Archive - May, 2012

Feet, chicken, apartments and downtown

What do feet, chicken, apartments and downtown Alpharetta have in common? They will all be considered, in some strange way, at tonight’s City Council meeting in Alpharetta.  Here are some brief thoughts…

Healthy Massage – North Main

Alpharetta’s code is carefully worded when it comes to massage parlors. It’s a good safeguard to prevent a certain kind of undesirable massage parlor from cropping up (as has happened in south Forsyth). Thankfully the proposed Healthy Massage at 875 North Main Street (in the Taco Mac stripmall) is not one of these joints. The folks behind Healthy Massage also own Royal Foot Spa in Doraville. Check out their reviews on Yelp for a better idea what to expect. Maybe a foot massage review is in order here on Roots?

Pollo Tropical – North Point

The master plan around the mall does not allow for drive-thru restaurants (even though three exist very close by). This seems to be the main sticking point for Pollo Tropical. The Planning Commission suggested denial of the idea and I expect the City Council to vote it down as well. That’s a shame as I’d like to see Pollo Tropical in Alpharetta. Perhaps they should consider another location. The former Tifosi Gastropub space comes to mind.

AMLI Webb Bridge Apartments

AMLI wants to build 300 garden-style apartments at Webb Bridge and Westside Parkway, almost across the street from Avalon. I don’t expect any Councilmen to vote for this, especially those next up for re-election in 2013.

And speaking of AMLI… rumor has it that they had a stenographer taking notes at the Avalon hearing a few months back.

Highway 9 LCI Study

I’ve not a big fan of these “Livable Centers Initiatives”. That being said, the highway 9 plan, most of which is in Milton, is not terribly bad. Thankfully the consultant resisted the urge to slam maximum density into the space. However there are still areas of concern with the plan. I expect to see discussion and debate tonight followed by a divided vote to approve.

Downtown

The council will likely approve an incentive zoning plan that will encourage, among other things, “chef-driven” restaurants (which are not defined), microbrew beer stores, specialty food stores, and boutiques. If you can define “chef-driven restaurant” in a way that would work in city code, leave me a comment. If they use your definition, I’ll buy you lunch at one of these restaurants!

Council will also consider a change that would require outdoor dining furniture to be metal or black in color. I kinda feel bad for the Siegel family at The Corner Deli as this new ordinance takes direct aim at their popular little restaurant. Unless they are grandfathered in (which I don’t see a clause for), they would be forced to remove their existing outdoor furniture and replace.

While I like the idea of fancy outdoor furniture downtown, I don’t know that now is the right time to be requiring it. The city should be incentivizing to attract business, not placing new restrictions.

Appen Newspapers’ Best of 2012

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

Voting is underway in the Appen Newspapers’ Best of 2012. This is a yearly survey conducted by the paper that asks readers for their favorites in a number of categories. Appen’s broad reach in print and online (in all of north Fulton and south Forsyth) makes this poll a pretty good barometer of overall favorability. I encourage my readers to click this banner and participate. It really doesn’t take much time.

Even though I struggled with how to vote on a lot of questions, I thought I would share my personal preferences. Here are a handful of my choices. Leave me a comment and let me know how you voted.

Best Ethnic Restaurant – Jerusalem Bakery. Mexican restaurants have dominated this category in years past. I might agree with a Latin choice here for a place like Mambo’s Cafe or Boga Taqueria. But in my opinion, Jerusalem Bakery is a gem of a restaurant that doesn’t get enough recognition.

Best Breakfast – BB’s Bagels. Nothing compares to the water-boiled bagels at BB’s. Their everything bagel is a weekly obsession for me. Past winners in this category have included J Christophers which show the chain’s popularity.

Best Dessert – The Chocolatier at The Avenue Forsyth. It’s probably not a choice most would consider. The truffles here are magnificent and stunningly beautiful. The hands-on favorite for this category is always Alpine Bakery in Crabapple. Alpine’s cakes are beautiful creations and they offer a dazzling array of choices in their expanded restaurant. But in the taste and flavor department, Alpine’s cakes have always let me down.

Best Pizza – Verra-Zanno in Johns Creek. I love the pizza choices we have in north Fulton. Among my favorites are Brooklyn Joes (who was a finalists in this category in years past), Vintage Pizza in Crabapple and Sid’s Pizza in south Forsyth. Verra-Zanno continues to be my personal favorite based on quality of ingredients and consistency of product.

Best BBQ – Grand Champion BBQ. This is a bit of a stretch since these guys are in east Cobb, but their pending arrival in Crabapple will shake the BBQ scene in this area. Until that happens, look for ‘Cue in Milton to run away with this category.

Best Overall Restaurant – I didn’t vote. You’d think I would have an opinion here but I found the question amazingly tough. It would be like asking me to pick my favorite child. I can’t do it. But in this category Appen’s readers usually pick the type of restaurant you’d take your wife on an anniversary date. Places like Milton’s in Crabapple, Cabernet or Village Tavern usually do well. Strangely the readers usually stick to the immediate Alpharetta area and don’t select something in Roswell.

I didn’t vote for much else in the survey. I selected Publix as best grocery store (Whole Foods and Harrys are too expensive for everyday shopping). Muse was my pick for best hair salon. My wife always looks amazing after visiting this trendy place. And for best realtor I selected fellow blogger Bob Strader.

Memorial Day in the Burbs – Proper Display of the Flag

This Memorial Day article was originally posted two years ago here on Roots in Alpharetta and last year in the Revue & News. If you have a flag, please display it this weekend.

I’m always impressed with the poignant observances of Memorial Day I see in the northern burbs of Atlanta. Have you ever driven through Duluth during this time of year? The number of flags is amazing. Or how about Milton’s cross display along Deerfield Parkway? We’re a patriotic bunch up here, something to take pride in.

It’s also cool to see so many display our country’s colors on their homes in the neighborhoods. When we moved into our current house I was excited to find a flag hook already installed above the garage. I suppose I could have installed something like this myself, but that would involve using tools and hardware and stuff. I try not to do this kind of thing without adult supervision.

If you’re going to display the flag on your home, you should at least make an effort to follow proper flag protocol. Here’s what I’ve learned on the subject…

Most of us will hang the flag on a staff set at an angle against your home. Always hang the flag with the union (the blue part) at the top. If you can’t figure this part out then you’ve got bigger problems.

Make sure the flag hangs free and doesn’t touch the ground, trees, bushes, garden gnomes, your wife’s Cadillac Escalade, etc.

It is okay to display the flag in the rain or poor weather if it is made of all-weather material. If it is hand stitched then you probably shouldn’t be running it up your suburban flagpole in the first place.

You should take the flag down at night unless you have the flag properly illuminated. This is a tough one that I’ve violated in the past. If you want to play by proper flag etiquette, then you need to install a small spot light.

What to do about flying the flag at half-staff? I’m not really sure how to do this on an angled staff. If possible I suppose you could fly it half way up as you would on a normal pole. I don’t know if this is possible with mine though. I thought I read once that you can furl the flag on the staff. I’m not sure if this is proper during times of half-staff display. If anyone knows the proper way to handle this, let me know. On Memorial Day itself the flag is to be flown at half-staff until noon.

Enjoy your three day weekend. But more than that… enjoy your freedom. Don’t take it for granted. Have a reverent Memorial Day.

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – May 2012

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

I don’t have a lot of restaurants to report on this month, but what I have to talk about is a potential game changer in the Alpharetta/Milton restaurant scene.

Grand Champion BBQ – Crabapple

This strip mall barbecue joint in east Cobb (with a Roswell address) has managed to catch a lot of attention in the short time they’ve been open. Many put them among the best barbecue in all of metro Atlanta. And based on the few times I’ve made the trek down to Shallowford Road, I’m not going to argue. These guys are selling barbecue that is almost competition caliber.

Grand Champion will open their second location at 12635 Crabapple Road, in the same shopping center as Sip and Erwoods. Their arrival will rock the Milton/Alpharetta barbecue scene. If you think ‘Cue, Swallow at the Hollow or Smokejack are good then you really need to try these new kids. Look for an opening this summer. Follow them on Twitter (@GCBBQ) or their webpage www.gcbbq.net.

Kabab & Wraps – Milton

It didn’t take these guys long! They officially opened on May 9th in a strip mall at the corner of Webb and Morris Roads in Milton. Look for cheap Indian/Pakistani food in a buffet setting.

Alfresco – Alpharetta

This family-operated pizzeria has finally opened. Look for them on the corner of Main Street and Old Milton Parkway near downtown Alpharetta. Seems like some nice folks running the shop here. I’ve only been once and need to return to sample the rest of the menu. If you’ve tried Alfresco, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!

AMC Theater – North Point Mall

AMC Theaters will be moving their North Point Parkway theater to the vacant Parisian space in the mall. I’d heard rumors that it would be them but it became official this week.

It will be interesting to watch the south end of North Point Parkway over the next few years. AMC’s departure will leave a big hole. There is vacant restaurant space where Champps used to be and Regal is moving to Avalon.

Harry’s Farmers Market – Upper Hembree

With Avalon’s approval it seems that Alpharetta will get a new Whole Foods at the development. The company plans to close their Harry’s Farmers Market location on Upper Hembree Road and convert it to offices and a distribution facility.

Update: I was incorrect with this update about Harry’s and I regret the mistake. Whole Foods does not have plans to close the store but want to keep their options open. However, it is true that they have asked the city for a conditional use permit to allow for office and distribution uses at the Upper Hembree Road location.

Grecian Gyro – Johns Creek

This will be the first franchise location for this small chain of gyro shops. They’ve got stores in Hapeville, Tucker, Forest Park and soon this location in the mixed-use development of Johns Creek Walk. Check out their decent little blog with updates on the buildout.

Haiku Sushi Steakhouse – North Point

Haiku from Roswell
where Yamato used to be,
but is this space cursed?

Restaurants Coming Soon

Meat and Potatoes Kitchen & Bar - Johns Creek in the old Rio Bravo/Star Diner space.
The Velvet Note - Tiny food and music venue coming soon to Old Milton.
Joe’s NY Pizzeria - Buildout has started for their location at 1605 Mansell Road.
Pollo Tropical - Alpharetta’s Planning Commission recommended denial of their proposed drive-thru restaurant at Haynes Bridge and the mall entrance. The city council will ultimately decide, but it isn’t looking good for these guys. However a Johns Creek location is still in the works.
Uncle Madio’s Pizza - I’m moving this to “rumor” status. Someone close to the restaurant chain told me they were looking at the old K-Cafe location on Windward. But I’ve seen no other activity with this new restaurant.
Tassa Carribean Express - Old Milton Parkway in the Brookside area.
Chipotle - Coming soon to Haynes Bridge between the mall and GA400, next to the proposed Pollo Tropical.
Blind Murphy’s Beer - Growler store coming to Main Street in downtown Alpharetta.
Romeo’s NY Pizza - Opening in the old Pizza Vito location in Crabapple.
Mirko Pasta - Opening in Johns Creek, State Bridge and Medlock Bridge.
Carrabbas - Construction has started on their new location at the Avenue Forsyth. Look for them on an outparcel between Chick-Fil-A and Red Robin.

Retail Coming Soon

Cutters Cigar Emporium - Coming soon to Windward next to Qdoba.
Walmart Neighborhood Market - A new grocery-only version of Walmart to open at 11770 Haynes Bridge Road behind Alpha Soda.
Regal Theaters - Moving from North Point Parkway to the new Avalon project.

Brandon Beach vs Chip Rogers

Brandon Beach, sans hat

Brandon Beach wears a lot of hats. He’s president of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the North Fulton CID. He’s also a Georgia DOT commissioner. Behind the scenes Beach is arguably the most politically influential man in north Fulton. But he wants more.

Yesterday Beach announced his candidacy to run for State Senate in district 21. Redistricting changed this seat to include Milton and a large part of Alpharetta in addition to Cherokee County. What’s striking about Beach’s announcement is that he’ll square off against incumbent and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. This will be a fun race to watch for a number of reasons. Pass the popcorn!

In 2010 Beach ran for Senate against John Albers and David Belle Isle. He lost to the politically inexperienced Albers in a runoff despite far outspending him. After such a stinging defeat, why take on entrenched power and campaign in the unfamiliar grounds of Cherokee County? Maybe Beach knows something we don’t.

Here are the issues expected to dominate this campaign:

T-SPLOST and HOT lanes - Beach, wearing his Chamber of Commerce hat, has been raising funds for Citizens for Transportation Mobility as recently as this week. This group will lobby “educate” voters on the transportation project and the accompanying penny sales tax. Beach might also have to explain or distance himself from the proposed HOT lanes on GA400. None of these proposals are popular with voters, especially with the Tea Party. Beach can kiss their support goodbye before this campaign even begins.

Campaign money - Chip Rogers is sitting on a little over $300,000 cash in his campaign warchest. That’s a huge margin to overcome. But don’t count Beach out of the money game. He raised and spent nearly $175,000 on his 2010 race for Senate thanks to deep connections in the business community. Expect heavy media and direct mail campaigning in this race!

Chip Rogers

Rogers’ real estate dealings - Beach’s campaign announcement talks about “integrity” in leadership. Is this a foreshadow of a campaign tactic to come?

Rogers was a business partner with north Georgia Congressman Tom Graves in a real estate deal. Things went bad which lead to a default and an abandoned project. This issue dogged Graves when he ran for Congress in 2010. It’s worth noting that Graves had to win four elections in 2010 to claim his seat for good. The issue didn’t stick at all. Will Beach play this card against Rogers? Will it work? Or can Rogers fire back with Beach’s ethical missteps during the Avalon debate?

Charter schools - Rogers was one of several legislators to lobby in favor of the embattled, and now rejected, Fulton Science Academy. And if you think the FSAMS controversy was crazy, read up on a similar school in Rogers’ home of Cherokee County.

Additionally, Rogers pushed hard for the charter school constitutional amendment which will go before Georgia voters this year. It’s not clear if charter schools will become a campaign issue, but there are certainly strong feelings on all sides.

Tasting notes from Taste of Alpharetta 2012

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

Another year of Taste of Alpharetta is behind us. The weather was perfect, much cooler and less humid than in years past. The downtown setting was also neat at the beginning of the event. It was nice to stroll the streets of downtown at a leisurely pace. I saw some homeowners along Old Roswell Street sitting on their porches for some people watching.

But by 7:00 the event was crazy. Milton Avenue was elbow to elbow and almost impassable. The narrow streets of downtown couldn’t handle the crowds that were accustomed to four lanes of Old Milton Parkway. But nevertheless the event went off well. Kudos to the city for all their efforts.

I tried to hit newer restaurants this year along with a few favorites. Here are my notes from the evening. Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!

Mole braised pork sandwich from Bite

Bite

They brought a short rib taco, something I don’t think is on the menu. It was pretty good but a little wet and mushy. And as I had hoped, the mole braised pork made an appearance. They served it as a sandwich with cole slaw and a pickled onion. Delicious stuff.

Breadtime

It was great to see a crowd in front of their booth. They offered a lot of variety last night which should drive some business their way. I had, as the Germans call it, weisswurst or white sausage. I’ve eaten this stuff in Munich but never in the states. I didn’t care for the curry sauce on top but it was still very good.

Wildflour

Disappointing. They had spot number one, right as you walk in. Yet even with this prime space they were an hour late setting up. Once they did they only had chicken salad and cookies. I expect better from these guys.

Miltons

I’m also a little disappointed in this Taste of Alpharetta favorite. They were offering fried chicken but couldn’t make it fast enough. I went back several times but they never had any.

Alpine Bakery

For only three tickets folks were walking away with huge slices of cake including red velvet. I dropped two tickets on a cheesecake sample but was underwhelmed. If you’re expecting a dense cheesecake, don’t look for it here.

The Counter

They were set up real close to competitor Smashburger. I liked the grilled slider I tried here. Bursting with flavor, juicy and FAR cheaper than what you’d pay at their over-priced restaurant on Mansell Road.

Madras Chettinaad

The former Minerva Indian buffet doesn’t get enough attention at this event. They always cook a lot for Taste of Alpharetta as their cuisine lends itself well to an event like this. I found my mango lassi to be a refreshing drink towards the end of my evening.

Crepe Cottage – Alpharetta Farmer’s Market

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

Meet John Peltier. By day he’s a mild-mannered software consultant. But on weekends he dons the apron and transforms into a foodie entrepreneur. He’s teamed up with his wife Phay to create Crepe Cottage, a mobile crepe station and catering operation.

Like any business duo, each partner has their specialty. John is the marketing machine and has been responsible for their social media presence. They are on Facebook, Twitter (@CrepeCottage), and even YouTube.

Phay has the crepe talent. When they’re busy (which is often the case) you’ll find her next to a propane-powered crepe griddle. It’s best to watch this YouTube video to see her work in action. She starts with a ladle of crepe batter that lands in the middle of the griddle. Much like a pancake this batter cooks quickly. Yet unlike a pancake there is no leavening agent (like baking powder) in crepe batter.

 

 

The secret to crepes is to spread the batter around quickly. You can tell Phay has done this a time or two. Using a thin spatula-like device she twists and turns her wrists in circles, spreading the batter evenly across the entire surface of the griddle. The process is finished in seconds.

But the crepe is not finished. It’s real duty is to serve as a vehicle to deliver taste and flavor. Phay folds the crepe in half and considers its fillings. On this day I choose banana and Nutella on my first crepe. An entire sliced banana goes in along with a generous helping of Nutella. It is folded again, quartered, and allowed to warm up on the griddle. A paper plate is folded around the crepe and served. It’s almost like eating a large waffle cone of gooey, fruity goodness. The crepe provides some texture although tended to get a little soggy on the last few bites.

I also tried their strawberry and cream crepe. This creation has a white chocolate cream along with fresh strawberry slices. It was good but the creme was very messy and hard to contain. The Nutella crepe was easily the favorite in my group. I had a tough time wrestling this away from my daughter.

Crepe Cottage also has a savory side of their menu. If you try them at a farmer’s market then there’s a good chance the savory menu will be mostly breakfast items. I regret that I didn’t try anything here before my review.

All in all I enjoyed the crepes. They are a little pricey, around $8 each, but are large enough to share. And given time I think they can expand their menu to be a little more adventurous. Since my visit they have rolled out an Elvis crepe which is basically the banana/Nutella crepe with added bacon. Oh my.

The Peltiers plan to split their Saturdays this Spring and Summer between the farmer’s markets in Alpharetta and Sandy Springs. It might be best to check their website or social media channels before trying to catch them. They are also available for catering.
Crepe Cottage LLC (Farmer's Market) on Urbanspoon

Deny FSA’s state charter?

Yesterday saw yet another setback for the embattled Fulton Science Academy Middle School. The Georgie Department of Education recommend the state deny their application for a charter. At this point the best coverage of this issue can be found at this article on The Patch. Also read the four page letter that outlines the reason for the negative recommendation.

Here are a few random thoughts on this continuing saga…

It’s time to resign - Hatcher Hurd over at the Revue & News wrote a great column on the FSA shortly after the county rejected the FSA charter. His opinion was very close to mine. At that time he called for the board to resign, something I thought was overkill. I’m beginning to think Hatcher was right.

This is a touchy thing to say but… FSA’s administration and board are inept. They have bungled this entire process. They’ve also bungled the construction project. Look at the BOE notes as well as Fitch’s latest bond downgrade and read between the lines. It might be too late to make a difference, but heads should roll. Parents should demand it.

Approve or reject the charter? - I don’t know. Before yesterday I would have said yes, renew it for a short duration with a ton of oversight stipulations. This would be least disruptive to the students, parents, staff, and bond investors. However, after reading the letter it seems that FSA hasn’t made any progress towards better governance and oversight in the last several months.

Charter Schools - I continue to support the concept of charter schools. They are the closest thing we have to school choice right now. Don’t view my criticism of FSA as a rejection of the charter school idea.

Gulen Movement - Some people feel called to help educate children as a response to their faith. For centuries people of my faith have done so, as have Gulen followers. I’ve read about the movement and don’t have a  problem with it. Seriously, I don’t.

I think a few (but certainly not all) FSA opponents are influenced by xenophobia. I see it in the blogs that have linked to my articles. So let me be clear… I don’t have a problem with the Gulen Movement.

Alpharetta’s bond approval - Prospect Park 2 is here. Just drive by the FSA’s now-stalled construction project near Westside and Encore Parkways. It’s a pile of dirt.

The city has some explaining to do. The Alpharetta Development Authority approved the issuance of FSA’s bonds last year. Now before I throw them under the bus let’s remember that we have hindsight that they didn’t at the time. But it would be interesting to learn more about the process the authority follows before approving bonds. Is it a rubber stamp? Did the city check on the charter renewal process? What other due diligence did the Development Authority perform prior to approving these bonds?

I’m going to nominate Michael Cross to answer these questions. He chaired the Development Authority last year when the bonds were approved. Today he’s an elected official – a City Councilman. The citizens deserve an explanation, especially those who live adjacent to FSA’s stalled construction project.

Regrettable - No matter what happens to the Fulton Science Academy, I think we can all agree that this is a most regrettable situation. It has also been a preventable situation. The students deserve better treatment than this.

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