Archive - June, 2012

Brandon Beach, T-SPLOST and a healthy dose of irony

For the next few weeks Roots in Alpharetta will run a series called Senate Saturday focused on upcoming state Senate races.

- Lowering taxes is essential to job growth. When individuals retain more of their income, they invest that money back into their community.
- President Reagan once said, “Man is not free, unless government is limited.”
- We need to cut the size and scope of government.

These are quotes taken from a local state Senate campaign website. This is boilerplate language for anyone running as a Republican in this area. Lower taxes, smaller government and a Reagan quote thrown in for good measure. Certainly no candidate with a campaign message like this would support a $6.1 billion tax increase? Right?

Meet Brandon Beach, Republican candidate for state Senate district 21. These quotes are from his website. They were used to to explain the cornerstones of his campaign – lower taxes and less government.

However, Beach supports the transportation sales tax known as T-SPLOST. The tax would hit metro Atlanta consumers to the tune of $6.1 billion during a tepid economy.

Actually, using the word “supports” doesn’t truly reflect his enthusiasm for the new tax. Beach is all-in for T-SPLOST. In the early days of his campaign he was making as much news talking up T-SPLOST as he was his senate race. He hosted T-SPLOST fundraisers and stumped for the ballot measure at every event he attended. He used his pulpit as Chamber of Commerce president and North Fulton CID director to push for votes and dollars.

Additionally, the T-SPLOST would increase the bloated transportation bureaucracy that Beach helps lead as a GDOT board member. Many who oppose T-SPLOST cite distrust of transportation leaders as a primary reason. And recent polls show opposition for T-SPLOST increasing.

The AJC’s Politifact website gave Governor Nathan Deal a “full flip flop” rating over his support of T-SPLOST while pledging not to raise taxes. At least Deal waited until after he was elected to flip flop on a tax increase. The irony is thick in Beach’s circumstance. The tax increase he supports is on the same ballot as his primary.

So can you make lower taxes a cornerstone of your campaign while supporting a $6.1 billion tax increase? Can you preach the virtues of smaller government while trying to expand the bureaucracy you help oversee? Will voters let Brandon Beach have it both ways? We’ll know July 31st.

DMD’s third annual doughnut eating contest

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

The 2011 DMD doughnut eating champion

Backyard barbeque? Forget about it. The best way to celebrate our country’s independence is to participate in competitive gluttony. The folks at Dutch Monkey Doughnuts have seized on this concept and turned it into a popular and growing annual event. Their little Independence Day contest has become the premier competitive eating event in the northern burbs. Here’s how it works.

Four challengers were chosen from applications to face last year’s defending champion. Each must consume, and keep down, a dozen doughnuts in fifteen minutes. The winner gets store cash and their picture on the wall of the shop. The losers get extreme heartburn.

The main contest begins at 1:00pm on Wednesday July 4th at their store on Ronald Regan Parkway near the Avenue Forsyth. Other activities are planned for earlier in the day. Check the DMD Facebook page for more details.

For more on competitive eating in the Alpharetta area, check out the article I wrote last year on the subject.

Photo Credit: Dutch Monkey Doughnuts, used with permission

Taking Wills Park for granted

Dear Wills Park,

I have a confession to make. We cheated on you. My kids love your various playgrounds and walking trails. But when a Saturday errand found our minivan in Atlanta, we were tempted to try another. It was a mistake that made us truly appreciate all the terrific Alpharetta-area playgrounds.

I should have know before we even arrived at Piedmont Park. The potholes in the midtown Atlanta roads nearly swallowed our car. After slaloming most of Atlanta’s road craters we arrived at the parking deck. It was littered with signs warning us of potential crimes.

Next we walked and walked until we found the playground. It was a decent place with newer equipment. But my kids quickly bored of it all. Nothing really stood out and there was no where to hide from evil siblings. After maybe five minutes my daughter approached and said “We want to go to Wacky World.”

Off we trekked to find the parking deck, praying that whatever I had inside the minivan was still there. Thankfully all remained although my wallet was $2 lighter upon leaving. It seemed like a steep charge for the little amount of time we were there.

We attempted to salvage our midtown experience with a trip to the legendary rib joint Fat Matts. Certainly a half rack of ribs would cheer me up. But the near flavorless meat left me craving real barbecue. Were these things boiled ahead of time? Seems so.

So I pointed the minivan towards GA-400 and paid the toll that was supposed to have ended by now. Before too long we were rolling on the smooth and well-maintained roads of Alpharetta. Our minivan found a free parking spot almost in the shadow of the wacky world playground. And a minute later my daughter was getting dizzy on a wildly-spinning tire swing while her brother disappeared inside of a dragon. All was right in the world again.

So please forgive our lapse in judgement. You and your sister parks are outstanding, among the best in all of metro Atlanta. We will never again take you for granted.

Photo credit: DeFamilie

Burger King’s Bacon Sundae

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

Fast food giant Burger King has rolled out a revamped menu this summer in an attempt to win back customers. And up until now their attempt hasn’t lured this suburban gastronome. I can’t remember the last time I darkened a door at Burger King. But the pull of bacon cannot be underestimated, especially when it plays a role in a sweet and savory dessert. I knew the BK Bacon Sundae needed a review here on Roots, even over the objections of my wife.

My wife’s concerns were quite valid. At 510 calories, 18 grams of fat and 61 grams of sugar, the BK Bacon Sundae is a cardiologist visit waiting to happen. On the flip side, Burger King’s menu isn’t exactly loaded with healthy options. But my wife also thought my blogger credibility might suffer as a result of this review. Credibility, schmedibility! We’re talking bacon here!

So I sneaked over to a Burger King in Johns Creek yesterday and plopped down my $2.49. A minute later my creation arrived. It’s a generous helping of soft-serve ice cream topped with chocolate and caramel syrup. Next comes two strips of bacon. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the strips are sandwich-length strips and not the length you might expect from a slab of bacon.

One strip of bacon is crumbled atop the sundae. The second strip is impaled vertically into the sundae as if to plant the victory flag. The meaning is clear – bacon has conquered this sundae. It might be the best visual presentation of any fast food dessert.

As would be expected, the smokey and salty taste of the bacon complements the caramel and chocolate. It didn’t go well with the ice cream though. It also didn’t help that the bacon pieces were large. Diced bacon would have worked much better in this sundae. And I would have much preferred the four ingredients  to have been mixed together, along the lines of what Cold Stone Creamery might do with their toppings. The bacon may have infused its salty goodness a little better with this approach.

At the end of the day, this is a fast food soft-serve sundae with bacon sprinkled on top. I ate perhaps a third of the sundae and pitched the rest. And while there is some novelty to this, having now experienced it I doubt I will repeat.

Inviting bacon to the dessert menu is hardly a new culinary idea, even in the suburbs. Dutch Monkey Doughnuts has had a bacon-wrapped doughnut on their menu for years. Jilly’s Cupcakery bakes a very delicious maple bacon cupcake. It’s perhaps the best thing on their menu. Those craving this sweet/savory yin yang should pursue these creations, not the BK Bacon Sundae.

Remembering Alex Petkus of Scratch Fresh

Alex Petkus was an expert in social networking. No he wasn’t a whiz at Facebook and Twitter. His brand of networking was the old fashioned kind; pressing flesh in a firm handshake, warm greetings, learning and remembering first names. Alex was the most genuinely friendly and personable restauranteur in the Alpharetta area. He passed away Monday at the age of 49.

I first met Alex about five years ago. He’d opened a small chicken wing joint with a cool Sopranos theme called Bada Bing Wings. It was a quiet place close to my home that my kids, toddlers at the time, enjoyed. Like most of his customers it didn’t take long before we got to know “Mr. Alex” on a first name basis. We even met his wife Deb and enjoyed her delicious contributions to the restaurant’s menu.

My kids adored Mr. Alex. I recall my daughter’s birthday one year when we allowed her to pick any restaurant in town for dinner. Without hesitating she choose Mr. Alex’s place. Later when Alex was ill and away from his restaurant my daughter colored him a get well card. I’m regretting having to tell her of his passing.

Alex later became a partner in Scratch Fresh, a burger concept in Milton near Walmart. His friendly demeanor enveloped the place. Within the employees at Scratch Alex created a culture of appreciation and hospitality unlike any I’ve seen in a local restaurant. Today the restaurant has a tremendously loyal following because of it.

My family continued to see Alex over the years. As my kids grew Alex would joke about the time he bought a special vacuum cleaner at Bada Bing to clean up after my messy son David. Today he orders a much neater grilled cheese sandwich at Scratch.  Alex always remembered to make it “the David way” with inverted hamburger buns. It was these small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, remembered and repeated hundreds of times over, that won him repeat business.

I saw Alex last week for dinner. He’d just returned from the east coast of Florida where he was scouting a future location for Scratch Fresh. The plan was for he and his wife to move there within the year. I was disappointed that we’d be losing this friend to relocation in the coming months but was excited for his opportunity. Unfortunately we lost him much sooner.

Que & Brew – Barbeque and beer for a good cause

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

Crabapple’s much anticipated new barbeque restaurant, Grand Champion BBQ, will partner with Sweetwater Brewery for a good cause. The two are hosting a fundraiser called Que & Brew to raise money for Brandon Matos. Brandon, a Pope High School graduate, is paralyzed from the chest down following a terrible diving accident and is undergoing daily treatments.

The event will feature barbeque, beer from Sweetwater and local bands. Unfortunately the event is in Atlanta but is worth the drive. This is a great opportunity to sample Grand Champion’s grub ahead of their arrival in Crabapple next month. It also helps a deserving young man who needs assistance.

What: Que & Brew
When: Tuesday June 26th from 7-10pm
Where: Sweetwater Brewery, 195 Ottley Drive in Atlanta
Cost: $30

Alpharetta’s downtown master development plan

Last week I wrote about Alpharetta’s downtown plans and their apparent rush to get a master plan approved. I’m pleased that the city added a few more opportunities to comment, although only one week was added to the schedule.

My original thoughts on the plan remain unchanged since last week. The plan has morphed from largely municipal and park usage in 2011 to an ambitious and intense mixed-used development.

In the last few days I’ve come upon the city’s master development plan, a document that spans some forty pages, in addition to some of the steering committee’s meeting minutes. These unreleased documents give a better glimpse into the scale and magnitude of the project, something you may not gather from the two dimensional aerial views. My biggest concerns are…

Size of development

341,200 square feet. That’s the total size of retail and “other uses” in the four main buildings as drawn up in the master development plan. To put this into perspective, the proposed Walmart I wrote about on GA141 in south Forsyth will measure in at 177,000 square feet. I know this isn’t a big-box retail situation but mention it only to give a basis for comparison. This is a large development on a compacted piece of downtown property.

Cross section of the northeast building showing lower parking deck


The city’s bond referendum included a 450-space municipal parking deck. During public comment last year some were skeptical of the parking deck in terms of size and cost. Nevertheless the bond passed and the deck is in the plan.

What’s nearly invisible from the drawings and presentations last week are two additional parking decks. The two largest buildings each sit atop their own parking deck, each packed with two stories of cars. The development plan shows a total of 1,244 new parking spaces between the municipal deck and the two buildings on the east.

The best way to see these decks is via the cross sectional view shown above. Again, the explosion of parking decks shows the sheer size of this development.

Park and Green Space

Many at the June 6th public meeting felt like park space took it on the chin in this plan. It seemed greatly reduced in size over the 2011 drawings. One councilman that night insisted to me that the park space remained the same size. After reading the master development plan I think he might be right… with a little twist

Together the town green, city park and landscaped walkways (on internal streets) provide a total of over six acres of landscaped open space.

Are the landscaped walkways along the new internal streets being counted toward park space? It’s a familiar tactic other mixed-use developers have employed to get to a desired green space footprint. Let’s hope Alpharetta isn’t taking a page from their playbook. I expect better out of Alpharetta given their already stellar public parks.

Additionally, Councilman Jim Gilvin expressed concern Monday night that the city hall building doesn’t have service access drawn into the plan. With this building sitting in the park, such access could cut more from park space.

The City’s Spin

Those with the city are sticking with two main talking points during this discussion. First, they maintain that the 2011 drawings were not master plans but rather concept documents. I think most understand that idea. However, the public drew inferences from the 2011 concept with regard to the scope of the plan. That scope has dramatically changed.

Second, the city is being very careful to avoid discussion on potential uses in the development, particularly what goes above retail. If there’s an elephant in the room, this is it. In the public meetings they guide conversation away from this topic. Even in the steering committee meetings they were careful not to discuss this idea – with one exception. In one meeting the city’s architect “noted that residential seems to be the best use for the land and future development facing the park.”

It is my belief that a private developer would pursue apartments over retail in this plan.  Given the glut of vacant office space and demand for apartments, this is a no-brainer.

A Downtown “Village”

Both Mayor David Belle Isle and Councilman Donald Mitchell sit on this downtown steering committee. Both used the term “village” in their campaigns last year when describing downtown Alpharetta. It’s a subjective term I suppose. Conjure up what that means to yourself. If a downtown village includes three parking decks and 341,200 square feet of mixed-use development then you should be in favor of this plan. If you imagine a different village feel downtown then maybe you should let your voice be heard.

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – June 2012

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

Self-serve frozen yogurt was the fad of 2010 and 2011. Will beer growlers become the fad of 2012? We’re about to see a flurry of them open in the northern burbs. Will they all survive? How will lovers of brew decide who’s best? Will first to market play a factor? Location? Price? Service? We’ll have to figure it out I guess. To me, anything located near a froyo joint may get my business! The kids can eat trendy frozen treats while I get 64 ounces of frothy goodness.

Blind Murphy Craft Beer Market will be the first growler store to open in Alpharetta at 53 South Main Street. Look for a soft opening next week. Shortly following Murphy and not that far away will be “The Growler Store.” This franchise shop will open near La Parilla on North Main Street. The same franchise will open another store in Johns Creek in the Kroger shopping center at Haynes Bridge and Old Alabama.

OVR Coffee Cafe – Vickery Village

Coming late summer to Vickery Village. OVR will feature a vegan bakery and locally-sourced organic ingredients put together by a Le Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef. It’s a completely new concept that ought to work well in Vickery.

The Velvet Note

This intimate (read “small”) food and music venue opens TODAY on Old Milton Parkway. They will host a free opening tonight and Saturday. From there expect weekend shows featuring live jazz. Velvet Note is an interesting concept that I hope is successful here.

Fresh Mexicano Grill – McGinnis Ferry

I don’t know much about this restaurant. They are coming soon to the strip mall where Legend’s Deli used to be. I have serious doubts that any restaurant can survive in this strip mall for several reasons. 1) It has poor visibility from the road. 2) Nearby schools and churches makes obtaining liquor licenses a challenge and 3) I’ve heard that the landlord is difficult to work with. So with that in mind, buena suerte Fresh Mexicano.

Pretzel prayer couldn't save these guys

Pretzel Company – Closed

This small pretzel shop in Milton near Target has closed. Not that long ago they ditched their franchise arrangement in a controversial move and went independent. Unfortunately the move didn’t seem to work out. Even their Tebow pretzel (which went viral) couldn’t save the store.

Dickey’s BBQ Pit – Avenue Forsyth

A new Dickey’s franchise is coming to the old Hangry’s space across the street from the Avenue Forsyth. This location hasn’t been kind of past tenants so we’ll see how marginal barbecue does in the space. Jim-N-Nicks is nearby and doing all kinds of business.

Burger 21

This fast casual burger restaurant started in my hometown of Tampa. They are about to rapidly expand and have chosen the Atlanta burbs for their first destination outside of the sunshine state. No specific locations have been announced but I’m told they are looking in Milton and the Mall of Georgia area in Buford. Check out this article for more about the concept and their expansion plans.

Dottie’s Delight/Bad Wolf BBQ- Closed

This hole-in-the-wall breakfast and barbecue shop on McFarland Parkway impressed me two years ago with their Q. I’m sad to report that they’ve closed.

FIGO Pasta – Renovating

This chain of fast casual pasta restaurants will begin a phase of renovations. Alpharetta’s location on North Point is the first in the chain to get a new look. They are now closed but will reopen in about a week. If you check their Facebook page you can sign up for a ticket to their grand re-opening.


North American Properties announced several new tenants for their Avalon project. The list included Yard House, a restaurant featuring American food and lots of beer. Retailers announced included Orvis, Arhaus, Athleta, Anthropologie and Paper Source. Orvis will be interesting to watch as downtown’s Alpharetta Outfitters already carries a large selection of their products. Will a company store at Avalon hurt this downtown retailer?

Romeo’s NY Pizza – Crabapple

They opened June 1st in the old Vito’s Pizza location in Crabapple. Other locations include Johns Creek, Lawrenceville and Canton.

Cuzi Fresh Cafe – Old Milton

They are moving their cutely-named restaurant a few blocks down the street. Look for them in new digs at 4160 Old Milton Pkwy. This is a free-standing restaurant that used to be the home of Stix Sushi and Donatos Pizza.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Meat and Potatoes Kitchen & Bar - Johns Creek in the old Rio Bravo/Star Diner space.
Joe’s NY Pizzeria - Buildout has started for their location at 1605 Mansell Road.
Pollo Tropical - It is very doubtful that Alpharetta will approve their drive-thru restaurant near the mall. Knowing that, Pollo delayed their application to the city. I hope they can find another location nearby. In the meantime, the next closest store will be in Johns Creek.
Uncle Madio’s Pizza - The coming soon banner is up in their new location. Look for them on Windward in K Cafe’s old space.
Tassa Carribean Express - From the folks behind Tassa Roti Shop in Marietta. Buildout is underway for their Old Milton location.
Chipotle - No word on when they will break ground on this new Haynes Bridge location near the mall.
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.
Grand Champion BBQ – A highly-anticipated second location is coming in July to Crabapple.
Grecian Gyro – A franchise gyro shop coming to Johns Creek Walk.
Haiku Sushi Steakhouse – The same folks behind the Etris Road restaurant in Roswell are looking at Yamato’s old space on North Point Parkway.

Retail Coming Soon

Walmart Neighborhood Market - A new grocery-only version of Walmart to open at 11770 Haynes Bridge Road behind Alpha Soda.
Walmart -A third Forsyth County location is being planned on GA-141 and Mathis Airport Parkway near Target.
Regal Theaters - Moving from North Point Parkway to the new Avalon project.
AMC Theaters – Coming to North Point Mall in late 2013. The Revue & News reported that the theater may include IMAX screens.

Alpharetta acting with haste to approve different downtown plan?

Planning for Alpharetta’s new downtown may come to a quick and abrupt end over the course of the next week. The city has called, with one week’s notice, a single public meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening. Council is preparing to vote on a plan as soon as June 11th. Additionally, the 22 acre property may include an ambitious mixed-use component that wasn’t previously presented prior to the referendum vote in November.

Here’s how Alpharetta’s downtown plans and sketches have morphed since the public voted.

It was right at a year ago when Alpharetta released this first sketch of downtown. This blogger remarked at the time in this article that he was “stunned and pleasantly surprised not to see small condos all over this plan.” The drawing had a lot of green and a few “future development” boxes. As can be seen, these boxes were almost see-through, directing attention to the white-colored new buildings of city hall, the library and parking deck.

Over the summer of 2011 drawing number two emerged along with several beautiful artist renderings of the plan. “Future development” became a little more visible but remained a small part of the plan, lining the public green. Next the city held several public forums and conducted online city hall discussions. No mention was made of mixed-use plans in the 22 acre project, nor was a residential component brought up. Alpharetta voters approved the $29 million bond referendum in November.

Six months pass with almost no public discussion of downtown plans until the city announces the June 6th public hearing.  Next this third sketch of downtown is released with far less detail. Nearly the entire western half of the 22 acre project is consumed by mixed-use development. MU property even wraps around the Publix supermarket. City Hall and the library are pushed east into the green space.

It’s clear that the scope of the downtown Alpharetta project has materially changed since it was put before voters in November. What was presented at that time was largely municipal buildings, parks and green space. Half of today’s concept could become mixed-use development. Under Alpharetta’s code that’s likely to include condos or apartments. Furthermore the city is acting with haste to approve this plan with only one public presentation announced on short notice.

The city should slow down and encourage more dialogue prior to making such a dramatic change to the downtown plan. Until then, those concerned have only one opportunity to voice their opinions publicly – Wednesday June 6th, 6:30pm at City Hall.

Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company – South Forsyth

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature a guest post from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

I remember when I was a small child going to the local butcher shop with my mother in Tucker, Georgia. I would pick out the cuts of meat, having each one wrapped in that white butcher paper to take some and enjoy with my family.

Flash forward to 2012, and that classic butcher shop has returned in the form of Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company in South Forsyth off of Hwy 9 just north of MacFarland Road.  Owner Woody Hornsby, a Columbia, South Carolina native, has a passion for serving the best beef, pork and sausage in the northern suburbs.

Woody spent many years working in the corporate world before a chance encounter with a local butcher lead him to his true calling.  He spent over a year scouting locations in and around Alpharetta before finally opening his shop in September of 2009.  Woody has a family history of sausage making.  He uses a 100 year old recipe from Italy passed down through his wife’s side of the family as well as spices procured from a cousin in Northern Louisiana to make his sausage.  The sausage contains no preservatives, a natural casing and is a single grind for texture.

Woody is a mad scientist when it comes to his sausage, constantly trying new blends.  The current best seller is a three cheese jalapeno bratwurst.  The sheer number of types they make will make your head spin.  He grinds most of the types of sausage in house every day.  Some types such as the pork alligator are shipped in from Louisiana from the same cousin who has the spices, although Woody is working on making all those in house as well to keep costs down for his customers.

Speaking of customers, Woody strives to make his customers a part of his family.  He’s constantly in the shop greeting folks, cutting meat to order, and educating people on the types of meat as well as preparation techniques.  I’ve visited Woody’s several times, and I have never been disappointed.  The strip steaks I got on my first visit were cut as thick as I like it (1 ½ inches) and trimmed perfectly.  It takes longer than grabbing a shrink wrapped steak off the shelf at Kroger, but it’s worth it 10 times over.  Once cooked on my grill, the steaks were better than most steak houses I’ve been to.

Woody uses the top one third choice meats and wet ages them a minimum of 14 days.  Every cut of meat you will find there is fresh, never frozen.  On subsequent visits, I’ve happily tried the ribs and bacon, both of which lead me running back for more.  The ribs came devoid of the dreaded silver skin, which was a pleasant surprise, and the bacon was hearty and didn’t shrivel up in the pan.

Woody doesn’t advertise but instead relies on word of mouth to build a loyal following.  They have recently started offering entrees.  Several days during the week Woody makes a main course and sells it throughout the day such as white chicken chili or red beans and sausage.  You can like their Facebook page or sign up for their email list in the store for new product info such as the entrée of the day, new types of sausage or any news or changes.

Woody is looking to add more coolers and equipment in the near future to keep up with demand.  The shop is welcoming with a children’s table to occupy the little ones while your order is prepared.  Everyone there is very friendly and will take all the time you need to make sure that you’re satisfied.  Stop on by and while you’re waiting check out the pictures all around the shop.  See Woody’s wife’s 7th grade patrol trip to Washington D.C. and try to pick her out.  (hint: she’s the one in the white).

If you want the best meat buying experience that you’ve had since you were a kid, check out Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company.  Your carnivorous taste buds will thank you.

Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company is located at 5925 Atlanta Highway in south Forsyth.

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