Archive - November, 2012

Best new restaurant of 2012 – Breadtime

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

I have a confession to make. In my day job I’m a software quality assurance engineer. That’s a fancy way of saying that I test software; and that’s what makes my column two weeks ago particularly embarrassing.

The WordPress plugin I used for polling didn’t work so well. Oh and I didn’t test it out. The result was a frustrating experience for my readers when selecting their favorite new restaurant of the year. Please accept my apologies.

But I’m very pleased with the results we do have. The winner by a narrow margin is the German bakery and cafe Breadtime. I certainly concur with that opinion.

It took this husband and wife joint a while to hit its stride. They opened to a limited menu and small staff. Early patrons were often confused by the offering and working of the restaurant. If you ever needed a reason not to harshly judge a new restaurant, this was it. To add to the confusion, they closed for an entire month for vacation. How very European of them.

But Breadtime has hit their stride. I’ve never had a bad meal here. Their homemade pasta is awesome, especially served in lip-smacking browned butter. Their schnitzel is authentic and cooked golden brown and delicious. And their chicken salad sandwich might be the best in Alpharetta.

I agree that Grand Champion BBQ might have earned some votes on reputation alone. I’ve been twice since they opened in Crabapple and think they might still have some kinks to work out. Let’s give them another month or so before conferring titles.

While I don’t think they deserve to be on any best-of lists, here’s a hat tip to Uncle Maddio’s. I set some very low expectations of this joint given their common ancestry to marginal burrito chain Moe’s. But they easily exceeded these diminished expectations. North Fulton has some outstanding New York-style pizzerias that elevate par. Maddio’s certainly isn’t there compared to these guys, but they make a worthy pie for a fast-casual joint.

Sharp Residential – a zoning to watch

The market for new single family residential homes is starting to show signs of life. Stalled developments are being restarted and a trickle of new zoning requests can be found in many suburban cities.

View Sharp Zoning in a larger map

Tonight Alpharetta will consider one such request from Sharp Residential in the northwest portion of the city in the vicinity of Providence and Mayfield Roads. The proposed development would be on 79 acres in three parcels that span two zoning applications. Some of the sellers are families with roots in Alpharetta that run for many generations.This in and of itself isn’t huge news. But the Sharp zoning is worth following for several reasons. Pass the popcorn, this could be interesting.

Alpharetta’s 2030 Comprehensive Land Use Plan saw final approval a year ago this week. The plan seeks to preserve residential “estate” properties in the northwest “character area”. The way this character area was defined in the plan, with extremely low density, is remarkable considering how much additional density the 2030 plan added to the rest of Alpharetta.

This area is new to Alpharetta, annexed not many years ago. It has a very Milton-esque feel to it in both the land and the concerns of the residents. Newer residential neighborhoods in the last ten years have featured larger homes on acre lots, much like in Milton just down the street. The land use plan sought to preserve this feel.

The Sharp zoning proves to be a significant test of the 2030 plan and its protection of character areas. The developer seeks to build smaller homes on 15,000 square foot lots, a density that exceeds the 2030 plan guidelines for this part of the city.

Engaged citizens – These are not the usual suspects fighting density in Alpharetta. The neighborhoods in this area are very well organized and united in their opposition to the Sharp zoning. They reached out to the developer and packed the chamber during the Planning Commission’s hearing on the matter. The meeting went past midnight.

And planning commissioners heard their voices loud and clear. They passed a very reasonable compromise with larger R-22 lots and bigger homes.

How will Council react? Pay attention to individual members during this discussion. Remember that Mayor David Belle Isle and Councilman Jim Gilvin campaigned last year on lower density. Will they hold firm on the CLUP’s guideline of lower density in this portion of the city?

Also remember that Councilmen Owens, Kennedy and Mitchell are up for re-election next year. Their votes and language during this process will be interesting to watch. Alienating citizens in the northwest portion of the city may not be judicious for these gentlemen come November 2013.

Will Alpharetta’s council side with the developer or a very united and organized community? Will NW Alpharetta, one of the last bastions of low residential density, retain that designation in the land use plan? And will these new, concerned citizens join the conversation about high residential density throughout Alpharetta? Stay tuned!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

It’s hard to talk about restaurants on the day after Thanksgiving. The fridge is stuffed with leftovers. It’s doubtful my family will darken a restaurant’s door at all this weekend.

Instead I’ll make a pot of leftover turkey carcass gumbo. If this were a cooking blog I’d post a recipe. It basically involves making a stock out of turkey bones then using it as the base of the gumbo. It’s delicious. If your picked-over turkey carcass isn’t in the trash can by now and you want the recipe, inbox me.

I’m truly grateful for my blog readers who take the time to read my writing and participate in conversation. Some outstanding friendships have resulted from this blog and I’m very grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Photo credit: Kat Cole (creative commons)

Will Alpharetta criminalize homelessness?

Tonight Alpharetta’s City Council will consider an ordinance to prohibit unauthorized “camping” in public and private spaces. If enacted the ordinance would essentially criminalize the act of being homeless in Alpharetta. Police would have the authority, after one warning, to arrest these unfortunate people for simply sleeping or preparing a meal.

It didn’t used to be this way for the homeless of Alpharetta. As many as a dozen sites exist around the city where homeless have lived. Most are out of sight in the woods or along flood plains.

Alpharetta always showed compassion for these hidden homeless. A great example can be found in an article by Revue and News reporter Jonathan Copsey. He describes a clan of homeless living in temporary structures in the woods off Mansell Road. The article talks about how police kept in close contact with this homeless community and how local churches responded.

But now things are different. What’s changed? First, Alpharetta’s homeless are no longer hidden. A new group has taken up residence in downtown Alpharetta. Their belongings and sleeping bags are visible at the abandoned gas station on Main Street next to Smokejack.

Homelessness on display is something we’re not accustomed to Alpharetta. It makes some feel uncomfortable or not safe. Additionally, this particular group of homeless is directly across the street from Alpharetta’s proposed City Center project.

Alpharetta’s Council is laser-focused on downtown right now. They’ve demonstrated they are not willing to let things stand in the way of their $29 million investment – be they specimen trees, liquor laws or now the homeless.

It’s also been reported that some of Alpharetta’s homeless have become aggressive when in the past they were mostly peaceful. However the wording of this proposed ordinance doesn’t address such behavior. It levels the sights on homeless who decided to just lay their heads here, regardless of their temperament.

Alpharetta shouldn’t take the extreme step of criminalizing homelessness. And to consider this on Thanksgiving week? Many choose to extend hospitality to the less fortunate on this week, not the other way around.

But no matter how you cut it, this is a most difficult issue to address. My views may be in the minority but I feel strongly about them. I welcome your comments, as always, so long as they remain civil and respectful.

Photo credit: Jonathan Copsey, Appen News

Alpharetta Community Thanksgiving Service

Each year during the week of Thanksgiving several Alpharetta church congregations partner to offer a community Thanksgiving worship service. My family and I attended the service last year at St James Methodist. We found this ecumenical service to be meaningful, relevant and the host congregation very hospitable. I encourage you to attend this year at St. Aidan’s and bring your family. Here are the details:

What: Alpharetta Community Thanksgiving Service

Where: St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, 13560 Cogburn Road

When: Tuesday November 20th, 7:00pm

Clergy from several congregations will share in worship leadership with Dr. Don Martin of Alpharetta First Methodist delivering the sermon. Dr. Martin is a great speaker with a humorous and down-home approach to his sermons. I look forward to hearing his Thanksgiving message to the community.

A special offering will be collected to benefit North Fulton Community Charities. A time of fellowship and refreshments will follow the service.

Poll – Best new Alpharetta-area restaurant of 2012

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

We spend a lot of time here on Fridays talking about new restaurants. We scope out the restaurant scene and spy on new joints as they are conceived. Hopefully I build some anticipation, spur my readers into trying new joints and support great local restauranteurs.

We can just about close out the books on new restaurants in 2012. Nothing on my coming soon list is likely to open in 2012, with the exception of maybe Mambo’s Cafe new location on Windward.

So what that in mind, what do you think was the best or most anticipated new Alpharetta-area restaurant to open in 2012? I want to hear from you! Assembled below, in no particular order, is a list of every new restaurant we talked about this year. Remember that my coverage area is Alpharetta, Milton, Johns Creek and extreme south Forsyth.

So pick your favorite and let me know what you think of the overall list. Was this a good class of new restaurants? Did anyone knock your socks off? And if you have a favorite new joint south of the border in Roswell, leave me a comment!


Alpharetta Jobs – November 2012

Largest Employers  
Verizon 120
ADP 79
McKesson 75
Radiant/NCR 59
LexisNexis 53
Equifax 50
Siemens 48
Comcast 17
Ryder 15
AIG 13
E-Trade 12
UPS 10
HP 5
Alcatel-Lucent 0

Requests come in from time to time for me to dust off the old jobs report column. This used to be a monthly feature here on Roots with the numbers trended. Unfortunately in 2012 your blogger hasn’t had the time to tabulate these stats.

How does this report work? I query the career websites of scores of Alpharetta-area employers and tally up the number of openings. This report was gathered on November 13th. All attempts are made to maintain accuracy but errors are possible.

What do the numbers show? There are over 800 advertised positions, mainly in information technology, healthcare and insurance. The degree to which employers are filling these positions is tough to measure. These could be open requisitions that are just sitting out there. Or on the other hand, firms may have interviews scheduled all day to fill these spots.

But what we can see is trends. For example, Windward Parkway’s HP has only five openings, down from a high of close to 150 last year. On the other hand, telecom hiring at Verizon (in both their residential and wireless businesses) has grown substantially over this time last year.

Alpharetta’s relatively low employment numbers might explain the results in this report. This area continues to enjoy the state’s lowest unemployment rates.

On November 1st RedPrairie announced the $1.9 billion acquisition of Scottsdale, Arizona-based JDA. The combined company will be the largest pure-play supply chain management software shop in the nation.

Mid-sized Employers  
Infor 41
MedAssets 32
Verint Systems 32
RedPrairie 26
Scientific Games 23
Traveners Insurance 17
AT&T 12
ACE American Insurnace 11
Marketsource 9
VeriFone 9
Total System Services 8
Colorox 8
IPSwitch 8
ISTA North America 8
Landis+Gyr 7
Hanjin Shipping 6
Colonial Pipeline 4
Coca-Cola Refreshments 3
Leaseplan USA 3
LaFarge 3
Crown Castle 3
Amdocs 3
Honda 3
Metlife 2
Ciena 2
Phillips 2
Microsoft 2
AdvancED 2
ThyssenKrupp 2
Research in Motion 1
Promethean 1
Neehan Paper 1
Outcomes Health 0
New York Life 0
GXS/Inovis 0
Farmers Insurance 0

What gives politicians and business leaders angst is the possibility of a firm leaving Alpharetta after a large merger like this. Cost savings are certainly on the minds of executives and office consolidation is an easy way to do that. Might the Prairie leave their digs on Brookside Parkway for sunny Arizona, taking hundreds of well-paid cubicle dwellers with them?

We had the same conversation about RedPrairie’s next door neighbor, Radiant. In July 2011 Gwinnett County-based NCR purchased Radiant. As of now, their Alpharetta office is still open and seeking 59 new employees. There’s a lot that goes into a corporate relocation and they take time. But if RedPrairie and Radiant both leave Alpharetta, Brookside Parkway could become the equivalent of a cubicle ghost town.

But back to the jobs report. Is this information useful and relevant to the business and IT community of Alpharetta? I occasionally get emails regarding these stats. The Revue and News continues to ask to publish them (look in next week’s paper). But as a reader of my blog, do you find them interesting and curious, or a waste of valuable space in the internet pipes? Let me know!

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – November 2012

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

It hasn’t been a tremendously busy month for restaurant news. There are a few joints and thankfully no closures to report. But if last year is any indication, I expect to see a handful of places close at the end of the year.

Campania Pizzeria – We’re slowly starting to learn more details of this place coming soon to the vacant stripmall at 800 North Main Street in Alpharetta. They will be a Neapolitan-style pizza joint, a genre we don’t see a lot of in these parts. Look for a February 2013 opening. Stay tuned to Foodie Friday for more details.

Next week is Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. So maybe it’s no coincidence that I have two new Indian joints to report. Is Alpharetta saturated with Indian cuisine? Perhaps not as I don’t report on many closures.

The first is Mayuri Indian Restaurant which will open in the old Pizza Hut/Woody’s BBQ space near North Point Mall. Mayuri is a Hindi word for a female peacock (a peahen I guess). Buildout is starting now.

Nilgiris Bakery and Cafe is now open on GA141 near Brookwood in south Forsyth. Look for Indian food and sweets. They are across the street from Target in a tough spot to see from the road.

A small restaurant called Sushi Mania is planning to open in Johns Creek. They will be in the Camden Village shopping center near the original Marlow’s Tavern on Old Alabama near Jones Bridge.

And don’t forget that tomorrow is Alpharetta’s newest foodie event, Vintage Corks and Gourmet Trucks. The fun starts at 1:00 pm in downtown Alpharetta. For more information see the article I wrote three weeks ago or hit the city’s website here.

Now Open

Sally’s Gluten Free Bakery opened on October 25th. Look for them on Kimball Bridge a bit south of Old Milton. Tap on Main opened doors a few weeks ago in downtown Alpharetta. I’d call it a soft opening really. Check them out in the old Coffee Pot location. Expect a decent selection of craft beer (but not like at a growler store) and some smallish-yet-manly sandwiches.

And I’m pleased as punch to report that Grand Champion BBQ has finally opened in Crabapple after an excruciatingly-long delay. You can expect to find Q made with amazing attention to detail that’s almost competition caliber. The space is a little small though. They’re in the old Elements Coffee location.

And finally, Bite is set to reopen in a matter of days. They temporarily closed their much-hyped Alpharetta restaurant while construction crews knocked down a wall and expanded into the adjacent space. It’ll be interesting to see what these guys can do with a full bar offering. In the meantime, drool over this picture of their lobster roll.

Retail News

Not a lot to report in this space. A cell phone repair shop called Bob Knows Phones has opened on Haynes Bridge near the new Walmart Neighborhood Market. This might be a cheaper alternative for hipsters seeking to repair their expensive Apple products. And a new salon called Studio NV is planning an opening on Windward near the new Mambo’s Cafe. More on Mambo’s in a minute.

Restaurants Coming Soon

OVR Coffee Cafe – A vegan bakery and coffee shop in south Forsyth’s Vickery Village. Look for them in the old Mommy Francis space.
Mambo’s Cafe – Construction is coming along in their new space on Windward. Can’t wait for these guys to reopen.
Tower Burgers - They are looking at the old Sonic building on South Main Street but there is still no sign of life here.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical – A trifecta of new restaurants to be built on Haynes Bridge near the mall entrance. I expect Pollo Tropical to be the first of the three to emerge.
BurgerFI – Fast-casual burger concept coming to Windward next to FedEx.

Do Presidential elections matter in Alpharetta?

Do Presidential elections matter here in the affluent burbs? They probably don’t deserve the effort or attention we give them. Before you label me a cynic or sore Republican loser, hear me out.

Georgia continues to be a solidly red state. The poll numbers during this election never doubted this fact, placing our state in the “solid Romney” column all along. Our sixteen electoral votes were practically counted before anyone mashed a finger to a voting screen. Yet voters turned out in huge numbers.

The presidential election is a circus that goes on forever. Most of what you hear from candidates is carefully screened and put before focus groups. It lacks substance. And as the campaign looms, the talk of the election changes from issues to the race itself. We watch poll numbers and campaign strategy. In the waning weeks no one is bantering issues or ideas. It ends up feeling like more of a popularity contest, like I’m voting for American Idol or something.

Contrast this with local elections. Thankfully they are far shorter in their duration and usually over in one cycle. In most cases candidates lack the funds to conduct a lot of polls or focus groups. Topics actually include issues – real issues that effect your everyday life. In fact I’d argue that local elections are probably more important to what truly matters to you than any national election.

Don’t get me wrong, the presidential election is important. Washington will always take a larger hunk of your wallet than city hall. But it’s the decisions at school board meetings, county commission meetings and among city councilmen that can have an enormous impact on YOU! How?

Your school board decides how your children will be educated. They redistrict neighborhoods, pick your child’s curriculum or oversee your charter schools.

The alphabet soup of transportation agencies (ARC, GRTA, STRA, GDOT, etc) make decisions (usually frightfully bad ones) that effect your commute. How much time do you spend in traffic, away from your family? Barack Obama isn’t likely to improve or worsen your commute.

City Hall directs land use planning. Their decisions have a tremendous impact on your quality of life, the amenities offered in your area and property values. Yet changes to this process attract relatively little attention when compared to the hoopla surrounding Obama’s reelection. It’s a shame really.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should skip the presidential elections. I was among the 80.7% of Forsyth County voters who picked Mitt Romney on Tuesday. But if you’re seeking a place to direct all this leftover political energy, try looking a little closer to home. You might think Barack Obama will run this country into the ground, but local politicians have the potential to wreck your property values, schools or drive to work. Pay attention!

Photo Credit: The Suss-Man Mike (creative commons)

Mac Meal – South Main Street

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.

Mac Meal is one of the newest international restaurants to make an appearance in Alpharetta.  I was driving down Hwy 9 and noticed the large red sign in the Northfall business complex but had no idea what Mac Meal was. A search online revealed very little information other than they served Mediterranean food. It warranted a visit to see what Mac Meal was all about.

Mac Meal opened a little over five months ago. The owners moved to the US about a year ago from Persia. The Alpharetta location is actually the third location. The other two are in Australia and are run by the owners three children.

The place was clean and neat.  It looked like they recycled some of the decor from Quiznos, the former tenant. The smell of the gyro meat was intoxicating. The menu is typical Greek/Middle Eastern, but it is a little small. There are only twelve main items. Items range from gyros to falafel to hamburgers to salads. There was talk of eventually adding a smoker to make kabobs. There is also a breakfast menu posted on the wall with several types of omelets and eggs to choose from. I found the breakfast menu a little odd since they don’t open until 10:00 AM.

The owners were very nice and conversational while my food was being prepared. They seemed very eager to make a good impression. I ordered a gyro with fries for me and a Mediterranean salad for my wife. The salad was prepared from scratch as I ordered it, and it was huge! Lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, onions, carrots and tomatoes all went into my to go container. I opted to add gyro meat for $2.00 more. The container could barely be closed once they were done. My wife loved it. The only complaint was the lack of tzatziki sauce. It would have been $1.50 extra. The gyro meat was sliced off of the vertical rotisserie and then placed on the flat top for a little extra sizzle.

My gyro was also made from scratch while I waited. It was also gigantic, overflowing with meat, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and smothered with tzatziki sauce. It was nearly 9 inches long. Although the fries were frozen, they were well cooked and weren’t bad. My son loved them. The gyro meat was super tasty, juicy and tender. The tzatziki sauce was a little on the bland side for my tastes.

The prices were very reasonable. I got out of there for less than twenty bucks. The gyro was $5.99 and the endless salad was $6.99. We were completely stuffed afterwards.

Mac Meal on Urbanspoon

Mac Meal doesn’t have an internet or social media presence, which will hurt in this day and age. There’s no way to find an online menu or even a phone number. I took a menu as I was leaving and noted that there is a web site listed on the back. I went to it and it doesn’t exist. The place was empty at 5:30 PM but I was told that lunch is a busier time. The food was excellent but relying on word of mouth will take time. I look forward to many more delicious meals.

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