Archive - July, 2012

Farm to Table in Alpharetta?

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

Does the Alpharetta area have an honest-to-goodness farm to table restaurant? I don’t believe any local restaurants have truly embraced a 100% locally sourced menu at this time. However, each summer several restaurants come pretty close to the goal. If you’re hungry for vegetables that are right-out-of-the-garden fresh, these are your best options.

Milton’s Cuisine

Each year the “Milton’s Acre” garden continues to expand. These amateur gardeners are getting pretty good at the craft. It doesn’t hurt that Milton is still home to many who work the land and are willing to give advice.

Milton’s does an awesome job promoting their garden and its bounty via social media. Their Facebook page has scores of pictures and several videos documenting the progression of their garden.

Cucumber salad from Casa Nuova

Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant

Chef Antonio’s farm is less than a mile down Francis Road from their south Forsyth restaurant. Ask about it and they’re likely to invite you over for a tour. They’re also likely to send you home with some extra veggies.

Casa Nuova also documents their harvest on Facebook, although the photography is not quite as slick and polished as Milton’s.

Fagan’s Biscuit Barn

I’m a bit reluctant to include Fagan’s in this space. After all, the restaurant decorates with cans of veggies along the wall. It doesn’t exactly exude freshness. But all summer the restaurant has featured a fresh vegetable market on their front porch. Are these veggies on the menu? Maybe.

Be sure to ask which of their veggie selections are fresh. At lunch yesterday they has fresh collard greens, tomato slices and English peas. Fresh corn is often on the menu as well. Other options are likely from a can, despite farm-fresh options on the porch. Disappointing.
Fagan's Biscuit Barn on Urbanspoon

Alpharetta’s City Council opposes T-SPLOST

“Do you support the T-SPLOST referendum?” It was a simple question I posed individually to each of Alpharetta’s council members. The answers surprised me.

City Council T-SPLOST Votes

Elected Official T-SPLOST Vote
David Belle Isle No *
Donald Mitchell No
Mike Kennedy No
Chris Owens Didn't Answer
Jim Gilvin No
Michael Cross No
DC Aiken No

* Chris Owens didn’t respond to two emails asking the question. Mayor Belle Isle also didn’t respond but came out against T-SPLOST during his campaign last year.

The overwhelming opposition from Alpharetta’s elected officials underscores how unpopular and undesirable this initiative truly is. Remember that Alpharetta has always been considered a pro-business city. Two councilmen, Michael Cross and Chris Owens, have Chamber of Commerce ties. Yet even with the Chamber’s strong endorsement of T-SPLOST, council members are lining up against it.

Also remember that several local road projects within Alpharetta would receive funding form T-SPLOST. Councilmen Cross and Owens served together on a committee that drafted the early project list for T-SPLOST in north Fulton. That close involvement wasn’t enough to win Cross’ vote.

“The amount of funds being devoted to mass transit troubles me, especially since the state still has not fixed the transit governance problem,” Cross told me. I wholeheartedly agree.

If you run into Chris Owens between now and July 31st, ask him how he’ll vote.

Growler Wars – comparing north Fulton and Forsyth’s growler stores

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today’s article is co-written by Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

Growlers are the frozen yogurt of 2012. These specialty beer stores are sprouting up like weeds all over the burbs. Certainly they all can’t survive, so how will they compete? Will it be price, service, variety of selection?

Or will those that were first to market rule the day? Typically the first growler store in each municipality literally wrote the local ordinance. That’s been the case with Crafty Draught in Forsyth County and Blind Murphy in Alpharetta. And in Blind Murphy’s case, they worded the law such that samples are allowed, a clever competitive advantage.

So together with my blogging partner Mike Christensen, we set out to try them all. From Cumming to Roswell we filled our beer jugs with brew from each store. It’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it! Here’s how they compare.

Blind Murphy Craft Beer Market
53 South Main Street, Alpharetta
Hours: M-Ths 10-8, F-Sa 10-10, Sun 1-7

Blind Murphy opened a month or so ago in the Kell’s building in downtown Alpharetta. Owner David Sheets doesn’t want to be considered just a growler store. He wants to be an entire beer supplier, from growlers to bottles to home brewing supplies and brew classes. They’ll fill 32 and 64 ounce growlers in addition to tap-poured 12 ounce bottles you mix and match.

And thanks to Alpharetta’s growler ordinance that Sheets helped write, one ounce samples are available, three per person per day. 30 taps are available with plans to offer up to a thousand bottled beers. Selection tends to be more seasonal than the competition with a current emphasis on ales, IPAs and heffes rather than stouts and porters. Local brews include Red Hare and Monday Night Brewing.

Prices are very competitive over the competition. They also plan to donate net proceeds to local charities. Blind Murphy’s social media presence is decent with a focus on Facebook. Watch the tricky parking during peak traffic times.

Crafty Draught
415 Peachtree Pkwy #215  Cumming
Hours: T-Th 11-9, F 11-10, Sa 10-10, Sun 1-6, Closed Monday

The guys at Crafty Draught where the first on the scene and have had time to build a following.  They have 20 taps, glassware and bottled beers. Their growler bottles have different graphics, some quite funny. A rewards card is available.

They have a large social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and their website. Unfortunately Crafty Draught is a little pricier compared to the other shops.

They have a good selection of beers from IPA, ales, stouts, cider and root beer. Local beers include Jailhouse and Terrapin. They are very friendly and are ready and willing to talk beer. A ping pong table is in the store for your enjoyment.

Tap It Growlers
5354 McGinnis Ferry Road #204, Alpharetta
Hours: M-Th 12-8, F-Sa 12-10, Sun 1-6

Unlike the competition, these guys quietly opened with little fanfare or social media push. They are owned by the folks behind Mangia, a pizzeria in the same stripmall.

Tap It is a pure-play growler store. They have little plans to offer much of a selection outside of draught beer. Their 30 taps pour some variety although connoisseurs may bore of mundane selections like Negra Modelo and Sierra Nevada.

What could set them apart, especially to stout drinkers, is their nitro draughts. They also fill growlers via a tube from the bottom up and fill the air with CO2. The claim is that this adds some shelf life to your growler.

Cumming Growler Shop
1770B Buford Highway, Cumming
Hours: M 10-10, T-Th 9-10, F-Sa 9-11, Sun 12:30 – 7

The Cumming Beverage Mart skirted the Forsyth growler ordinance a bit. The liquor store, unable to sell growlers, added onto the back of the store with a separate entrance for their growler business. Clever.

They have 20 beers on tap with the usual 64 and 32 ounce bottles for sale with pretty cool resalable tops. In addition to the taps, there is a small selection of glassware and one rack of bottled beer.  It seems the growler store was just an attempt to cash in on the growler craze with not a lot of thought put into it. You’ll notice a beer pong kit consisting of a few Solo cups and some ping pong balls wrapped up in plastic. Classy touch.

They do not have a website, but they are on Facebook with a list of what’s pouring.  Prices are comparable to the average, with a few very expensive beers running at an eye watering $30. Service was lacking as the staff didn’t seem eager to discuss beer.

Ale Yeah
408 South Atlanta St. #157, Roswell
Hours: T-Th 11-9, F-Sa 11-10, Sun 12:30-6, Closed Monday

Decatur-based Ale Yeah recently opened their second store in Roswell on Hwy 9 south of the Roswell Square. It’s apparent that this is not their first rodeo. The shelves are all built and stocked with many bottles of beer organized by type – Ales over here, stouts and porters over there, fruit, sours and IPAs.  There was even a small section of wine.

18 taps are on the back wall appearing to be as almost an afterthought, as if the bottles were the main show. They have a large selection of local brews from Monday Night, Red Hare, Terrapin, and Sweetwater. Prices are on the website and they are about the same as everyone else. They are on Facebook and Twitter and know what they’re doing. Employees are approachable and knowledgeable with a passion for beer.

City Growler
214C Atlanta Hwy, Cumming
Hours: M 4-8, T-Th 11:30-8:30, F 11-10, Sa 10-10, Sun 1-6

City Growler has been open for nearly three months in the Olde Town strip mall just east of downtown Cumming. They have 22 taps but a limited selection of bottled beers.

They have a large variety of beers such as IPA, heffes, stouts, ciders, and a very popular root beer. There are several local brews available with some limited editions from Georgia brewers. The prices are on par with all of the other stores if not a little lower. They are on Facebook and Twitter with Facebook being the more active.

Staff is knowledgeable, very chatty and willing to educate both newbies and experienced beer drinkers.

Threats to a “vibrant” downtown

Two issues made news this week that may prove to be speed bumps in Alpharetta’s downtown plans. The key phrase to look for here is “vibrant downtown.” More on that in a bit.

Alcohol and churches

Ministers from two downtown churches (including my church) spoke Monday night against Alpharetta’s plan to reduce the minimum distance between restaurants that serve alcohol and schools and churches. The issue is a little complicated based on what’s inside the downtown district and how the distances are measured.

I tend to side with the city in this discussion. Nevertheless, Mayor David Belle Isle used the term “vibrant” when discussing downtown and its restaurants.

Trees

On Sunday Julie Hogg posted an article on the Alpharetta Patch about the removal of specimen trees in the downtown plans. It turns out the city may not have consulted with arborists and members of the Natural Resources Commission during the brief master plan debate a few weeks ago.

First I’ll say that I’m not a tree guy. I appreciate old trees and respect that Alpharetta has a tough tree ordinance. I think at times it may go a little too far, but it is what it is. The city usually stands very firm on this ordinance, even against developers.

Nevertheless the city isn’t holding itself to the same tree standards that they would a private developer. The result will be the destruction of scores of specimen trees as part of the downtown plan.

Mayor Belle Isle responded to the criticism explaining that they won’t be able to please everyone. But then that word appeared again…

“Vibrant”

Any further criticism of downtown is likely to face this word. You can almost fill in the blank with this template…

We are working to <blank> while still creating a vibrant downtown.

Fill in the blank here with “preserve trees” or maybe “hide parking decks” or “respect schools and churches.” Or maybe this phrase is next:

Our consultants say we cannot have a vibrant downtown without having <blank>.

The city has multiple teams of consultants studying every part of downtown. It’ll be easy to lean on their advice to steer downtown plans a certain direction. So filling in the blank here might mean restaurants or nightclubs. Or how about residential over retail? That’s how I see this playing out.

The city will let consultants be the bad guys, using their “expert” advice to justify reducing certain aspects of downtown while expanding others. It’ll all be in the spirit of creating something deemed vibrant. Remember this when giving your feedback on downtown. Regardless of what’s important to you, it’ll have to fit into the package the city has decided upon. Otherwise expect the city to throw their “vibrant” trump card.

And for those with the city, please feel free to take my little template and use it as your own. I trust it will be a valuable tool in dealing with bloggers or constituents and their unreasonable ideas for downtown.

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – July 2012

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

There’s not a ton to report this month but my coming soon list continues to grow. Look for a flurry of new restaurants to open by this time in August.

Another Broken Egg – Old Milton

Those who vacation on the Gulf Coast may be familiar with this chain of breakfast restaurants. Their presence in metro Atlanta has been limited to only one location in Buckhead. The Double R Restaurant Group is planning to open locations in Dunwoody and Alpharetta on Old Milton Parkway. Look for them in the empty space recently vacated by Cuzi Fresh.

Mambo’s Cafe – Windward

Mambo’s will close their restaurant in the Alpharetta Crossing shopping center at the end of July. Look for them in a few months in new digs at 4915 Windward Parkway. This is the vacant little shopping center near Lowe’s, across Windward from Ippalito’s.

This ought to be a good, yet confusing move for the Peruvian/Cuban restaurant. Mambo’s Cafe, formerly known as Mambo Jambo, will be a half mile away from newcomer… Mambo Jambo. Got it?

Noche – Johns Creek

The blog Tomorrow’s News Today reports that tapas joint Noche will open a location in Johns Creek. Look for them in the Camden Village shopping center near the original Marlow’s Tavern.

Bite – Expanding

Alpharetta’s much-lauded newcomer is taking a bite out of their strip mall. Bite announced they are expanding into the vacant space adjacent to their restaurant. Their current space is cozy to say the least.

52 Bistro – Closed

52 Bistro has been 86-ed. Their closure last week got a fair amount of media attention. It seems the restaurant, according to their press release, was not “able to sustain a self-supporting establishment.” It’s doubtful any future restaurant in this space will either.

Now Open

Meat and Potatoes Kitchen & Bar opened about a month ago in Johns Creek. Early reviews make the place look promising. Also in Johns Creek, check out Grecian Gyro, a franchise Greek restaurant in Johns Creek Walk.

Carrabbas at the Avenue Forsyth

Restaurants Coming Soon
Joe’s NY Pizzeria - From the folks behind Verra-Zanno in Johns Creek. Look for them to open in about a month at 1605 Mansell Road.
Uncle Maddio’s Pizza - Look for an opening in August on Windward in the old K Cafe space. If you’re interested, their Facebook page is pretty active.
Tassa Carribean Express - A second location of Tassa Roti Shop in Marietta. Buildout is underway on Old Milton.
Chipotle - Still planning new construction on Haynes Bridge near the mall.
Mirko Pasta - Opening in Johns Creek, State Bridge and Medlock Bridge. Look for an opening around the first of August.
Carrabbas - They are making quick progress building this new location at the Avenue Forsyth. Look for them on an outparcel between Chick-Fil-A and Red Robin.
Grand Champion BBQ – Can’t wait for these guys! Look for them in Crabapple within the month.
Haiku Sushi Steakhouse – The same folks behind the Etris Road restaurant in Roswell are looking at Yamato’s old space on North Point Parkway.
Cuzi Fresh - Moving down the street to 4160 Old Milton Parkway, where Donato’s Pizza used to be ages ago.
Burger 21 - A Florida-based burger chain pondering a new location in Milton. Still no word on where or when.
Dickey’s BBQ Pit - Building out in the former Hangry’s burger space across the street from the Avenue Forsyth.
Fresh Mexicano Grill - These guys are very close to opening on McGinnis Ferry near where Legend’s Deli used to be.
OVR Coffee Cafe – A vegan bakery and coffee shop coming to Vickery Village.

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 Parisian’s old space at North Point Mall in late 2013.

Forbes says Alpharetta is best place to move

There’s an article from Forbes making the rounds on twitter this week. Longtime readers of my blog may recognize the article and its author. I’m still a little puzzled as to why this is trending locally. Nevertheless it is a worthy local topic.

Forbes recognized Alpharetta as the country’s top place to move – also known as America’s number one reloville. Actually the designation was conferred on Alpharetta three years ago in this article by Peter Kilborn.

Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Peter Kilborn is certainly no stranger to Alpharetta. In 2005 he penned a feature for the New York Times on a relo family in Alpharetta. The article chronicles their life in Alpharetta and the career move that took them away. The article left so much of an impression on me that it inspired the name of my blog and much of my early writing.

Kilborn’s work here in Alpharetta lead to a book called Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America’s New Rootless Professional Class. It’s an interesting read and very relevant to life here in Alpharetta.

But back to Alpharetta’s #1 reloville designation. Though I’m puzzled as to why this article is trending again, it serves as a great reminder to us all. Even through this economic downturn, Alpharetta remains a great place to relocate. The economy here continues to thrive and unemployment is relatively low. Our schools remain strong, crime is low and quality of life is suburb. Those of us who have been here for a while should not take this for granted. Reading Forbes’ article might help reinforce that reminder.

How to encourage organic restaurant reviews

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

Hello Lee. My name is … I just opened a restaurant by the name … located at… I would love to invite you to come and check out our food and give us your take. You can also follow us on Facebook or check out our menu on our website. Sincerely, …

This email from a new restauranteur appeared in my inbox last night, right as I was beginning to write this post. It was perfect timing. This guy has got the right idea.

Restaurant owners, I’m going to give you unconventional advice. It runs counter to what scores of internet marketing blogs might tell you.

Don’t solicit or encourage internet reviews from your customers.

Running a new restaurant can be frustrating, especially when you’re not getting reviews. It seems normal to encourage your best customers to review your place. On top of that, a lot of local websites are conducting restaurant polls. It sure would be nice to win one!

This practice doesn’t work and can do you more harm than good. First, readers of online reviews may think the restaurant owner himself is writing shill reviews. This is the conclusion some jump to when many positive reviews suddenly pour in. Second, it undermines the trust that readers put in reviews. So important is trust that the review site Yelp will filter reviews like this from the public. It has been a very controversial plan but it works.

It’s all because good advice is built on trust. Even in the somewhat anonymous world of the internet, readers of reviews tend to trust the advice of those who review a lot. And as a restaurant owner, it is these frequent reviewers you should be going after. You want quality over quantity.

How do you get established reviewers to try your grub? Simply ask. Find the foodies in your area that review a lot, or perhaps find those who love your type of cuisine. Draft a personalized and sincere email invitation, not unlike the one above. Email once but not more. Don’t pester.

Invite a handful of folks to individually come in and personally meet the owner, chef or manager. Give them a warm welcome and perhaps a short tour of the restaurant. Offer them the backstory of the restaurant and some inside knowledge of the operation. Create a connection from the start and build a little repoire.

Offering a free meal is not necessary in my opinion. It’s more important to build a connection and provide some information. Don’t ask for or expect a review at all. The chances are good that you’ll get one and a friendly one at that. It’s hard to be critical of a person or business after they have shown you genuine hospitality. Serving amazing food doesn’t hurt either.

So restaurant owners, please stop trying to stuff the review ballot boxes! Instead try to make customers out of trusted local reviewers. The reviews will come.

Independence Day in Alpharetta

Today we feature a guest post from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

Tomorrow is Independence Day.  For most of us, that means burning some meat on the grill, icing down the cooler, hanging at the pool or lake, and enjoying the beautiful summer weather.  One more aspect of July 4th are the fireworks.  Whether you take the long drive down I-20 to Alabama to buy your own, or you gather your family to watch the impressive displays around town, fireworks and Independence Day go hand in hand.   Due to the recent dry, hot weather, home fireworks are discouraged this year to prevent possible fire hazards.  If you don’t want to risk burning your house down, here are several local July 4th events that you and your family can attend this year.

Alpharetta

The annual Alpharetta Fourth of July Celebration will take place as usual at Wills Park this year.  Childrens activities will begin at 4:00 PM behind the Community Center.  There will be entertainment, free parking, free games, and food.  Fireworks start at dusk.  When I go to see the fireworks, I often park in the parking deck at North Fulton hospital.  It’s a great vantage point with easier access to the exits once every thing is over.  From the top level, you can also see numerous other displays to the south and west.  It has gotten more crowded over the years, and you have to pay to park, but it is still fun.

Cumming

Just up Georgia 400 is the City of Cumming 4th of July celebration.  Events there begin July 3rd at 6:00 PM with food and drinks, bouncy castles for kids, and live music.  Cumming’s fireworks are going to start 9:30 PM July 3rd.  The celebration continues July 4th with the annual Steam Engine parade from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM.  The celebration is over at 1:00 PM.

Roswell

Roswell’s 13th Annual Fireworks Extravaganza will take place at Roswell High School.  The festivities get underway at 6:00 PM with live music from Back Trax and Banks & Shane.  Radio personality Moby will host the events.  Childrens carnival and bouncy castles are available for a fee.  Fireworks begin at dark.

Wherever you go to see fireworks this Fourth of July, remember to take plenty of water, drive carefully, don’t drink and drive, have fun, and always have a fire extinguisher handy.  Happy 236th birthday, America!

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