Archive - January, 2011

New Restaurants and Mini Reviews

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

This week I tried two new restaurants. I will review neither of them. Well ok, I’ll write a mini review of each explaining why. Let’s also hit a few new kids on the block.

Rosa Mia Italian in Johns Creek

This place got popular in a hurry. Went there for an early dinner on Saturday night. I was lucky to get in the door without a reservation. This night I had kids in tow and the youngest was a tad on the grumpy side. I was not able to give the restaurant and their menu the attention it deserved for a full review. So let’s just say that if you’re a fan of places like Casa Nuova then you’d probably like Rosa Mia. Reservations are almost a requirement at this point though.

TRE Vietnamese on North Point

I won’t offer a full review of TRE mainly because I don’t know Vietnamese cuisine. It would be hard for me to say something is off here if perhaps I just didn’t enjoy the cuisine itself. That’s kind of where I am. I tried the Banh Mi (like a po boy sandwich) with grilled sliced pork. The bread was very hard, almost stale. I also didn’t care for the pork which was very salty. Again, this could be spot on for all I know. And a lunch combo is a tad on the expensive side.

Zafraan Hyderabadi – South Forsyth

Recently opened on GA-141 in south Forsyth not far from the First Redeemer Church. I can’t find anything on these guys on the interwebs. But on a recent weekend night, they were packed. There’s a small but growing Indian community in this area in addition to an international market in this same strip mall. Both are positive signs. If you’re feeling adventurous, Zafraan is probably worth a try. I’d love to hear from someone who knows more about these guys.

La Cupcakerie – The Avenue Forsyth

Coming soon to the shopping center across the street from the Avenue Forsyth. These guys created some buzz on twitter last week when they came out of nowhere and hit one of the deal websites. They’re set to open in a few weeks but will do home delivery in the meantime. I’ll review them once they open. And in full disclosure… I received a free sample from La Cupcakerie.

31 Lunch – North Point

I don’t know a lot about these guys. They appear to be a smallish sandwich shop/chain in the Mill Creek area close to the mall. Their target market is catering to cubicle dwellers who need a box lunch delivered for a lunchtime meeting. I usually decline these meetings, even if a free lunch is involved. Why? Because of places like this and their pedestrian menus. After all, they are near the mall so don’t expect a lot.

Tiny Town in Affluent Alpharetta

Yesterday my son went to Tiny Town. No, I’m not talking about Milton. Tiny Town is a yearly activity at his preschool. They convert the preschool’s gymnasium into a little town. The kids go from place to place and shop to shop just like in a real town. They even have an Alpharetta police officer to give them a “stranger danger” lesson. He was most excited about the barber shop (make-pretend shave), car wash (riding bigwheels through a bubble machine) and the post office.

It was fun to hear him tell me all about Tiny Town before bed last night. But after his kiss goodnight I realized that several Alpharetta attractions were missing. To truly give preschoolers an affluent suburb Tiny Town experience, I think the school should consider adding…

Cubicles

Talk about a low budget attraction. Sit the kids in a fabric-covered box with a chair. Ask them to stare at a computer monitor with an excel spreadsheet. Continue for 9 or 10 hours until they miss dinner. If they protest, explain that 100,000 people do this everyday in Alpharetta.

Cosmetic Surgery

There’s no reason to accept the body you’ve been given! Let the kids pretend to get tummy tucks, nose jobs, botox injections and cosmetic dentistry. Take before and after pictures to bring home to mom or get published in Points North magazine.

Mixed-Use Developments

This one’s gonna make a mess. Print a big poster of an artist’s rendition of Prospect Park or Peridot. In front of the picture, dump a large load of dirt and surround it with construction barriers. Build a road halfway across the dirt but don’t allow the kids to drive on it. Next, ask the children to close their eyes and imagine a suburban utopia where you can live, work and eat in the same block. Promise the kids that it’ll happen in 3 to 4 years and will be nothing like the dirt pile they see. Finally, run out of the room and disappear before they open their eyes. Blame the economy.

I’ve learned as a parent that children have an amazing ability to sense when something is lame. Even my three-year-old is good at this. He picks up on truly dumb things that even his parents may not recognize. So take a step back and think like a child every now and then. And let me know what other Alpharetta attractions you think we could add to Tiny Town!

North Fulton Blogging

Many thanks to Joan Durbin and the Neighbor Newspapers for their feature article today on North Fulton blogging. I’m fortunate to be included in a great group of bloggers including Bob Strader of Live in Alpharetta, Jim Gilvin and Jennifer Liang over at Northside Food. If you’re not familiar with these bloggers, you owe it to yourself to read and subscribe to their work.

If you’re new to Roots in Alpharetta, welcome! I encourage you to poke around my modest little blog. Feel free to join the discussion via comments, connecting on twitter (@rootsalpharetta) or e-mail at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com.

The Incredible Sandwich Factory – McFarland

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

Using the word “incredible” in the name of a sandwich joint in this town is bold. Then again, using such hyperbole in the name of any restaurant will usually get you knocked down a rung or two on my expectation list. That coupled with this storefront’s past failures left me not expecting much out of this new joint. However, I was pleasantly surprised after my visit today. They exceeded my diminished expectations.

The Incredible Sandwich Factory opened yesterday on McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. They are in the same strip mall with a liquor store and My Friends Place. How’s that for some head-to-head competition? Inside you’ll find a simple space with a lot of movie posters. The sandwiches are named for movies although it is tough to discern some of them.

A lot of their sandwiches start with meat roasted in-house. Each night they cook stuff like bone-in hams and beef roasts for a handful of different sandwiches. A popular sandwich today was the King Steak sandwich. It’s a marinated sirloin with sauteed onions. They also have a strange take on the Cuban sandwich that includes a fried egg and hot dog. Cubano purists should check their credentials at the door.

I ordered the Porkfather. You’ve gotta love the name and the picture on the front of the restaurant. It is roasted ham that’s browned on the cooktop then served on a hoagie. The chef suggested adding a creole sauce, which I liked. It didn’t taste very creole to me but it added a little spice and tang to the sammich. The pork was cubed and tasted good but lacked some tenderness. All in all, it was a good, hearty, two-handed sandwich.

I tried a sample of their Thomas Factor sandwich. It’s a creative take on chicken salad featuring a spicy yellow cream sauce holding it together. I liked it enough that I’ll make it my order next time.

I wish they would offer a better selection of side items. Your only choice is chips at the moment. A hearty potato or pasta salad would have gone well with my meal. But all in all I liked it more than I thought I would. They put out some manly sandwiches, which is a refreshing alternative to the foo-foo stuff you sometimes find on Windward. Not only were they manly eats, the price was right. I did a double-take at checkout. Nearly all their creations are in the $5-6 neighborhood. If you’re looking for an off-Windward sandwich alternative, this might be it.

Will Incredible make it? They’ve got a shot. McFarland is under served by restaurants. The fast food options on this stretch of road are slammed at lunch. It’s mainly workers from the light industrial shops who eat here. Manly and meaty two-handed sandwiches might be a huge hit in this part of town. It’ll be interesting to see if they find a niche here.

The Incredible Sandwich Shop is located at 1545 McFarland Parkway, suite 101. 770-807-7094
The Increbible Sandwich Factory on Urbanspoon

Start/Stop/Continue – Alpharetta 2011

Often I draw blogging inspiration from my cubicle life. How sad is that? Tis the season for annual peer reviews, which means our start/stop/continue exercise. It is sort of a kinder and gentler way of telling someone what they should or shouldn’t be doing. The idea is to list things an employee should start doing in the new year, bad habits they should stop and activities they should continue. Here’s my take on stuff I observe in Alpharetta. I did something similar last year with restaurants, so I’ll keep half of this year’s foodie focused. Don’t leave me if you’re here for Foodie Friday!

Start – Fine and Performing Arts

If you look on the Alpharetta CVB website for the arts, you’ll find a paltry list. We’ve got a handful of art boutiques downtown, the ACT1 theater group (they are terrific) and Encore Park. Alpharetta seriously lags our suburban peers in the fine arts. Roswell has a small arts center with a 600 seat auditorium. Marietta can boast the Cobb Energy Center. It’s something we need to look into, I just cringe thinking about paying for it!

Stop – Mixed-use Development

…or at least enact a moratorium. Not a single mixed-use development has been successful in this area. The Vickery development in south Forsyth is half-baked and has been in and out of foreclosure. Prospect Park is egg on Alpharetta’s face. I don’t know if these failures are because of some inherent flaw in the mixed-use concept, or just victims of the real estate meltdown. Either way, it is more than prudent to put a temporary stop to these. There are mixed-use developments planned or in the works on Windward Parkway and Haynes Bridge Road. Alpharetta’s got the potential to have a trifecta of Prospect Park mud pits at exits nine, ten and eleven.

Continue – Job Creation

HP, Vesta, Global Payments, ThyssenKrupp, Macy’s… These are all companies that are bringing jobs to our area. City leaders and Chamber officials deserve heaping praise. Keep it up guys! You’re exceeding expectations!

And now, allow me to shift gears and talk about Alpharetta’s restaurant scene…

Start – Farm-to-Table Restaurants

If you want to know the next trend in Alpharetta dining, just look at what’s trendy ITP. Whatever cool hipsters in Atlanta are doing today will arrive in the burbs a year or two later. My prediction is that we’ll soon see farm-to-table restaurants.

And no, I’m not some crunchy granola-type who wants us to eat local to reduce carbon footprints. That’s hogwash. Local produce just tastes better. A few Alpharetta-area restaurants have toyed with farm-fresh ingredients. Milton’s Cuisine planted a vegetable garden this past year, but it was mainly to supplement their menu offerings. Casa Nuova Italian in south Forsyth sourced some produce from a farm about a mile from their restaurant. I’d like to see more!

Stop – Self-serve Frozen Yogurt

Enough already! 2010 saw just about every traditional ice cream joint close and get replaced by this concept. We’ve got Yoforia, Yogli Mogli, Brain Freeze, Menchies and more. Strangely enough many opened at the end of summer or even this winter. If you’re pushing cold treats, don’t start before your seasonally slow period. Nevertheless, predicting some closures in this space isn’t a long shot by any means.

Continue – Social Networking

More and more local restaurants are connecting with diners on twitter and facebook. This seems especially true with newer shops that are generating pre-opening buzz online. Check out this list for Alpharetta restaurants on twitter.

Photo Credit : beautifulcataya

Alpharetta Jobs – January 2011

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, trending the numbers month to month.

The last month has been extraordinary for the Alpharetta job market. It was one announcement after another, each one getting more and more attention. First was electronic payment processor Global Payments. They are moving forward with plans to build a data center along Deerfield Parkway in Milton. This got almost no attention in the media. Next came HP’s plans to bring potentially a thousand jobs to their Alpharetta campus on Windward. At first this was only reported by the Atlanta Business Chronicle but was slowly picked up by the rest of the media. I believe my stats here may have predicted the announcement, as we were observing a spike in their job openings going back to October. I’m tremendously excited about the possibilities at HP.

Then came the announcement from Vesta and their plans to add 300 call center jobs. This got more attention than the HP announcement, even though their call center jobs pay peanuts… $9-$10 per hour. These types of jobs are trivial in my opinion. The employees can’t afford to live in Alpharetta, and probably not even in the surrounding areas.

And finally, the job announcement with the most sizzle of them all! ThyssenKrupp, a company I can’t pronounce, held a press conference with the Governor in Atlanta to announce they are moving IT operations to Alpharetta. That’ll be 110 jobs, not too shabby.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Macy’s. They recently announced plans to add 150 jobs to their IT operations on State Bridge Road in Johns Creek. I don’t give Johns Creek enough credit in this monthly jobs column. There are some large employers there including Ciba Vision, State Farm and Glenayre.

Largest Employers in Alpharetta - January 2011

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 99
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 46
ADP 64
E-Trade 15
Equifax 22
AT&T 3
Verizon 3
Radiant 15
HP 96
Alcatel-Lucent 2
UPS 14
Siemens 47
Traveler's 13
T-SYS 19
Total 458

I’m going to make some minor changes to how I report these numbers month to month. It was my original intention to report on only Alpharetta’s largest employers. I started adding smaller companies which was skewing my numbers. I’ve decided to split them apart.

Let’s define a large employer in Alpharetta as one who occupies a corporate campus or a single large building. Most of the big telecoms in town have a campus arrangement, as does HP. Companies like Traveler’s Insurance and T-SYS  lease entire buildings. A few like ADP and HP have a handful of locations scattered around town.

Mid-Sized Employers in Alpharetta - January 2011

Company Number of Jobs
Research in Motion 24
Ciena 23
RedPrairie 20
Exide Technologies 10
Ryder 10
Phillips 9
Outcomes Health 8
New York Life 5
GXS/Inovis 5
Infor 3
Hanjin Shipping 3
Scientific Games 3
VeriFone 3
AIG 2
Farmer's Insurance 1
LaFarge 1
Crown Castle 0
Total 130

What I’ll call a mid-sized company is one that might lease an entire floor of a building, say tens of thousands of square feet. They potentially have hundreds of cubicle dwellers, not thousands. These are a little harder to track down so I’m sure I’ve missed a lot. If you know if any I’ve missed, shoot me an e-mail.

And speaking of e-mail, I’d love to hear from folks testing the job market in Alpharetta. What has been your experience sending resumes to companies on this list? Are you getting interviews? Drop me a line at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com

Jerusalem Bakery – Alpharetta

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

Chicken Shawarma. Never have I been as excited about a single entree in an Alpharetta restaurant. Is it a coincidence that a restaurant named for a holy city creates such a heavenly sandwich? I think not. I’ve had dreams about these things. Seriously! I’m also sure my wife and co-workers are tired of hearing me talk about them everyday. If you ask me what I want for lunch most days, shawarma from Jerusalem Bakery is usually what I suggest.

And this is kind of a big deal. I’ve always been intimidated by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. Ingredients like olives and yogurts are not my favorites which makes this cuisine a challenge for me. Perhaps finding a Middle Eastern dish I actually like has tainted me a bit. Who knows.

Let me stop singing the virtues of chicken shawarma for a minute and talk about Jerusalem Bakery. These guys are a major distributor of Middle Eastern baked goods. Their stuff is shipped all over the southeast from right here in Alpharetta (and a second location in Marietta). The bakery takes up about half of their retail space, the rest is the deli. Their deli menu features standards like falafels, hummus and baba ghannough in addition to the shawarma (offered as both a plate and sandwich). They also have pizzas, calzones and stromboli.

But let’s get back to the shawarma. They start with a fresh baked pita that’s still warm. Next comes chicken fresh cut from a rotating spit (beef is also available). The chicken is juicy and lightly singed. The rest of the toppings can be added at your direction, almost like you would do at a Subway sandwich place. My tip… Just tell them you want everything. That’ll get you fresh lettuce, tomato and onion. They’ll also throw on a few different pickled veggies. Next comes the sauces which are a combination of garlic and tahini. A hot sauce is available on request. I like the hot sauce but be careful as it can easily overpower the sandwich. Finally they wrap it all up and give it a quick warm-up.

The final product is an explosion of flavors and contrasting textures. The pita is warm and pushes back a little against your teeth. The chicken is tender and juicy, its flavors mixing with the various sauces. The veggies give it a crispness but is cut somewhat by the tartness of the fresh pickles. All in all, it is an amazing sandwich. And the best part? The sandwich combo is only 8 bucks, including a side and drink.

Jerusalem Bakery quickly moved into heavy lunch rotation among my fellow cubicle dwellers. Their Old Milton location is a little hard for us to reach from east Windward, but it’s worth the effort. Also be warned that their line and service moves a little slow. Get there a little early for lunch or allow yourself some extra time. Trust me on this one… your patience will be rewarded.
Jerusalem Bakery (Alpharetta) on Urbanspoon

New/Closed Restaurants – January 2011

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

Today’s secret word is “taco”. Let’s pretend we’re on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Every time I say “taco”, scream really loud!

Okay, sorry for the Pee-Wee reference. That’s a little creepy. There’s lots of new stuff coming, especially along Peachtree Parkway. I’m happy to have no closures to report! Let’s get started.

The Taco Stand – Alpharetta

I’m a little out of my element reporting on this one for a few reason. The Taco Stand originated in Athens and has a loyal student following. They are opening in the Mansell Point shopping center, a part of town I don’t frequent all that often. Other restaurants have failed here. I also know that previous attempts to open a Taco Stand in Atlanta have failed.

However, according to some discussion over at 285foodies.com, the folks behind this location are involved with the Metropolitan Club on Windward. At the worst, this looks to be a cool restaurant/bar concept that’s worth a try. But if the Metropolitan Club connection is true then I have high expectations for the Taco Stand.

Egg Harbor Cafe – Johns Creek

This is a chain of breakfast restaurants scattered around suburban Chicago. Johns Creek will be their first adventure outside of that area. For many months they have been building out the space that used to hold Weezy’s Movin’ On Up Cafe and JR’s Log House before that. I’m not sure of an opening date but it should be very soon.

Canvas Creek Grille – Johns Creek/South Forsyth

Don’t know much about these guys at this point. They might be in a soft opening period right now. Canvas Creek opened in the old Low Country Outpost BBQ location on 141/Peachtree Parkway in extreme south Forsyth. Nothing in this group of strip malls has done well. The prolonged construction on 141 is probably the culprit. Perhaps now that this is finished we’ll see some thriving restaurants here. For now, Canvas Creek seems to be open just for lunch.

Twisted Taco – Johns Creek

Coming soon to the old Garrison’s Broiler & Tap location on the corner of State Bridge and Medlock Bridge. This will be the third location in the chain, the others being in Buckhead and Roswell.

Activities for Home-bound Kids

As I’m writing this article, metro Atlanta is in the midst of a prolonged winter storm. Schools have been closed for three days and won’t reopen until next week. Parents are going stir crazy trying to keep the kids occupied. I thought I would go off the reservation and venture into dad blogger territory. Here’s a few activities to do with home-bound kids on cold winter days. If you augment these with a good map I think you can create a teachable moment or two.

Postcrossing

Want to break the kids of their addiction to technology? Postcrossing is an international postcard exchange program. Here’s how it works. First you create a profile on the postcrossing.com website. Next, enter a few details about yourself and where you live. Like most things in life, you’ve gotta give before you get. You’ll mail a postcard to a person overseas who’s address was provided by the website. It’s usually best to send a cool postcard from something local. Unfortunately I know of no postcards featuring Alpharetta (a topic for another article) but you can find many for Atlanta and even Roswell. Write a little note about yourself and send it off!

In about a week the recipient will get your card and register it online. That action will put your name in a queue to receive a card. In another week you’ll be surprised by an international postcard in your mailbox!

I like this activity for kids because they have to put pen to paper. Old school, huh? They’ll also meet someone from another part of the world. Perhaps they’ll gain a different perspective than what affluent Alpharetta offers. There’s a geography lesson there as well. You might  purchase a giant world map for the wall and stick push pins all over it.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a supply of postcards and stamps. It costs about a dollar to mail a postcard internationally.

Where’s George

It’s like postcrossing, except there’s no writing or stamps involved. Where’s George is a currency tracking project that’s been around for a long time. Again, you start by making a simple profile on the website. Next you register the bills you have in your pocket by entering their unique serial numbers. You spend the money as you normally would… then wait. If another Where’s George user enters your bill again, you’ll be notified and can track the bill’s geographic journey.

In practicality you should mark your Where’s George bills with a stamp like shown in this picture. The chance of an unmarked bill getting registered on the site is slim to none. I’d suggest obtaining one of these little ink stamps if you’re gonna give currency tracking a try. And again, I’d augment this exercise with maps to visually track the money.

Stay warm!

Photo Credit: Sandro Menzel

How Snowmageddon 2011 Justifies Our Milk and Bread Hoarding

That’s right, I’m going to write an article justifying the southern practice of raiding grocery stores before winter storms. I’m ready for all the hate mail you can bring!

Imagine if authorities announced that gasoline would be unavailable for purchase for 48 hours. What would you do? Gas up of course! What if you already had three quarters of a tank? Well, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so why not top off? Makes sense. Pretty soon everyone will get the same notion and there will be a run on gas. Hoarding behavior takes over.

This might not make a great analogy but it happened in September 2008. Remember? I do because I was one of the poor schmucks in an hour long line to gas up.

Predictions for winter weather are similar. Most snows in Georgia are gone in less than a day. Yet many of us can remember 1993 or other times when snow turned into a several day affair. The snowstorm this week certainly did. It means you’re without access to grocery stores for 48 hours, maybe more. Refreshing your stock of perishable commodities is a reasonable thing to do. So yeah, I was at Walmart last weekend buying milk, bread, fruit, (and my favorite beer, Yuengling) and basically any other groceries I would have bought during the week. Now that I’ve been home-bound for two, going on three days, I feel like my hoarding was a completely justified and rational thing to do.

Maybe you’re an Alpharetta resident who relocated from up north. This will be where you criticize southerns for not knowing how to drive in snow and ice. I’m not going to argue with you. (cue the Rain Man quote) I think I’m an excellent driver, having some experience in weather like this. But you’re right, most in the south don’t know how to drive on snow. I’m more worried about them, not me! I don’t want to be T-boned by Bubba who thinks the laws of physics and friction don’t apply to his rear-wheel drive F-150.

Do you think the Snowmageddon 2011 event has justified our milk and bread hoarding? I’m opening myself up to ridicule and mockery but I’m good for it. Let me have it!

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

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