Archive - June, 2011

“Why should we believe you people?”

It’s been interesting to watch the transportation sales tax initiative play out. A few items hit the news last week that I found significant. The first was this article in the AJC about north Fulton mayors and their strategy. Pay careful attention to Johns Creek mayor Mike Bodker. He’s politically positioning himself in the forefront of this issue. I believe Mayor Bodker sincerely wants transit in north Fulton. And like the rest of his peers, I believe he has a vendetta against the current MARTA leadership. I think his involvement in the transportation tax is a way to force himself into a position of authority on metro Atlanta transit. That’s good, except that if Bodker had his way we’d have expensive rail all over the place.

But back to the article. What’s significant about this story is that Bodker is backtracking on commuter rail. The ten year timeframe isn’t long enough to get plans off the ground. And since rail is so darned expensive, it would chew up most of the bond money. The mayors are starting to be more pragmatic, favoring roads over rail. I did a little cheer when I first read this.

The second story to note comes from the Alpharetta Patch and their coverage of a transportation town hall. This was a phone-in event with officials (including Bodker) answering questions. The article lifts up a caller who said, “Why should we believe you people?” The GA-400 toll and MARTA sales tax seem to be immortal despite promises to the contrary. It should come as no surprise that north Fulton taxpayers might feel this way. Will that translate into no votes for the sales tax? I predict a fierce battle between tax party activists and well-funded CID groups.

Downtown’s Parking Deck

And finally, in a somewhat unrelated story… Alpharetta recently hosted its first of four town hall meetings on the new downtown plans. I found it interesting that not one, not two but three different articles on the event all focused on one issue… the parking deck. Seems that this is drawing most of the negative criticism. I’d imagine city staff might be behind this parking deck idea yet it isn’t popular with the rank and file.

Parking decks are an urban feature, not something most suburbanites consider desirable. Off the top of my head I can only think of two parking decks in the city that are open to the public; Dillard’s at the mall and the Northside Hospital office buildings on Old Milton. The rest belong to cubicle dwellers in the office parks. I believe residents’ displeasure with public parking decks is a symptom of an overall opposition to urbanization.

Around the World in Alpharetta

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

Let’s take a trip around the culinary world, without leaving town. Here are a few of my favorites. I’ll try to stick to authentic eats as best I can.

Jamaica – Caribbean Fiesta

Jerk chicken that will set your mouth on fire! It’s juicy chicken that packs a peppery and spicy kick. You’ll also find oxtails and several other meats on their cafeteria-style lunch counter. Watch out for this location (on the corner of North Point and Old Milton). It’s very crowded for lunch with parking spaces filling up fast.

Chinese – Sichuan House

I’m pretty sure that kung pow and General Tso’s chicken are not authentic Chinese dishes. But if you want them, Sichuan House will make them. But stick to the “authentic” side of their menu. It’s full of Sichuan-style cuisine. While not as spicy and hot as Hunan style, Sichuan cooking will rock your mouth with tongue numbing goodness. Try the hot boiled fish or three cup chicken.

Sichuan House is located at 5900 State Bridge Road in Johns Creek, near Target.

India – Madrass Chettinaad

Alpharetta has an amazingly diverse Indian restaurant scene. We’re starting to see specialized Indian restaurants open up, for example Zafraan Hyderabadi in south Forsyth and the new Paradise Biryani Pointe on Windward. My Indian palate isn’t refined enough to tell them apart at this point. A safe bet for Indian is Madrass Chettinaad on Old Milton (formally Minerva). They’ve remodeled the place since the Minerva days and it’s beautiful. They still have Alpharetta’s biggest lunch buffet yet is priced competitively related to their peers. They’ve also got some social media deals out there. Bonus points if you can pronounce “Chettinaad” as I certainly cannot.

Middle East – Babas Gyro and Kabob

I’ve written a lot about Jerusalem Bakery so let’s give them a rest. Babas in south Forsyth is an uber-popular hole in the wall. But this little gem is no longer a secret. Their gas station location is often slammed on nights and weekends. Their falafel is excellent as are all their kabobs. The menu also has a few Italian options. Say hi to Fred, the friendly owner with the authentic-sounding name.

Baba’s is located at 2310 Ronald Reagan Blvd in south Forsyth. Look for them down the road from the Avenue Forsyth, next to a gas station.

Thai – Satay House

Again, my lack of a refined Thai palate fails me here. I like just about all of Alpahretta’s Thai restaurants. Satay House won the coin flip to get mentioned in this article. It’s probably safe to say they are our oldest Thai restaurant, and the inside of this place shows it. Their coconut soup is by far the best in town. It’s thicker and richer than any other. I also like their prices at lunch, which are not much more than fast food.

Satay House is at 281 South Main Street in Alpharetta.
Sichuan House on Urbanspoon Caribbean Fiesta on Urbanspoon

Madras Chettinaad on Urbanspoon Baba's Gyro & Kabob on Urbanspoon

Satay House on Urbanspoon

The Race for Mayor – A Primer

Alpharetta’s 2011 mayor’s race is starting to take shape with three seasoned candidates maneuvering into position. I’m pretty new to city politics so I’m having to bring myself up to speed quickly. I’ve spent time searching the internet tubes and scouring the archives at the Revue and News. Here’s what I’ve learned about the three gentlemen vying for your votes this year.

Jim Paine

An Alpharetta resident since 1971, Jim Paine (no relation to Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) has deep roots. But a recent archeological discovery revealed that he was actually among the original founders of Alpharetta in 1858. Indeed Mr. Paine has very deep roots. He’s also seems to be a super nice guy who runs clean campaigns. The voters like this as they have elected him to the City Council dozens of times. Even Alpharetta’s term limit rules don’t stop this public servant. He’s the Energizer Bunny of Alpharetta politics.

It’s likely Paine will receive the endorsement of Alpharetta’s older establishment players including current mayor Arthur Letchas. And there are rumors that stone tablets exist with endorsements from Moses himself.

Doug DeRito

The 2010 census found 57,000 people living in Alpharetta. If that’s true then Doug DeRito has something in common with 56,998 of them. That’s right, DeRito is a relo. He moved here from New Jersey where he was also a city councilman. He didn’t waste any time upon arriving in Alpharetta and quickly got himself elected to this city’s council. This caused a slight breach of etiquette. Seems that he completely bypassed a prerequisite of service; years of miserable and thankless service on his neighborhood’s HOA board. Derito’s more than made up for the misstep by becoming one of Alpharetta’s favorite councilmen, gaining a reputation for being a bit of a policy wonk.

DeRito made news last year when he was accused of an ethics violation. It was a bizarre triangle involving Alpharetta High School, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Prospect Park’s original developer. The story got legs when a reporter at WSB-TV ran with it. In the end DeRito was cleared of wrong doing. The case got filed under “no good deed goes unpunished” and “slow news day at WSB.”

Recent analysis of DeRito’s past victories reveal his true electoral ace in the hole. Seems that voters make a positive connection between his name and a certain nacho-cheese flavored snack chip. Can he leverage this coincidence into another win? Crunch all you want, we’ll make more.

David Belle Isle, JD

Now would be a great time to satirize attorneys, but that would be too easy. David Belle Isle is a young and charismatic gentleman with a name that easily rolls off the tongue. “Belle Isle” sounds almost like an exclusive enclave of the Windward Community. What’s not to like?

Belle Isle holds the distinction of being the first mayoral candidate to announce, declaring himself a candidate sometime in the early Cretaceous Period. He took a short break last year to campaign for the strangely more interesting position of state Senator, receiving the bronze metal in a three way race. With only three candidates so far for mayor, he stands a great chance of at least making the podium this time as well.

Why won’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

So there you have it! Alpharetta voters will have a difficult task separating this field. For the last several years these three gentlemen have voted together on most of the significant issues before the city. If they’re not voting together it’s because someone’s probably recused himself from the vote. It’ll be fun watching these guys duke it out. I’m going to recuse myself from the vote and watch from the sidelines. Pass the chips, please.

Burrito Gorilla – Johns Creek

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

The day Flippin’ Out closed was a tough one for me. They’d long been my favorite burger joint in north Fulton. I soon learned that the same owner wanted to replace it with a burrito joint. How dare they! I was initially furious then sank into a deep burger depression. I lamented the loss of their delicious onion rings and charcoal grilled burgers. Even many months later, there still is no substitute.

Maybe that explains why it took me forever to try Burrito Gorilla after they finally opened. Yet it took only one bite of their delicious smoked pork to make me (almost) forget Flippin Out.

And it was the pork that I went right after. I love roast pork in Mexican and Spanish food. The fact that they smoked theirs on-site was a serious plus. I ordered my pork on a torta, a Latin style sandwich. Sure enough, this was some serious swine. It punched with a solid core of smoke and a slightly chewy bark. The chipotle barbecue sauce complemented it well and didn’t cover up the flavor. It was topped with a bit of cole slaw and fried onions. The bread was a little too hard for my liking but it didn’t detract from the overall sandwich. All in all, this was a superior bbq pork sandwich. It would win a head-to-head battle with nearly any of north Fulton’s barbecue restaurants. Forget the Mexican and burrito aspect of this place for a minute. If you like smoked pork, you need to try this place.

I also tried as an appetizer their loaded chips with steak. The slices of skirt steak were tender and delicious. The guacamole was fresh but mixed to the point of being smooth. Take note if you’re a fan of chunky guac. The black beans were pretty good but my lunch partner found bits of black olives mixed in. Neither of us cared for this addition.

I probably should have tried the burritos. Be careful not to lump this place into the ubiquitous franchise burrito joint category. Their careful and creative use of fresh ingredients make this place so much more. Nevertheless, they offer a lot of burritos in three different sizes.

The Gorilla has two distinct challenges to overcome. First is location. I recently wrote about poor restaurant locations in Alpharetta. This location could have easily made that list. Secondly, they employ a very young wait staff. Some of Gorilla’s early reviews point to service problems. I didn’t observe any on my visit, but it is clear that the kids working here lack experience. It was a theme I saw on many visits to Flippin Out. Management clearly handles the kitchen well but they may need to train the front of the house better.

I like that Burrito Gorilla has a hip little chalk board listing all their social media endeavors, or “nerd stuff” as they call it. They list Urbanspoon, City Search, Facebook, Twitter and even their blog. They seem a little new to twitter as they have yet to even tag another user, much less carry on a conversation. A lot of restaurants have social media accounts set up that they practically ignore. But if you’re going to tout your social media presence, at least use it! Sorry, just a little pet peeve.

But all in all, Burrito Gorilla made a very positive impression on me during my first visit. They could be a serious contender in these parts. Also keep an eye out for their sister restaurant next door. Dal Cuore will be their new Italian concept opening very soon.

Burrito Gorilla is located at 2100 Ray Moss Connector near the corner of Jones Bridge and State Bridge Roads in Johns Creek.

 

Burrito Gorilla on Urbanspoon

Alpharetta Jobs – June 2011

Around the middle of each month the career websites of Alpharetta’s largest employers are queried. The number of jobs advertised are tallied and trended month-to-month. The results are published to the Roots in Alpharetta blog and used by permission in the Appen Newspapers. This month’s numbers were tabulated on June 13th and 14th. All attempts were made to maintain accuracy but some errors are possible.

An analysis of June’s job openings shows that Alpharetta continues to hold at just over 700 openings. McKesson, LexisNexis and Verizon all made small increases to their job openings over this time in May.

Making news this month is an announcement from Agilysys. The software firm will move their headquarters from Ohio to Alpharetta, following the continuing trend of high-tech companies to transfer jobs here.

Largest Employers in Alpharetta - June 2011

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 97
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 58
ADP 71
E-Trade 42
Equifax 27
AT&T 16
Verizon 61
Radiant 24
HP 61
Alcatel-Lucent 0
UPS 6
Siemens 60
Traveler's 6
T-SYS 16
Total 545

Mid-Sized Employers in Alpharetta - June 2011

Company Number of Jobs
Research in Motion 21
Ciena 10
RedPrairie 33
Exide Technologies 10
Ryder 18
Phillips 9
Outcomes Health 0
New York Life 1
GXS/Inovis 6
Infor 15
Hanjin Shipping 3
Scientific Games 13
VeriFone 7
AIG 10
Farmer's Insurance 1
LaFarge 7
Crown Castle 1
Total 165

New/Closed Restaurants – June 2011

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

There’s nothing here to get real excited about. But it’s been a few weeks since I’ve reported on new eateries. Allow me to do some house cleaning.

Do you know of a new restaurant in our area, or maybe one that’s closed? Let me know!

Extreme Pita – North Point

I reported on Extreme Pita way back in December. It seems they have identified their Alpharetta location. It’ll be somewhere in the humongous strip mall with Toy-R-Us and Sports Authority. The concept will involve pitas prepared to order in front of the customer. Think Moe’s but with pitas. It’s hard for me to get, shall we say, extremely excited about this joint. Let’s just say it’ll fit right into North Point’s culinary wasteland.

Smashburger – Windward and Johns Creek

And you thought the burger craze was over. Denver-based Smashburger is ready to inundate metro Atlanta with 30 of their fast-casual burger joints. Yeah, 30 locations, two of which will be in our neck of the woods. Alpharetta will be one of Smash’s first locations with a store on Windward near Einstein Bagels. I’m not sure where the Johns Creek location will be, neither was the person answering questions on their twitter account.

Alpharetta has seen a few recent burger closures with The Spot and Flippin’ Out hanging up their spatulas. Will a Smashburger location here be a hit? I think it might.

Poquito’s Cantina – Closed

We’ve talked about Poquito’s elsewhere here on Roots. Thought I should mention it in this column as well. They closed after only three weeks. It’s possible we might see this concept tried in another location. In the meantime, I think owner Rob Forrest is through with this particular location on South Main. We may see another restaurant here soon, I just highly doubt it will be a Rob Forrest creation.

Marlow’s Tavern – The Avenue Forsyth

They are building out in the old Little Azio’s location at the Avenue Forsyth, across from the movie theater. I think this is a prime spot and should have a thriving restaurant. I’ve never been to any of the other Marlow’s locations but I look forward to trying this one over the summer.

Alpharetta’s Most Crave-Worthy Foods

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

Sometimes I get a hankering. I discover an entree so tempting and delicious it begs me to try it again and again. This week I feature three single menu items from Alpharetta-area restaurants that I find crave worthy. Rarely does a month go by that I don’t eat the three items on this list. Or in one case I’m talking weekly obsession.

Crab Cake Sandwich – Wildflour

It’s probably good that Wildflour’s crab cake sandwich isn’t on the menu everyday. Perhaps the limited availability makes me crave it even move. Whatever it is, this is hands down the best sandwich in Alpharetta. It starts with fresh bread made in house. It’s pillow soft yet sturdy enough to hold whatever delicious contents are cradled inside. The crab meat isn’t lump by any means. It’d be difficult to keep the sandwich affordable if that were the case. I suppose purists or Maryland natives might have a problem here, but I can’t find anything wrong with this crustacean. It’s moist and flavorful with a slightly crunchy crust.

Chef Michael Field usually has his crab topped with a jalapeno lime sauce. It sounds spicy but the heat isn’t overpowering at all. I like to get the sauce on the side for dipping. You’ll also find this sauce on some of Wildflour’s chicken, pork and fish sandwiches. If the crab cake isn’t available on your visit, these would be good alternatives.

Wildflour is located at 5815 Windward Parkway at the corner of North Point Parkway. They are only open for lunch during the week.

Everything Bagel – BB’s Bagels

BB’s is well known for their bagels, greasy spoon atmosphere and in-your-face New York attitude. In all honestly, the regular menu here doesn’t do it for me. But their everything bagel is my weekly obsession. Here’s how I order it…

First of all, get it to-go. Yeah, you’ll miss the banter and chatter that gives this place some charm.You’ll get in and out in minutes and for less than two bucks.

You can’t go wrong with the homemade cream cheeses at BB’s, but I like my bagel with ordinary butter. I choose to toast my bagel just before eating which is usually at the office. Next, slop some butter on and let it melt and ooze into the nooks and crannies of the bread. I like how the salt on the exterior of the bagel contrasts with the butter. The rest of the “everything” toppings, poppys, sesame seeds, onion and more, give the bagel a lot of texture with each bite. Combine that with the chewiness that comes from water boiling and you’ve got an winner. Atkin’s dieters need not apply, this is a gut bomb of carbohydrate goodness that will get you through the morning.

I like both BB’s locations, the original on McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth and the newer store on State Bridge in Alpharetta. A good BB’s alternative is Essex Bagels in Johns Creek.

Chicken Shawarma Wrap – Jerusalem Bakery

It starts with a fresh pita, baked on the premises. Next comes chicken cut to order from a rotating spit. It’s juicy with a bit of singe. Throw on some lettuce, tomato, onions, red cabbage and a few pickled veggies. Don’t pass up the garlic, tahini and hot sauces. Wrap it all up and give it a quick warm up on the grill. What you’ll find is an explosion of Middle-eastern flavors and textures. The veggies are crisp, the pickles tart, the tahini creamy and the pita fresh. And at only eight bucks including a side and drink, Jerusalem Barkery’s chicken shawarma is one of Alpharetta’s best lunch values.

Jerusalem Bakery is located at 4150 Old Milton Parkway.
Wildflour on Urbanspoon BB's Diner on Urbanspoon

 

Cobb County’s Transit Summit

Yesterday the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce hosted a summit titled the Metro Atlanta Northern Crescent Transit Summit. It was attended by most of the chambers of commerce and CIDs in the northern burbs, including North Fulton’s. Speakers from North Fulton included Brandon Beach and Johns Creek mayor Mike Bodker. The event doesn’t seem to be making a lot of news in Alpharetta.

I don’t have time to go into a full analysis of the event except to make a few points. First, Bodker continues to preach the virtues of transit in north Fulton and the dramatic land use changes that must first happen to make it a reality. Blogger Jimmy Gilvin has written on this topic before. The urbanization that must happen doesn’t take place in his city. How convenient.

Secondly, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory was a keynote speaker at this event. He discussed his city’s light rail system, called LYNX, which was put into place a few years ago. It is being heralded as a huge success, something that could pull jobs away from metro Atlanta. I see no mention in the press of the massive cost overruns the Charlotte project experienced or other criticisms of the system.

I also like the quotes from MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott in this article. She is absolutely giddy excited about bringing MARTA to the northern burbs of Atlanta. It is being heralded as “unprecedented” and “ground-breaking.”

Remember, MARTA will never come to Alpharetta. It won’t happen in our lifetimes. The river will block it. Suggesting that the urbanization of Alpharetta will attract MARTA is a conspiracy theory. All this is true, right?

Update: I found this article in the Marietta Daily Journal. It seems that taxpayer advocate Lance Lamberton, who spoke out against the plan, was forced to leave the event. That’s a great way to deal with criticisms of your plan. Kudos to the Daily Journal for printing this.

Prospect Park is Under Contract

A deal is in the works for Prospect Park, Alpharetta’s failed mixed-use development on Old Milton Parkway. I believe things will move quickly from here on out. But before I get into how I think the deal will go down, let’s talk about how the story broke. It’s Interesting stuff.

Recently rumors began swirling about the sale of Prospect Park. I saw a few fly by on twitter and elsewhere on the internet. Then last week I received a private message from someone in Alpharetta’s real estate development community that the land was under contract with a July closing date. Yet even with this I saw nothing in the news regarding the sale.

I tweeted this challenge to local media in north Fulton to cover the story. Most of those on my tweet followed through with research but got no answers. Then yesterday afternoon Alpharetta Patch editor Bob Pepalis ran with a story basically saying as much. He reported that, contrary to rumors, Prospect Park had not been sold and marketing plans were continuing as before.

But a funny thing happened after this story hit the internet tubes… Alpharetta Councilman and banker D.C. Aiken called Pepalis and went on the record with the rumor. Aiken claimed Prospect Park is under contract and will close soon. He also made a few other interesting points. Says Aiken, “The potential buyer is a known player and likes the way the property is zoned.” He hints that a deal for Westside Parkway is near and that something might possibly come before the Council on Monday.

Here’s how I think the Prospect Park deal might shake out… The buyer will be a developer well known to those in north Fulton with past experience in this type of development. He’ll want significant zoning changes to the residential portion of the development. While these changes may be unpleasant to folks like myself, objection be overshadowed by two things. First will be the completion of Westside Parkway. I predict that the road, in its current incomplete form, will be deeded to the city immediately. At about the same time a knight in shining armor will appear with funds in hand to complete the road. Can you guess who this might be?

Secondly, the developer will have a plan to begin work soon, effectively removing the egg on Alpharetta’s face. The small price to pay may be some uncomfortable residential units on the property. Will it be rentals? In the Patch article, D.C. Aiken seems to be throwing a shot across someone’s bow on the issue of apartments. Is this why?

I could be completely wrong on all this. I’m just trying to read the tea leaves and make a guess. How do you think the Prospect Park deal will go down?

How I Use Twitter in Alpharetta

I started writing my Roots in Alpharetta blog about a year and a half ago. I knew right away that I wanted to integrate social networking somehow. I’d been on Facebook for a while but decided on Twitter for the blog. I learned that Twitter was more of a micro blogging platform. I thought, “Hey, I’m a blogger so I should be micro blogging as well.” What I didn’t know at the time was how I would use Twitter as a tool to stay connected to the Alpharetta community.

But before I get into it, let me explain how you can make a Twitter account. Go to www.twitter.com and follow the instructions to join. It’s a very simple signup process. Once finished you’ll have a unique name. For the blog I have @rootsalpharetta. Feel free to follow me! From here you can micro blog about anything, so long you limit your thoughts to 140 characters.

Once you make an account you’re free to continue to use the twitter.com website. But unlike Facebook, Twitter has extended their service to allow other tools to leverage the technology. You’ll get a much better experience if you download and install one of these third-party applications. I like TweetDeck which I’ve installed on my laptop and Android phone.

Twitter in Alpharetta

So how do I keep up with Alpharetta on Twitter? The quickest way is to follow local news media. For example, I’d suggest the Revue & News at @NorthFulton. This is the easy part. The real power of Twitter is using it as a listening tool. Create a search in Twitter and type “Alpharetta”. You can do this in TweetDeck, the twitter.com website or just about any tool. The result is a real-time feed of anyone talking about Alpharetta. What will you see? At first it’s a lot of garbage. I’m watching the feed while writing this article. I see Alpharetta tweets about a concert at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, a relo’s moving truck, a job opening for a tax specialist and someone going to Starbucks, just to name a few. It’s a lot of nonsense really.

To cut through the chatter I make judicious use of filters by removing some keywords. I cut words like “job” and “career” to remove automated job postings. Adding “4sq” will remove FourSquare checkins. I don’t need to know that you’re at Starbucks on Windward Parkway.

After most of the noise is gone I’m left with some interesting happenings. I might learn of a new business in town or maybe find reviews of restaurants I’d like to try. This is also a great tool for learning of breaking news. Is there a traffic catastrophe on an Alpharetta road? You can bet someone’s tweeting about it. Or how about severe weather rolling through? People are tweeting about it in specific detail. Nothing beats Twitter for hyper-local breaking news.

I also expand my searches to include Johns Creek and Forsyth County. Many Forsyth tweeps will use the #ForsythCo hashtag for easy searching. Milton is tough to search on because it is a common name. Fortunately Alpharetta is a very unique name on which to search. Imagine if we lived in a place called Springfield?

By using Twitter this way I’ve become connected with people who live, work and are passionate about Alpharetta. In return I try to share new information I’ve learned, often before I can write about it on Roots in Alpharetta. If you come at it with this helpful mindset you’ll often receive more than you give. That’s certainly been my experience as I’m truly grateful for the connections I’ve made.

Let me know how you use Twitter. Who are your favorite local tweeps to follow? And most importantly, let’s introduce ourselves!

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