” to stop.

I’m dumbfounded by the sheer square footage these places occupy.  Lots of pumps is nice and handy, but the volume of the parking lots to allow all the cars is crazy.  From the far pumps you could have a heck of a hike to get inside.  Once you’re inside, you’re not sure if you’re in a convenience store or a mega mart.  The poor bottles of oil and washer fluid of yesterday are condemned to a small section hidden from view.  There’s endless fridges full of soda, sports drinks and beer.  Most also have wine.  Aisles of treats and candies and doughnuts beckon.

Don’t even get me started on the roller food.  Where once the lonely weiner resided sadly rotating now lives taquitos, buffalo chicken things and sausages.

And the frozen, slushie type drinks?  Are you kidding me?  Both stations offer north of twenty different flavors.  Twenty!  Then we come to the coffee and tea.  We love our coffee.  I don’t drink it.  I favor the five hour energy, which by the way, is crazily priced at these places, as are most things. QT has two walls dedicated to coffee and teas.  Twenty flavors of tea are represented and there are eight types of coffee with four cappuccino machines.  Where does it end?

QT also boasts a food counter where you can order flat bread sandwiches, pizza or something called a kolach.  I don’t know either.  When was the last time you went to a gas station and decided that ordering a sandwich was a good idea?

I think the RaceTrac might have that beat.  It has a full on fro-yo bar.  That’s right, ten flavors to choose from with all the toppings you could want.  RaceTrac also has several tables and a row of stools facing the parking lot so you can leisurely dine on your soft swirl.  They also have several outdoor tables.  We’re not supposed to hang out here are we?  This is why we’re not getting anything done, we’re lounging at the RaceTrac sucking down frozen treats and washing them down with a iced mocha frappa-whatever.

I say enough.  Go and get your gas, but skip the grocery/liquor store/coffee bar/casino.  I think as a society, we’d all be better off.  And by the way, the QT has the best doughnuts.

Forging business relationships from favorable zoning decisions – DC Aiken and Sharp Residential

Consider this perhaps an epilogue to the controversial Sharp zoning on Providence Road. But much more than that, this story demonstrates what may be a growing trend of Alpharetta Councilmen forging business relationships with those who previously had zoning decisions before the city. Follow along for now.

Sharp-DC Aiken

Photo from atlantarealestateforum.com

Back in November 2012 Alpharetta approved a contentious zoning application from homebuilder Sharp Residential. The 79 acres of land along Providence, Bates and Mayfield roads was one of the largest undeveloped residential tracts in the city. The zoning represented the first real challenge to Alpharetta’s new Comprehensive Land Use Plan and its idea of a northwest character area. We chronicled the story here on Roots and a lengthy discussion followed. In the end, Alpharetta’s Council approved a plan very favorable to the developer despite the strenuous objects of the community.

Fast forward to this week. An alert blog reader forwarded this article from an Atlanta real estate website. It depicts Alpharetta Councilman DC Aiken, in his capacity as mayor pro tem, participating in a promotional event for Sharp. In the photograph he’s wearing his company’s golf shirt.

Aiken, a residential mortgage broker by trade, is Alpharetta’s longest-serving councilman. Since the time of the Sharp zoning, which he supported, he’s changed employers but is still in the mortgage business. In his new capacity he’s starting a builder division – and he’s become a preferred lender of Sharp Residential.

Therein lies the rub. Is creating a business relationship with a past zoning applicant kosher? Does it cause the appearance of impropriety, particularly when the zoning applicant left council chambers with a very favorable decision in hand?

In Aiken’s case Sharp isn’t directly paying him. However business from their Providence Road neighborhood, now called Hearthstone, is coming his way. It’s a relationship that, according to Aiken, would cause him to recuse himself from any future zoning decisions Sharp may have with Alpharetta.

And it’s a scenario that’s likely already happened with another councilman. The professional makeup of Alpharetta’s council is that of lawyers, those in real estate and construction. Given the expanding economy in town, professional opportunities exist for these gentlemen to capitalize on the business generated by their own favorable decisions. By taking advantage of such opportunities, Councilmen are either shrewd businessmen or have compromised the integrity of their body. Which way is it?

Oh Boy Rotisserie & Tacos – Johns Creek

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

oh boy logoIf Boston Market married that saucy Latin girl you remember from high school, you’d have Oh Boy Rotisserie.

That’s the most succinct explanation I can give for Oh Boy, the Peruvian-themed rotisserie and taqueria that recently opened in the former BB’s Bagels location in Johns Creek. They didn’t do too much to the space since its bagel days. A fresh coat of paint really brightened the place up. The joint cleaned up nicely which makes you wonder what excuse BB’s has had over the years.

Oh Boy offers a menu that intrigued yet confused me from the get go. Rotisserie chicken? Tacos? Not a combination we’re accustomed to seeing. But it’s a combination that works, bringing roasted chicken together with bold and spicy chiles. It mostly works.

I usually order my yard bird with only dark meet, especially if it’s roasted. Thighs tends to hold their moisture much better than breasts in my opinion. But you need not have this concern at Oh Boy. Their rotisserie chicken is moist and tender in every bite. Even that white meat breast is moist and juicy. The skin is the right texture with a nice spice rub.

You pick a dipping sauce for your chicken when you order. The creamy aji amarillo sauce isn’t bad but Oh Boy’s verde sauce is the bomb. It’s a puree of chiles and cilantro that will set you mouth afire in larger quantities. On my first taste I knew this stuff was familiar. After a few bites it hit me… Mambo’s Cafe. Their menu also has Peruvian influences. And if you’ve even tried the dipping sauce that comes with bread at Mambo’s then you’ll know Oh Boy’s verde sauce. It’s very good and addictive.

Rotisserie comes with two sides. A few were duds, some decent and one knocked it out of the park. The falafel wasn’t bad, as were the green beans and cilantro lime rice. Corn on the cob left me disappointed. But their smashed butternut squash is the real deal. Almost the texture of a coarse mashed potato, the squash was tossed in a herb and spice concoction that was amazing. I’m sure chili powder was in there because it packed a little kick. The portion size was pretty big as well yet I still ate every bite.

oh boy tacosTacos at Oh Boy are not bad. They’re filled with pulled rotisserie chicken and tossed with difference sauces. That spicy verde sauce isn’t bad choice by any means. If that’s not enough there’s a bottle of sriracha on every table so knock yourself out. Otherwise Oh Boy’s tacos are just alright but not worth making a special trip for, especially considering the other taqueria options nearby.

The items I mention are worth trying but unfortunately there’s not much else on the menu that is enticing me to explore. Nevertheless Oh Boy is a unique place and worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

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