Archive - September, 2011

Smashburger – Windward

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

And you thought the burger craze was over.

Join me in welcoming the latest fast-casual burger concept de jour to Alpharetta. Metro Atlanta’s third location opened this week on Windward Parkway. You can find them in the shopping center with Einstein Bagels across the street from the HP campus.

Phil Wilkins owns the Atlanta Smashburger franchises and has plans for as many as 30 locations. Right now you’ll only find stores in Buckhead and Johns Creek. Kennesaw and Sandy Springs are next, although Wilkins told me they are looking at real estate in Cumming.

Smashburger has an interesting tradition of letting each large franchise owner create their own unique burger. For example, Chicago’s burger is served on a pretzel bun. Atlanta’s own burger features a peach barbecue sauce, pimina cheese, vidalia coleslaw and grilled jalapenos. By themselves, each ingredient is interesting. Mixed together, the combination is a pretty big mess that completely overpowers the burger itself. It would probably make a delicious sandwich without the hamburger meat.

And speaking of the burger… Smashburger gets their name from their cooking process. They take a ball of meat and smash it on the griddle for twenty seconds. The goal here is to create a sear while hopefully not squeezing every bit of juicy flavor from it. The burgers do have some sear but I would have liked more.

My biggest disappointment with the smashing is that I didn’t get to see it! If you’re going to give your restaurant a verb in the name, I want to see someone performing that verb. Sell the sizzle, right? With a closed kitchen, patrons are left to their imagination when it comes to the cooking process.

The rest of the menu contains a few chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and a salad or two. As for side items, I really enjoyed their Smashfries. These are shoestring french fries tossed with rosemary and olive oil. On my two visits this week the fries have been prepared well; crispy (even with the olive oil) yet soft in the middle. The rosemary seasoning really makes these fries shout.

Smash also offers milkshakes made with Haagen Dazs ice cream. The peach shake I tried as a sample was delicious and worth an order next time.

So after all the smashing is over and your burger is consumed, what’s the verdict on this place? It’s just an ok burger. Don’t expect some kind of transcendental experience that takes you to burger nirvana. Aside from the smashing thing, I don’t see a lot that separates this burger from many others available in this crowded market.

Disclosure: I received a free meal from this restaurant at their pre-opening event. You can read my disclosure policy on my about page.
Smashburger on Urbanspoon

Alpharetta’s Ticket Scandal Continues

It’s pretty common in the business world. Companies buy season tickets to sporting events, theaters, concert venues, and other functions. They are used for entertaining clients or other purposes. And when seats are left over, many times employees get lucky and find themselves on the receiving end of a freebie. Nearly every company I’ve ever worked for has done this.

This practice is acceptable because one function of business is to enrich the lives of employees. They do this by paying salaries, providing benefits and other perks.

If this is the case then why is the public up in arms over Alpharetta’s ticket scandal? The difference is that city council members are not employees. They are public figures that are hopefully (or ideally) acting as servant leaders. They should not strive for, nor should the city provide, perks as a result of their service.

After thinking on this issue, I’ve come to a realization. The city council of this town operates as if they are executives of a company. It explains the initial reaction of Mayor Letchas, councilman Paine and others. They saw absolutely nothing wrong with receiving tickets as a part of their duties. It’s a mentality that permeates Alpharetta’s city hall and is the result of extremely close ties to the city’s business community. With so many of Alpharetta’s leaders coming up through the ranks of the Chamber of Commerce, you can see why they might have trouble shifting gears between corporate executive and public servant.

But they were to promote the venue and become familiar with it, right? A bogus argument that thankfully I’m hearing less and less of. If the ACVB wanted to promote the venue, they would have been better off sending extra tickets to radio stations, media outlets and, dare I say it, even bloggers. I expect politicians to promote local attractions and businesses anyway. Most who love this area, as I do, would gladly promote attractions without the need for freebies. This argument holds no merit in my mind.

Candidate Reactions

This stuff is changing quickly, yet I don’t think anyone is handling this controversy well. I’ve yet to see anyone come close to an apology.

Let’s go over the candidate spin…

Cheryl Oakes - She’s probably in the most trouble. Oakes is on the CVB board and took the most tickets of anyone. The AJC reported that some of her tickets were given to clients of her personal business. Taxpayer funded bling going to your clients… not good. And as best I can tell, I don’t see where she’s said much publicly about this.

David Belle Isle - Took the least tickets among the candidates for mayor, although his service on the council was interrupted. He was the first to go public with his repayment of ticket costs. But according to the AJC, he only initially refunded $75 for each ticket, far less than face value. At the same time, Belle Isle’s press release made the claim of “moral authority.” I’ve gotta push back on that insinuation. A person of moral authority in this matter would have refused the tickets in the first place.

Doug DeRito and Jim Paine – They both took a fair number of tickets. Makes sense that they were working on the down-low to pay the tickets without a lot of fanfare. Too late. They also took Belle Isle to task for issuing his payback challenge knowing that they were in the process of paying. Was it grandstanding on the part of Belle Isle? Probably. In my opinion, none of the candidates for mayor handled this well. I’m glad I’m not voting in this race.

Arthur Letchas - He’s coming to the close of a long career in Alpharetta politics. This issue could very well be the last official matter he deals with of any consequence. His response has been very disappointing.

Mayor Letchas; defending this practice isn’t worth the price of tarnishing your long legacy of service to Alpharetta. Do the right thing, sir.

Challengers - Voters these days dislike incumbents anyway. This scandal and the clumsy response by most involved gives challengers more ammo. It’s been fun watching all this play out. Pass the popcorn.

Alpharetta’s CVB Ticketgate

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Please indulge me with a slightly off-topic post this week. Thanks.

Occasionally I receive a freebie from a restaurant. It’s a practice that happens all the time to food writers everywhere. I never, ever ask for freebies nor do I expect them. Quite frankly, I feel uncomfortable accepting them. I understand that restaurant owners and PR firms want to generate buzz. But to me, I’m happy to promote newly opened and locally owned restaurants. It’s what I do here in my Foodie Friday column.

But freebies happen and I do accept them from time to time. I also have a clear disclosure policy on my about page. If I review a restaurant that gave me a freebie, I mention what I received at the bottom of the review. It would be easy not to mention this, so why do it? Because my reputation is worth more to me than any freebies I might receive. Not that I pretend to have a stellar culinary reputation or anything, it’s just the right thing to do.

That’s why I was flabbergasted to read the AJC’s column yesterday about Alpharetta council members taking taxpayer-purchased concert tickets without disclosure. Surely a blogger who gets a free beer and appetizer wouldn’t have a more open disclosure policy than elected officials?

If you’re not familiar with the issue… The Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau purchased concert tickets at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater using tax dollars. Some of those tickets were given to Alpharetta’s mayor, city council members and staff without disclosure. Records pertaining to these gifts were destroyed. I encourage you to read the AJC’s article in its entirety.

The AJC names many current and some past council members. I believe nearly every member of this body was involved to some degree or another. I reached out via email to those the AJC didn’t name. One former council member would not tell me how many free tickets he received. However, he didn’t hesitate to call the AJC’s piece “sensationalism.”

Alpharetta prides itself on its “city of ethics” designation. Alpharetta is also very mindful of its reputation, particularly how it might be used to attract businesses and visitors. An issue like this does not need to be handled with claims of media sensationalism. Instead I think the city and CVB should tackle this head-on by following these steps:

  1. Attempt to reconstruct a list of gifts. The AJC did a decent job with the information they had. Continue this with all information available and with cooperation of council members. Publish the list. Publish any future gifts.
  2. Require that all council members reimburse taxpayers the full face value of the tickets they were given.
  3. Ask the city attorney to formally investigate this matter as an ethics violation. He may wish to recuse himself though as he was also on the receiving end of free tickets.
  4. Enhance the CVB’s record keeping processes with an eye towards transparency. Forbid giving anything to elected officials.
  5. Consider modifying the city’s ethics policy to clamp down on nearly every gift.
  6. Use this opportunity to come clean with any other gift giving perks.

Do the right thing, guys.

Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB/Chris Lee (Creative Commons)

Is Donald Mitchell a Democrat? – Alpharetta Voting Records

As part of my candidate vetting effort I’ve obtained voter lists from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. I’ve looked at every candidate running for Alpharetta city office this year to see if they participate in primaries, mid-term and general elections. This should be an easy test of anyone running for public office. However occasionally candidates fail to fulfill this most basic of civic duties.

And as a general rule, nearly every candidate for Alpharetta city office this year regularly votes. That holds true for the incumbents as well at the newcomers. I will note two exceptions…

Donald Mitchell (D?-Alpharetta)

Is he a Democrat? While living in Clark County Georgia, Mitchell choose to vote in the 1998 and 2002 Democratic primaries as well as the 2004 Presidential primary that nominated John Kerry. It’s a curious fact considering north Fulton’s overwhelming Republican majority. And while city elections are usually non-partisan, voters may wish to consider this fact when deciding the post 1 race. Principals of limited government and lower taxes are pretty big on people’s minds these days. It would behoove Mr. Mitchell to explain his participation in Democratic primaries to the mostly Republican voters his wishes to represent.

According to the data I’ve obtained, Mitchell did not vote at all in Georgia from 2004 until 2008. From that point he began voting in Fulton County. It’s worth noting that in 2010 he flip flopped and voted in the Republican primary.

Hans Appen

He registered to vote here in Alpharetta when he turned 18. However, Appen has never voted in Fulton County. I asked him about this via email last week. He explained that he voted while enrolled in college in Tallahassee and Athens. I do not have the means to verify.

Alpharetta Jobs – September 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 September 16th. All attempts were made to maintain accuracy but some errors are possible.

Those looking for work in the medical or information technology field need to be knocking on doors at Marconi Drive. McKesson has nearly doubled their number of job openings from this time last month. At 164 positions, they have the most job openings of any firm in Alpharetta.

Siemen’s continues to advertise over one hundred openings in Alpharetta. HP, Equifax, Scientific Games and Ciena have all added to their job openings from last month. UPS, AT&T, Verizon and RedPrairie reduced openings.

Largest Employers in Alpharetta - September 2011

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 164
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 47
ADP 49
E-Trade 36
Equifax 49
AT&T 9
Verizon 33
Radiant 15
HP 47
Alcatel-Lucent 1
UPS 9
Siemens 107
Traveler's 15
T-SYS 11
Metlife 7
Total 599

Mid-Sized Employers in Alpharetta - September 2011

Company Number of Jobs
Research in Motion 3
Ciena 12
RedPrairie 5
Exide Technologies not available
Ryder 9
Phillips 23
Outcomes Health 4
New York Life 1
GXS/Inovis 4
Infor 14
Hanjin Shipping 1
Scientific Games 22
VeriFone 4
AIG 9
Farmer's Insurance 0
LaFarge 7
Crown Castle 0
Amdocs 5
Total 118

South Forsyth’s Underappreciated Restaurant Scene

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

They are the Rodney Dangerfield of the suburban food scene.

For generations, south Forsyth’s restaurants catered to the taste of indigenous locals. Not much stood out aside from a few decent country cooking joints. At the same time, the area avoided attracting the chain and franchise establishments that continue to plague Alpharetta’s reputation.

Today, south Forsyth’s restaurant scene is coming of age. Chains are slowing cropping up at new developments like The Avenue Forsyth. But for the most part, the area is thankfully free of them. Independent restaurateurs are beginning to take chances with more creative menus and local ingredients. They are also recruiting talent in the kitchen. Nearly every restaurant I’ll mention has a culinary school graduate running the show.

Here are a few restaurants that are either up-and-coming newbies or much lauded regional favorites… and they are all in south Forsyth. While this area has a long way to go before they compete with somewhere like Roswell, I still think they deserve attention. What other joints do you think stand out?

BW Tavern

A changing Forsyth demographic was one reason behind Mulligan’s transformation to BW Tavern. The local dive joint was a popular smokey hangout for locals to down a few beers. But new partner Alex King recognized the untapped potential of this diamond in the rough. As affluent suburbanites displace more and more locals, the need for smokey dive joints diminishes.

BW is still in their soft opening phase so it might be best to give them some time. If you’re willing to be a guinea pig, give their new concept a try and let them know what you think. So far I’ve been impressed with chef Corbet Walsh’s creative twist on tavern food.

Dutch Monkey Doughnuts

What hasn’t been said of this small doughnut shop near The Avenue? Their amazing success has attracted reviews from far and wide. I’d go so far as to say DMD is one of the best independent doughnut shops in the southeast United States. Yet I didn’t used to think this way.

I was a little skeptical when they first opened, and gave a mediocre review on Yelp. It’s been fun to watch (and taste) as their talent and creativity blossomed. Husband and wife team Martin Burge and Arpana Satyu are both graduates of the French Culinary Institute and have impressive resumes. Their whimsical use of fresh, local ingredients and fruits keeps me coming back monthly. My waist line disapproves of anything more often!

Scootz Gourmet Grill

Chicken Piccata at Scootz

Scootz may have already obtained burger supremacy in south Forsyth. It didn’t take long for this converted Cici’s Pizza to attract a loyal burger following. But Le Cordon Bleu alum chef Eric Banks does a better job with the rest of the Scootz menu. While not as creative as their new competitor down the street (BW Tavern), Scootz is executing simple dishes extremely well.

BB’s Bagels

Dough with holes in the middle. South Forsyth does this well. Like Dutch Monkey, every food writer in metro Atlanta has written about BB’s. Their original location on McFarland Parkway has become a south Forsyth institution. It’s mecca for Atlanta’s ex-patriot Yankee community. Don’t believe me? Show up on a Saturday morning and listen to the banter.

The AJC recently rated BB’s as the best bagels in Atlanta. Their chewy, water boiled bagels are a weekly treat for me. However, I don’t find the rest of their menu very compelling. The exception may be their corned beef hash. Delicious.

Casa Nuova

The Fundora family was farming their own produce long before it became hip for a restaurant to do so. Today their farm produces so much product for their restaurant they often send customers home with extras. My wife and I scored a small bag of squash and zucchini on our last visit.

I’ve read some reviews that question the authenticity of the Italian food at Casa Nuova. The criticism is undeserved in my opinion. The Fundoras are originally from Cuba but that doesn’t keep them from making some amazing Italian entrees. My favorite is the chicken francese.

The Chocolaterie

Stunningly beautiful works of edible art. Made in-house daily, the truffles at The Chocolaterie are exquisite. My favorite is the blue butterfly which is hand painted to exceptional detail. It’s a shame to destroy these little creations with your teeth. When you finally do, the snap of tempered chocolate gives way to velvety smooth ganashe.

These little morsels of chocolatey goodness are not cheap. They may very well be the most expensive food, per bite, of anything in the area. But they are a sinfully good treat. The Chocolaterie is tucked away in The Avenue Forsyth. Serious chocolate snobs should seek them out.

Photo Credit: Robyn Guy Photography

The Chocolaterie Luxury Chocolates on Urbanspoon Casa Nuova Italian on Urbanspoon

Dutch Monkey Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

What to Name Prospect Park

I continue to be impressed with the social media efforts from the folks at North American Properties, the new owners of Prospect Park. I encourage you to follow these guys on twitter @NAPatl and on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NAPAtlanta. You might also want to follow Mark Toro, their Atlanta leader.

These guys seem very sincere in their desire to reach out the community with regard to their Prospect Park plans. Right now they are seeking input on the name for the development. You can participate in the discussion online.

Beating a Dead Horse

Before I get into PP’s name, allow me to reiterate my earlier thoughts. Many in Alpharetta don’t want to think about Prospect Park until Westside Parkway is opened. I’ve heard this comment echoed again and again in several online forums. I’d be out there with a shovel and a bag of concrete if that’s what it took. Get ‘R dun, fellas.

I realize that road projects are a little more complicated than a shovel and concrete. Yet so much in Alpharetta hinges on Westside Parkway. It goes way beyond what’s gonna happen on this little 87 acre piece of heaven. How about using social media to document the plan of attack for the road, keeping the community in the loop as to the progress?

“Prospect Park” is an Albatross

The name “Prospect Park” has become a punchline. It’s Alpharetta’s metaphor for failed, overreaching and overaggressive growth. I’m certain everyone in this community would agree that any name other than “Prospect Park” would be acceptable.

Beyond that, I don’t have a preference on the name. A common trend in the suburbs is to name developments after what used to be there before it met the bulldozer. With that in mind, the best I could come up with is Mudpit Meadows. Somehow I think the folks at NAP might not agree. If you’ve got a more creative idea, these guys want to hear from you!

Photo Credit: Stargazer3777

Taste of Johns Creek 2011

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

As a food blogger in the Alpharetta area, I always get jazzed up for Taste of Alpharetta. It’s an awesome opportunity to sample a lot food, albeit mostly pork sliders!

I’ll usually try to hit some of the surrounding restaurant events but for some reason I’ve always missed Taste of Johns Creek. I suppose their small size has caused the event to slip under my radar. With their 4th annual event approaching, it’s time to consider attending. Is this year’s event worth a visit and a twenty spot? I believe it is. Here’s why…

The Event and Cost

Chattahooche High School hosts this event with proceeds benefiting school functions. I suppose the charitable aspect is appealing. Tickets are $20 at the door or $15 in advance for unlimited samples. I typically spend $30 just on myself at Taste of Alpharetta, so the cost is a value to me. On the flip side, children four and over are required to pay. It seems a little unreasonable to charge kids full price, something that could make family attendance cost prohibitive.

The Restaurants

Like any taste of event in the burbs, you’ll have to navigate around the chain restaurants like Chili’s, Outback and Buffalo Wild Wings. And if you want to split hairs… many joints are not in Johns Creek at all. The 57th Fighter Group Restaurant is from way inside the perimeter.

On my to-try list would be:

Italian – While I don’t see favorites like Rosa Mia, a few decent joints remain. Johns Creek is experiencing an Italian restaurant renaissance. Don’t pass up the opportunity to sample Dal Cuore, Luciano’s and Sugo.

Pizza – My personal favorite pizza, Verra-Zanno in Johns Creek, is NOT on the list. However, Rosa’s Pizza gets a lot of praise and is worth a try. Jersey Boyz isn’t half bad.

Sinbad’s Feast – This Persian buffet got a somewhat decent review from the AJC’s John Kessler. I wouldn’t miss them at this event.

Tasca Latin Bistro – I wasn’t super impressed when I reviewed them here on my blog. But at Taste of Alpharetta this year I really enjoyed their panna cotta.

Cuzi’s – Here’s another I don’t care for in real life. I mention here because they have taken home awards from Taste of Alpharetta in years past.

Kozmo’s Gastropub – These poor guys are struggling due to the Douglas Road closure. They’ve missed the mark at their Taste of Alpharetta booth. It is hard to capture the cool vibe of their restaurant in a tent outside. I’d still give them a taste.

What’s Missing? Asian – Given the sizable Asian population in Johns Creek, I’m disappointed in the offerings this year. Critics are starting to take note of joints like Sichuan House. Restaurants like Simon’s and Mandarian House miss the mark.

All in all, I think Taste of Johns Creek is worth a shot for visitors going solo. Here’s the event details:

What: Taste of Johns Creek

Website: www.tasteofjc.com

When: Sunday September 25th, 2011  from 4-7 PM

Where: Chattahooche High School

Cost: $15 in advance, $20 at the door

 

A Tale of Two Bloggers Who Ran for Council

Back in my college days I wrote for a alternative campus newspaper. It was a fun and creative way to express my political activism at the time. However I learned a valuable lesson back then… my writing may have consequences. They may be amazingly positive consequences or dangerously harmful ones. I remember these lessons each and every time I click the publish button on my blog today.

Yesterday I read something that put blogging consequences up against the spotlight of running for public office. Allow me to tell the story of two local bloggers who also became candidates for local office. It’s an interesting contrast of how words can have negative and potentially positive consequences.

Tim Enloe

Tim started the Access Milton website and hyper-local blog in 2004. It’s a cool site that provides a great service to Milton. I don’t always agree with Tim but I’m a regular reader.

Some years later he entered the race for Milton City Council. It didn’t take long for an alternate website to pop up, called EnloeArchives.com. This site alleged that Enloe removed some embarrassing content from his blog. The site reprinted his alleged words in a negative light.

In all fairness, it is tough to validate how truthful this site was or in what context the words were written. Nevertheless, the content was out there even after it was supposedly taken offline.

Remember, the internet is forever. There are tools like the Internet Wayback Machine that archive websites. I had to use this service to research this article as even EnloeArchives.com is no longer active. The archives are in the archives, so to speak.

Jimmy Gilvin

Story number two is a little more recent. My regular readers probably know of Jimmy Gilvin and his blog  GA Jim. Last week Jimmy filed to run for Alpharetta City Council. He’s registered an internet domain for his campaign, JimGilvinforCityCouncil.com, but it just redirects to his blog. So basically he’s going to use his WordPress blog as his campaign website. In a post yesterday he said…

A normal politician would never start a blog like GA Jim in the first place and if it did exist they would be sure to delete it before running for office. It contains heartfelt opinions, stances and positions that will undoubtably be attacked by my political opponents. The typical politician would erase GA Jim with the click of a button and eliminate hundreds of posts containing their thoughts over the last two years. With the blog erased they could take any position that would help them get elected without fear of contradiction. That’s what any normal politician would do.

Maybe Jimmy doesn’t know of the Wayback Machine! It doesn’t matter because he’s removing nothing. You could say he’s leveraging his blog as a tool for his campaign. It gives him a distinct advantage over other political newcomers. Voters can read years of his archives to get a sense of his positions. Other political newcomers like Hans Appen or Lance Large in Milton will have to expend a lot of energy communicating their views and motivations to voters.

Enloe and Gilvin. Two distinct examples of the consequences of a blog on the writer’s campaign. Enloe was not successful in his campaign. Were his alleged comments and their removal a factor in his loss?

Will Jimmy’s blog and his openness play well with voters? Or will they even take the time to read it? We’ll find out in November. I’d imagine the campaign of Cheryl Oakes is reading every word of it right about now!

Hammond’s New Ramp – A Cost Perspective

Yesterday the Georgia DOT opened two new ramps onto GA-400 at Hammond Drive. The opening marks the completion of a $17 million project begun in 2008.

Early in my career I spent a few years working at the Concourse office park, right next to the king and queen buildings. It was a miserable experience. Half my commute was spent on the surface streets of Sandy Springs before even getting onto GA-400. Oh how I would have loved this on-ramp back then.

Allow me to use this occasion to put the money into perspective. When you start throwing millions of dollars around, the scale tends to get distorted.

$17 million is going to go a long way towards helping traffic in Sandy Springs. It’ll also save a ton of time for many folks commuting there from north Fulton and Forsyth.

On the flip side, the proposed T-SPLOST would fund a MARTA extension to Holcomb Bridge at a staggering cost of $839 million. This is without factoring in cost over-runs, which are almost certain for a transit project like this.

How many projects on the scale of a Hammond Road project could be funded for that kind of cash? Nearly fifty if my math is correct. Would you like Rucker Road widened? How about Windward, Kimball Bridge, McGinnis Ferry or Highway 9? Pick about fifty of them to trade for a few miles of MARTA track.

Remember that the Dunwoody/Sandy Springs area already has four MARTA stations, yet their surface streets are hopelessly clogged morning, noon and night. For the small price of $17 million, thousands of cars will be removed from roads like Peachtree Dunwoody, Barfield and Abernathy.

There’s plenty of low hanging fruit left to be harvested. Let’s get to picking!

Photo Credit: Markhoward (creative commons)

 

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