Archive - September, 2010

The GA 400 Groundhog and Temporary Government Programs

The closest thing to eternal life on earth is a temporary government program.

-Ronald Reagan

I posted this quote as a comment to a blog post by Jim Gilvin. If you’re not familiar with Jim, you should be. I like his blog and twitter posts. And I may not have that Reagan quote exactly right, but you get the idea.

In case you haven’t heard… the GA-400 groundhog woke up today after a long hibernation. He most certainly did see his shadow. Ten more years of tolls on GA-400. Thanks Sonny Perdue. Now I don’t feel so bad about voting for your Libertarian opponent in 2006.

Getting back to the quote… There is no such thing as temporary in government. Red state, blue state, it doesn’t matter. We’re in the reddest part of this very red state and it still doesn’t matter.

I think in reality residents in the northern burbs had already resigned to this fact. The toll wasn’t going to go away. And in the big scheme of things, it isn’t huge. I probably toss my two quarters in there once a month on average. But to residents up here, it is the principle of the matter.

The GA 400 toll reminds me of SPLOST taxes. They are billed as temporary or something the voters have to renew through the ballot box. They pay for important stuff like roads and schools but in reality they often don’t. They can pay for debt on bonds, and those bonds pay for the stuff we want. In the case of GA 400, sure we paid off the bonds, but past governors (Roy Barnes in particular) raided these funds for other projects. Voters can demand that a tax revenue stream cease, but the money for debt servicing still has to come from somewhere. There is no temporary. Cha ching!

Woody’s Bar-B-Q – 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.

We’re nearly at the end of my summer of barbecue reviews. There’s a reason I’ve put off Woody’s until the end. I’ve been avoiding this place. I probably would have never set foot in here were it not for my desire to complete this series. I pretty much knew what to expect out of this chain restaurant near the mall, especially after last week’s article. My low expectations were confirmed. Woody’s should be avoided.

Did you think Sonny’s BBQ was dead? I did too. Fear not as they have been revived in the form of Woody’s. This place is a spitting image of Sonny’s. Sliced pork, really sweet sauce, crinkle cut french fries, buttery garlic bread… yeah they’ve got all that. And just like Sonny’s, the fries and bread are pretty good. The Q leaves a LOT to be desired.

But let’s back up a bit. I came here for lunch this past Saturday. The parking lot was nearly empty. That’s the first warning sign. Upon entering you’ll see a board listing the country veggies of the day (or should I say the veggies available from the microwave). The rest of the joint looks a lot like the former Pizza Hut that used to occupy this space.

The menu confused me a little. They have pork, beef, chicken, turkey, spare and baby back ribs. Yet also on the menu is Carolina style pulled pork. I asked about the difference between their regular pork and the Carolina style and learned that regular is sliced. I quickly settled in on sliced. I figured this Florida-based chain would offend me and my North Carolina heritage if I tried their attempt at Carolina style. Probably a wise choice.

Sliced pork is tricky. You’ve got to perfectly nail tenderness for it to be edible. Pulled or chopped pork is much more forgiving in this regard. Well, Woody’s didn’t nail the tenderness. It took a knife and a lot of pressure to rip this pork apart. Smoke flavor? Faint to none. I covered it in high fructose corn syrup, I mean sweet barbecue sauce, and ate as much as I could stand.

The crinkle cut fries are good and the bread is very buttery. They were the highlights of the meal. The sliced pork is very pedestrian. I compared it to Sonny’s earlier. Sonny’s might be better than this place… seriously.

The service was prompt and friendly. The kids meals come with a frisbee as a plate that the youngins can take home. I’m trying hard to think of anything else positive to say and nothing is coming to mind. Please avoid Woody’s.
Woody's Bar B Q on Urbanspoon

Kindergarten Friendships

The inspiration for the name of my blog came from a 2005 New York Times feature story about a rootless and relocated family in Alpharetta. New readers of my blog might not know this. If you have a few minutes, you ought to check out the article. It is a fascinating read.

My daughter started kindergarten this year in public school. She spent the last three years at our church’s dayschool program and did well. But kindergarten was a big change. It represented a new school, bus ride, larger class size and a more structured environment. I was confident that she would do well in the transition and she did.

What amazes me about my little sweetheart is her ability to meet new friends. It didn’t take long for her to buddy up with someone new. Often the first thing she talks about when getting home is her friend and what they did.

Why do five year old kindergartners make friends easier than 30-something relocated professionals? In the article I mentioned earlier, the wife laments that she has no close, lifelong friends in Alpharetta. In some respects I’m like this. How is it that we can work with people for 40 hours a week and not get to know them? How is it that we live very close to neighbors just like ourselves and almost never have a meal with them?

Maybe kindergarten friendships are based on a shared love of Barbie dolls, Disney princesses and other simple pleasures of childhood. Or maybe we have something to learn about how young children socialize. Nevertheless I’m proud of my daughter. She’s a better people person at five years old than I am at 36 years. I admire her more than she knows.

Stimulus Money in North Fulton

There are some hard-core conservatives that think local governments should refuse to accept federal stimulus funds. I suppose it is a moral high ground to take. The best way to end pork barrel spending is to be above the fray and not participate in the game, right? Makes a lot of sense to me. But I don’t wear the shoes of a city councilman or mayor. I’m not going to criticize small (and young) municipalities for wanting a piece of Obama’s stimulus pie. Not in this economy!

So let’s take a look at how stimulus money is being spent in north Fulton. This data comes directly from www.recovery.gov, a nifty website with a clickable map to review projects. They separate money by grants and contracts. Grant money is my main interest for this article; the projects being funded in our neck of the woods. You’ll find some energy efficiency projects for city buildings, some road work (including two decent sized projects on Kimball Bridge), the Johns Creek smart traffic system, and a curious one tenth of a mile greenway extension. I think there are fairways in Johns Creek longer than this!

Federal Stimulus Grants

I won’t go into a lot of detail on the contracts awarded to north Fulton companies. Many of these are for projects out of state. I will say that Exide Technologies (headquartered in Milton) is on the receiving end of about $34 million.

Federal Stimulus Contractors

  • Exide Technologies – Milton
  • Infor – Milton
  • Yahasoft – Johns Creek
  • The Circle Group – Alpharetta
  • Siemens – Alpharetta
  • Techlaw – Alpharetta
  • iParametric – Alpharetta
  • Mactec Engineering – Roswell
  • B2B Workforce – Alpharetta
  • R2T – Roswell
  • CONTAINER-IT – Roswell
  • FCB Engineering – Roswell
  • Fisher Engineering – Johns Creek
  • Embedded Eng – Johns Creek

North Point Parkway Dining – An Open Letter

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday. Allow me the opportunity this week to write an open letter regarding our dining choices near the mall.

An open letter to the Alpharetta Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

Dear Sirs and Madams,

Alpharetta has a rather poor reputation when it comes to restaurants and dining. I tend to think this reputation is somewhat undeserved but nevertheless it is what it is. I believe the City of Alpharetta should revive North Point Parkway area as a dining destination by encouraging outstanding, locally-owned restaurants to open there.

I know what you’re thinking… here comes another person trying to bust on chain restaurants. To some extent, yes that’s what I’m gonna do. Yet there’s a place for the national chains. Just last week I ate at a Chili’s location… and liked it.

Many outside visitors to our little burb only see North Point Mall and the surrounding area. There’s nothing wrong with this; our mall is terrific and the CVB rightly promotes it as a destination. However, visitors form an impression of Alpharetta dining based on the restaurants near the mall. These restaurants are largely national chains and are sub-par. I can quantify the degree to which they are sub-par. More to this in a bit.

There are always exceptions to the rule. Places like Dalia’s Grill and Mangos Cuban are certainly not chains. Yet even those restaurants are lacking in some degree or are in locations that are hard to find. When outsiders drive around the mall they see Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, PF Chang’s, etc. They associate this impression with Alpharetta and the connection is made. Meanwhile, Roswell’s restaurant scene is getting national attention.

Just how bad are the restaurants near the mall? A few months ago I wrote an article on how bad restaurants are at outdoor malls. I used urbanspoon.com as a way to measure this. Their ratings, measured in percentages, provide a very granular way to gauge restaurants. It works much better in this case than yahoo, google or yelp ratings that only offer stars.

First I took every restaurant in Alpharetta that had a rating on urbanspoon. Next I averaged those ratings. The typical restaurant in Alpharetta has an 80% rating on urbanspoon. Then I made a list of every restaurant on North Point Parkway. I considered outparcels on the mall property like California Pizza Kitchen and places to the northeast like Sweet Tomatoes and Figo Pasta. Next I went southwest towards Mansell picking up joints like Buffalo Wild Wings and Atlantic Seafood. Twenty-seven of these restaurants had urbanspoon ratings. The average rating of a mall-area restaurant was 73%.

In short, the food at and near the mall is bad, measurably so. Visitors to Alpharetta often only visit this part of town. It would behoove the city to encourage outstanding restaurants to open near the mall. We need a dining renaissance on North Point Parkway.

Sincerely,

-Lee

p.s. – Thanks for being a favorite writing topic of mine. I hope I didn’t tick you guys off too much with my tongue-in-cheek suggested itineraries article. Ya’ll are the best!

Alpharetta Jobs – September 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.

Once again, this month’s numbers continue to climb. My numbers seem to quantify what I’ve observed recently at my employer. We’re hiring at a pace I haven’t seen in over two years. Are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?

If you’re looking for software/IT jobs, I’d be hitting up HP right now. They’re adding new listings faster than they are filling them.

Alpharetta Jobs September 2010

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 84
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 39
ADP 49
E-Trade 27
Equifax 35
AT&T 21
Verizon 19
Radiant 20
HP 55
Infor 12
Phillips 6
Alcatel-Lucent 0
Oracle 2
UPS 0
Total 369

Veggie Tales and the Gated Community

My kids are really into Veggie Tales right now. I never really noticed this silly song on the show until recently. It is absolutely perfect for my blog’s theme; some terrific satire on living in a gated community in the affluent burbs.

I like how the kid politely asks several times yet the members of the community never really help their neighbor in need. Sound familiar? They are more concerned with talking about how life is perfect in the gated community. “And when you come to visit you can stand outside and see; What a tidy bunch we are in our gated unity!” Enjoy!

Mambo Jambo – Windward Parkway

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

Let’s get the confusing part out of the way first. This joint is Mambo Jambo, not Mambo’s Cafe. Mambo’s Cafe is on Haynes Bridge, not terribly far away. The menu is really similar, Spanish/Cuban food. And as a matter of fact, I think Mambo’s Cafe used to be called Mambo Jambo several years ago. Confused yet?

Mambo Jambo has opened up in the space formerly occupied by Mad Italian and before that McAllister’s Deli. It is set back from Windward, behind Xian and Sushi Nami. They are a little hard to find but still in a decent spot, especially for the cubicle crowd.

When I first learned they were coming, I surveyed the website from their south Florida location. It is heavy on the seafood and heavy on the prices. I figured they were trying to compete with places like Vinny’s for the expense account crowd. Yet their lunch menu is somewhat affordable, with entrees ranging from about $8 to $15 or so.

Like a lot of similar restaurants around here, they are not strictly Cuban. There are Peruvian and Argentinian influences to the menu. There’s a ton of variety including ceviches, parrillia and paella.

For lunch yesterday I started with the empanadas. Simply delicious, the best part of the meal. It was a sample of three different fillings; beef, chicken and spinach. They were packed with flavor and not greasy at all.

I regret not trying seafood for my entree. Instead I ordered “Masas de Puerco a la Criolla”, which I effortlessly pronounced in a perfect Spanish dialect. Yeah right, I pointed to it on the menu. These are fried pork hunks with an onion topping. They were tender with the right amount of texture from the fryer. The portion here was very generous considering it came from the lunch menu. I didn’t come close to finishing it. I was a little disappointed that the rice was white and not yellow. The black beans were also a little disappointing. They lacked that robust flavor that I’m used to in this side item.

But all in all it was a good lunch. I’m not going to ding them too much on execution at this point, considering that they’ve been open just a few days. The menu is so vast that I think you need to visit a few times to get your hands around it. The service was very friendly and personable. They make you want to come back. I’d consider it for a romantic date night as well!
Mambo Jambo A Nuevo Seafood and Steak Cafe on Urbanspoon

New/Closed Restaurants – September 2010

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

Can you hear that? That faint humming sound? That’s the sound of dozens of soft-serve yogurt machines. They’re invading the burbs. Frozen yogurt is taking over the world, one strip mall at a time. So I hereby dedicate this month’s new restaurant post to yogurt. Please let this crazy fad come to an end soon. If you know of any other new or recently closed restaurants, leave a comment or e-mail me at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com.

Yogli Mogli, Yoforia and Arctic Brain Freeze

The Yogli Mogli location on Windward is super popular right now. Not to lose the momentum, they are set to open two more locations. The first is near the Avenue Forsyth and the second at State Bridge and Kimball Bridge. Yoforia is opening a location in Johns Creek. This article suggests that it will be their biggest location to date and will also be self-serve.

And finally, also ripping off the self-serve idea is Arctic Brain Freeze. They recently opened up in the sprawling Target shopping center in Milton. The selection is about the same as Yogli yet they offer more toppings. They have a better outdoor seating area as well.

‘Cue – Cumming

The uber-popular barbecue joint in Milton is opening a second location in Cumming. They will be on GA-20 about a mile east of GA-400. This is a smart move as I think this part of Cumming can support more barbecue. I wish them the best. In the meantime, check out my review of their Milton location.

Bada Bing Wings – Closed

Really sad to report on this closure. My family liked going to this little wing joint, but they’re gone. If you’re looking for Alex, the super-friendly former owner… he’s over at Scratch Fresh burgers in Milton.

Tom & Trav’s Gourmet To Go – Alpharetta

I don’t know much about this new joint. Looks like a small sandwich and corporate catering operation on Hembree Road in Alpharetta. The menu on their website looks sparse, but it might be worth a shot.

Field Good sold to Bite Atlanta

This small little restaurant/bakery/catering outfit near Webb Bridge has been sold to Bite Atlanta. I’d heard that this might be in the works but was confirmed recently in this blog post from the broker behind the deal.

Bobby G’s – Milton

Their new location in Milton opened last week. They’ve been building out for a few weeks now. Look for them on Highway 9 at Webb Road in the Aldi shopping center.

Mambo Jambo – Windward

They also opened last week in the space formerly occupied by Mad Italian. I tried them yesterday for lunch. My review is coming soon in this space.

Johns Creek, Gateway Signs and the Identity Crisis

Only eight people showed up at the public hearing. I’m surprised that they got that many, a typical response from a busy public with no time for such matters. So the city of Johns Creek put out the call to the media. They are requesting feedback on a proposal to add thirteen signs at various points entering the city. The cost? Upwards of $35,000 a piece for the larger designs. You can check them out for yourself here. Don’t worry, they’ve employed the services of consultants, so it can’t be that bad.

Before I weight in on this issue, let me get this out of the way. Politicians in the conservative burbs need to keep this in mind. If you’re pondering whether spending money on a new project is worth it, the answer should be a resounding NO in 99% of all cases. We’re in the midst of a recession and tax receipts are down. If you’re not already convinced that the project is vital, you say no.

So that pretty much let’s the cat out of the bag on how I feel on the issue. Yet what I see underneath all this is really an identity problem for Johns Creek. It goes back to how this city (and Milton) were founded. If there was a legal description of what is in Johns Creek it would be “everything in northeast Fulton County that isn’t already incorporated.” In essence, these cities are the leftover scraps of what Alpharetta and Roswell couldn’t finish consuming in their hungry annexation plans. As a result, there is little to no discernible boundary to these cities. Perhaps Johns Creek is trying to rectify this by putting enormous and expensive stacked stone signs everywhere. There is also a “keeping up with the Joneses” aspect to this. They show a picture of Suwanee’s entrance sign as an example. We can’t be outdone by our sister city across the river!

When I see this issue along with the Johns Creek vanity zip code and the “swoosh” street sign stuff… it seems that this young town is more concerned with their outward appearance and identity. It’s a common character flaw of the young I suppose. They’ll grow out of it.

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