Archive - July, 2010

One Star Ranch – Alpharetta

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday. This week I continue a summer series reviewing barbecue restaurants in Alpharetta.

Let’s get the positives out of the way first. One Star Ranch is the most authentic-looking barbecue restaurant in Alpharetta. I like to ding Q joints on fake decor that comes across as cheesy. One Star has its share of bling on the walls. Old license plates, rattle snake skins, etc. If you pulled it all off the walls and hung it up in a strip mall space it would look contrived. But given One Star’s dive joint location, I find it completely believable. Maybe that’s a double standard I have. I just really enjoy the look and feel of this restaurant. I also like that they have live blues music from time to time.

But, (and this is a big BUT), the quality of the barbecue here is seriously lacking. I used to kinda like this place years ago, before the barbecue scene in town got competitive. Or put another way, I liked them before Smokejack and ‘Cue considerably raised the bar. I last visited One Star about three years ago. The ribs at that time were fatty and tough. I vowed never to return. I felt they needed another shot before writing a serious review.

On my last visit I stuck with chopped pork with a few sides. The pork comes out a course, thick chop with an average amount of outside meat. They will sauce it in the kitchen so I asked for it on the side. Their sauce, served warm, is a heavy ketchup base that I don’t really care for. The Q itself was a little on the chewy side and lacked flavor. The outside meat has promise, but several bites tasted of soot from the smoker. I struggled to eat half of it. Very disappointing.

For sides I picked stew and jalapeno corn bread. I’ve enjoyed the bread in the past, which has a little kick. On this night it was dry and tasted like it had been reheated. The stew wasn’t bad, the only part of my meal I enjoyed. I’ve heard folks rave about the tub of onion rings. I’ve never had them, might be worth a try.

Maybe judging these guys on pork alone isn’t fair. But to this barbecue fan (with North Carolina roots and Memphis taste buds), One Star doesn’t do it for me. If you’re from Texas and want a feel for a Q joint in that genre, One Star might work. The rest of the menu, with brisket, sausage and beef ribs, round out the Texas feel. I’d come back for a beer and some blues music, but skip the barbecue.

Wanna chew the fat on local barbecue? Leave a comment, email me at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com or catch me on twitter at http://twitter.com/rootsalpharetta.
One Star Ranch on Urbanspoon

The American Girl Misdirection

Last night I sat in the food court of North Point Mall with my kids. Nearby was a sign advertising a promotion for American Girl. I asked my five year old daughter, “Sweetheart, do you know about American Girl?” She knew of them, but had never been in the store. She wasn’t familiar with their products or what they offer. We were literally on top of the store yet she had no clue. A little smile came to my face as inside I was thinking “Mwahahahaahhaha!”

It is significant that Alpharetta has an American Girl store. Our affluent suburb is in a small and exclusive club of locations that include Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. So what is American Girl? It is an evil and diabolical scheme to separate fathers from their money. There have been many such schemes in the past, most recently Build-A-Bear. But American Girl is different and far more sinister. It appeals to a deep primordial instinct in little girls. I’ve never fully experienced the store, but I think the general idea is that girls select a doll that looks like them. Next they dress the doll (and the girl I guess) in matching outfits. You then have tea together in the cafe, get your hair done together, etc. And of course you have to go back each season and update clothes to keep in the current fashion trends. This is way beyond stuffing a teddy bear.

What I’ve managed to accomplish is possibly the finest example of misdirection in suburban fatherhood. I’m sure it has saved me hundreds of dollars in the process. Here’s my secret…

First, start young, before your daughters are old enough to appreciate this store. I don’t know if this works once the cat is out of the bag (and the cash is out of your wallet).

Next, realize that the American Girl store at North Point is downstairs and off the main drag. Never, ever enter the mall near the store. I would go a step farther. Never enter the mall at Sears or Macys. I suggest parking on the second floor of the parking deck and entering at Dillards. From there, stick to the second floor of the mall. You’ll have easy access to the food court. It is safe to descend to the first floor so long as you are past Macys. You can distract your kids with choo choo rides, the soft play area or the other activities down on that end of the mall.

Lastly, utilize the various overpriced cookie stores all scattered strategically on the second floor. Yes, they are your friends. Dangle that carrot in front of them… if you’re well behaved then you can have a cookie on the way out of the mall. Yeah, they are expensive, but a dollar here and there is a small price to pay.

When I was a kid parents complained about $50 Air Jordan shoes. I don’t want to be the parent griping about dropping C-notes at American Girl. For now my little misdirection plan is working. Sure it is simple. Just let American Girl’s poor location in the mall play to your favor. Never venture over there, even for a latte at Starbucks. You’ll be fine. If you follow these steps you just might avoid being like your parents.

It’s About More Than Potholes – Alpharetta Adopts SeeClickFix

At my job we have lots of ticketing systems. This is pretty common in the IT world. We have applications for submitting tickets for network changes, maintenance requests, software defects, technical support, new employee hiring and firing, etc. We probably have a ticketing system for making changes to other ticketing systems. It sounds like a lot, and sometimes it is. But if you’ve got a good process around the system, it can help your organization in a big way.

How so? It allows for accountability and transparency. When stuff isn’t getting done, there is a record of who is assigned a task with dates, times and notes. And when the process behind the system works, it gives management the tools and metrics to track change. They can also make pretty graphs for their powerpoint presos.

Yesterday the AJC ran a story about the City of Alpharetta and their adoption of SeeClickFix. You can read the article here. The application is basically a ticketing system for citizens to submit minor problems within the city. Think potholes, broken sidewalks, storm drains, traffic lights, stuff like that. Users submit issues through a web 2.0 interface with google maps integration or over a smart phone (iPhone, Blackberry or Android). It is slick technology. <nerd mode off>

Like many, this was the first time I heard of this application, which Alpharetta has quietly been using for a few months. When I first read the AJC article I kinda thought the city developed this on their own. That’s not the case. They have adopted a process around SeeClickFix and have subscribed to its service. At only $100 a month, this was a real bargain for the city.

Yesterday I created an issue in the new system. I reported on a traffic light on Windward Parkway that I think needs to be re-timed. In just a few minutes someone with the city acknowledged the issue and assigned it to the traffic division for research. That in and of itself isn’t a huge deal. I suppose I could have picked up the phone and called the traffic division and accomplished the same thing.

So how is this better? Because I have a ticket. I am issue number 47733. I have a URL, a status, a date, “like” buttons and a section for comments and discussions. I have something I can come back to weeks or months later if nothing is done. In short, I have a visible way to hold the city accountable. If I had just called in my issue, who knows what would have happened. The employee on the other end of the phone could have done nothing. Or more likely than anything, the request might have just gotten lost in the bureaucracy of government.

The system is still pretty young. It will take time to see how well it is adopted and embraced by the city and citizens. As a local blogger you can bet I’ll be watching. In the meantime, I think the City of Alpharetta deserves a lot of praise. In this current political climate, citizens are demanding a lot out of government. Unfortunately that usually manifests itself in the form of ugly campaigns and fighting. What I think citizens truly want is open, transparent and responsive government, not politics. Big kudos to Alpharetta for being the first to leverage this technology.

Dining Out with Young Kids

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

If you’re looking for my every Friday article on food and dining… it isn’t here! I’m fortunate to have been offered a guest post on the blog Atlanta with Kid. My article is about eating out with your toddler in Alpharetta. Please swing on over and check it out. Amy’s blog has some terrific ideas for things to do with your kids, many of which are free. Also check out her other blog, The Q Family Adventures Travel Blog.

Bruce and a Lesson in Work-Life Balance

“You’re getting reorged.” That was all my now former boss told me in the hallway. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear at that moment. Why? For one, I liked my old boss, and I also really needed to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t a good hallway conversation.

“You’ll be reporting to Bruce.” Who? I’d never heard of him. Bruce was new to the company, coming to us from a construction equipment firm where he was a sales VP. It was a strange fit, especially considering that he now had some IT people reporting to him. He shared his resume with the group at our first meeting. This guy was a serious corporate go-getter. He literally rose from the mail room to the big corner office. Bruce’s achievements on his resume, if true, were remarkable. He lived in a fancy gated neighborhood and drove a European sports car. He had a nice looking family, a son active in high school sports and a college-aged daughter who turned a lot of heads. More on his kids later.

But it didn’t take long before Bruce’s management style started to rub people the wrong way. IT guys are used to a laid back atmosphere. Not Bruce. He insisted on a strict professional dress code, right down to the shoes. Core working hours were mandatory and enforced. Flex time? Forget about it! He also insisted on keeping the supply cabinet in his office. Folks hated groveling for paper and pens, having to justify a need for them. The guy was a tyrant. It was like working for R. Lee Ermey. For those of us in IT, it was hell.

It also became apparent that if you didn’t have aspirations of upper management, Bruce didn’t respect you. Being a peon was okay as long as you showed what he thought was a drive to make it to the top. And that drive didn’t leave room for much else. The serious go-getters he was grooming didn’t have time for soccer games with the kids. Even vacation requests were often denied.

Yet one day Bruce confided something to me. It was a short remark, almost made in an off-handed way. He said that he was trying to spend more time with his son and daughter. They were close to leaving home and he felt like he had a lot of lost ground to make up. That was about all he said on the matter, but it stuck with me.

It was an epiphany. I knew I didn’t like Bruce, and I thought he didn’t have anything to teach me career-wise. Was I ever wrong. Bruce taught me a LOT. I learned in that instant that I didn’t want to be a Bruce. How many people look back at the end of their career and wish they’d spent more time at the office? None! I decided to trade a thick resume, big job titles and plaques on the wall for quality time with the kids. It means I’m not going to be a chief technology officer one day. It also means I’m not going to miss things like “Doughnuts with Dad” at my son’s preschool. It means I don’t miss bedtime.

I don’t know what happened to Bruce. The next reorg came and swept me away to a better place. Bruce eventually left the company, hopefully to retire and spend more time at home. But knowing him, he’s probably still trying to conquer the corporate world in another big building full of cubicles. I’m sure he’s still slaving away trying to get another penny added to the EPS this quarter. Hopefully his daughter isn’t out looking for something to replace the father figure she didn’t have.

Not as Conservative as You’d Think

I’m a conservative. I’m a true conservative. I was a foot-solider in the Reagan Revolution. I’m so far to the right I can’t turn my head left. These are all lines I’ve heard in this election year. Well, the last one I made up, but you get the idea. The election of 2010 has been an amazing one so far. It reminds me a lot of 1994, only more intense. Candidates are tripping all over themselves to come across as conservative. We live in one of the most politically conservative parts of the country, yet politicians are trying to out-conservative each other. It is almost comical to watch.

At the same time I’m puzzled with local government and how very un-conservative their policies seem to be this year. City and county governments around here stomp on the principles of private property rights and limited government with impunity. Here are a few examples…

Forsyth County in the Golf Course Business – Some Republican county commissioners in Forsyth County want to use taxpayer money to purchase a golf course, namely the Lanier Golf Course. Never mind that other privately owned courses in the northern burbs are struggling financially. I’m sure Forsyth County can do a better job running one while still being good stewards of the taxpayer. Fore!

Roswell Denies Cell Tower Request. Milton Rejects Two Cell Towers – This has been written about a LOT. I’ll probably beat on this dead horse in a few months when Roswell and Milton are dragged into court. The odd thing is that fighting cell towers is politically popular among residents even though the law is clearly NOT in the side of the cities. Tea party principles be damned, we’re talking NIMBY! Can you hear me now?

Gwinnett’s New Garbage Plan Takes Effect – Citizens in unincorporated Gwinnett County now have zero choice in which garbage company to use. This isn’t as big a deal to me since many municipalities do the same thing (the City of Alpharetta being one of them). It is more the principle of the matter. In the name of reduced traffic and pollution citizens had a small freedom taken away from them. That stinks.

I could go on with examples of legit zoning applications being rejected for NIMBY purposes, but you get the idea. In 2010 we will hold politicians in Washington and Atlanta to a higher conservative standard. We’ll demand to have it the other way with city and county commissions. We’re not as conservative as we’d like to think here in the northern burbs.

Why I Like Karen Handel

Georgia’s primary elections are Tuesday. It has been quite an election year. There are tons of candidates to pick from, which is always a good thing. And like I mentioned a few months back, with so many politicians running for higher office, we’re bound to have a lot of employed career politicians when this is all over. This is a terrific thing.

I’ve decided to vote for Karen Handel for Governor. There are a few reasons in my mind, some of which are germane to my blog’s theme. They are:

She’s one of us. She lives in Roswell. I live in Alpharetta. Her campaign headquarters are on Old Milton Parkway. Not a big deal under normal circumstances. Her past is like many here in the burbs (except the part about working at the White House). She was a relo working for the corporate world. Sound familiar?

Fulton County Commission – Her experience here is noteworthy. In short, she got shit done. The current leadership in north Fulton County doesn’t even compare. I’m amazed at how uncooperative politicians are here these days. In Handel’s case, she was elected county-wide as someone from Roswell. She worked with the diverse population and leadership of Fulton County, balancing budgets. I don’t see many leaders today from north Fulton that look like Karen Handel.

She’s a woman. One way to cut out the good-old-boy syndrome of politics is to vote the boys out. And most of the boys in this race have ethics problems that immediately ruled them out of contention for my vote. The most egregious is Nathan Deal and his no-bid contracts with the state.

In short, I think Karen Handel is a take-charge-get-stuff-done kind of woman who will shake things up in Atlanta.

Transit in the Far-flung Burbs

This article in the AJC jumped out at me today…

http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-politics-elections/transit-beckons-in-far-571625.html

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently completed a “major study” on who takes transit and why. What’s the biggest finding, according to the AJC article? Transit trips in Metro Atlanta mostly happen in Dekalb and Fulton counties. 85% of them do. Imagine that! In a related study, Roots in Alpharetta has learned that 100% of MARTA’s trains exist in Fulton and Dekalb counties. Hey ARC… next time you commission a study on this, don’t hire Captain Obvious to grind the numbers.

The conclusion drawn from this study is that there is demand for transit in the burbs. I read the article three or four times through and I still don’t understand how they came to that conclusion based on the data. But nevertheless this is timely stuff. Recently the Georgia legislature voted to allow regions in Georgia to tax themselves for transit initiatives. Will this finally allow for trains in the burbs? Let’s hope not.

There are a lot of reasons we in the northern burbs are generally not in favor of mass transit. Usually the ITP folks will say it is based on race. Here on my blog I’m not afraid to point out bigotry in the burbs (here and here). I assure you, this isn’t one of those cases. Here are my reasons for not supporting mass transit in the burbs…

MARTA is a boondoggle. Its management and board are complete imbeciles. I have absolutely no confidence in their ability to run any organization, much less something as large as a transit authority. Even with a 1% sales tax and increased fares they still have trouble meeting operating costs. Sure, new transit in the burbs might not be run by MARTA. But given my observations, I have no faith that transit can be effectively managed here.

Building transit is capital intensive. A lot of MARTA’s current infrastructure was built on Atlanta’s existing rail lines. That was a smart move. But in our suburb this isn’t possible. There are zero miles of existing train track in North Fulton and Forsyth. Absolutely none. Gwinnett and Cobb are a little different though. But nevertheless I don’t think residents here would approve of additional taxes for this. Remember, we’re in the reddest part of this red state.

And lastly, we have cars here… lots of very nice fancy cars. The study finds that 40% of MARTA riders have no car. Alpharetta is an affluent place. I don’t know many people without a ride. As one of my twitter friends mentioned once… his SUV had more passengers than a MARTA bus he observed going down Windward Parkway.

‘Cue Barbecue – Milton

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday. This week I continue a summer series reviewing barbecue restaurants in Alpharetta.

I vividly remember my first visit to ‘Cue about a year ago. This random barbecue joint opens up shop with no fanfare in a space that had proven to be unlucky to restaurants. It didn’t take me long to figure out that they were a boutique barbecue shop. But slowly I started to notice some familiar things. The racks of fresh bread, hand-cut fries, course chopped Q, delicious stew. It all reminded me of something. Then I started seeing faces that looked familiar including the owner of the joint. It all came together for me then… this is Swallow at the Hollow!

I went home and googled like mad, thinking this must surely be the second location of my favorite Roswell Q joint. Not so much. Turns out that Swallow’s former chef, Paul Doster, went out on his own. Thankfully he brought the best of what I remember from his days in Roswell. If you’re familiar with Swallow at the Hollow then you’ll know what to expect at ‘Cue. The barbecue is very similar. Many of the side items are as well. The Brunswick stew is a tad different but very similar. Everything is made from scratch, even the pickles.

But let’s talk about the barbecue… They cook shoulders and serve as a course chop. There is always a good mix of outside meat with the inside stuff. Noticeable smoke ring? Yep. Tender and moist? Check. Decent sauce that doesn’t overpower? Stick to the vinegar and pepper stuff and you’ll be alright.

I’ve had the ribs a few times but find them to be inconsistent. When they are on, look out! Very good stuff, tender yet with some body (fall-off-the-bone is over tender in my book). But I’ve had racks here that are fatty and unappetizing.

Don’t like ribs or pork barbecue? Shame on you! ‘Cue also has brisket, chicken, and sausage in addition to off-the-wall stuff like barbecue pizza and nachos.

I mentioned that the sides are all homemade. It is tough to go wrong with anything. I enjoy dipping the bread into stew. I’d also suggest trying their seasonal veggie of the day. Almost always a winner.

Can you tell I’m a fan of this place? Of all the Q joints I will review this summer, ‘Cue is by far my favorite. Nevertheless I think they have some things to improve upon. Those would be…

- Often I find the outside brown portion of my chopped pork to be overdone. It can sometimes be the consistency of very crisp bacon. It should be chewy but not crunch. They also don’t apply a rub to their pork (if they do, it isn’t much). In my opinion they are losing the chance to add a big flavor profile to their barbecue.

- Their restaurant is small. There’s no other way to put it. ‘Cue is very popular right now and is literally bursting at the seams. This tiny strip mall can’t handle it. Parking and finding a seat are tough. They’ve gotta get out of this piece of real estate pronto.

- Decor. To be fair, I can’t knock places like Dickey’s on fake Q joint decor and not do the same for ‘Cue. It is a little hokey.

So there you have it. ‘Cue is a winner. Disagree with me? I’m always up for a barbecue debate. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com

'Cue Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Alpharetta Jobs – July 2010

Around the middle of each month I survey the career websites of Alpharetta’s largest employers. I count the number of openings and tally them up here. I trend the numbers month to month but otherwise I make little to no conclusions about the data. I’ll leave that up to my readers.

The numbers in July are flat when compared to June. McKesson has fewer openings yet I see they have sixteen open positions in other northern Atlanta burbs. My numbers are only for their Alpharetta headquarters. LexisNexis is a problem. Their career website is down and won’t be back until next week. So for now I used June’s numbers for them. I’ll circle back on Monday and correct their numbers.

Alpharetta Jobs July 2010

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 85
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 28 *
ADP 66
E-Trade 28
Equifax 35
AT&T 11
Verizon 14
Radiant 21
HP 33
Infor 12
Phillips 7
Alcatel-Lucent 5
Oracle 1
UPS 0
IBM 0
Total 346

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