Archive - January, 2013

Stax Burger Bar – Holcomb Bridge, Roswell

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 love burgers. If I was on a deserted island and I could have only one food, it would be hamburgers. Stax Burger Bar opened just down the street from my office. Several of my coworkers have raved about their food. I had to check it out.

Stax is owned by two brothers, Luis and Carlos Ramirez. Luis has made the rounds as executive chef at several of the Sedgwick restaurants including Vinny’s on Windward, Van Gogh’s, and Aspen’s Signature Steaks as well as co-founding Cinco Mexican Cantina. My expectations were very high.

The dining area feels spacious if only for the fact that there are a handful of tables. There are a large number of outdoor tables that will be filled in the spring and summer. The chairs and tables were comfortable and easily accessible. As an avid Coca Cola collector I was pleasantly surprised to find several Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper items figuring prominently into the decor. The overall feel for me is “second date.” It’s not quite nice enough to impress a first date, but would be perfect for a second, more relaxed date. There is good music pumped in that’s not so loud to prevent conversation.

The menu is full of specialty burgers, salads, sides and tapas. My wife and I tried the Stax classic and the bacon and cheese burgers, which are pretty much what you can get anywhere. They were both hot, juicy and full of flavor. Two slightly thin patties of black angus meat with lettuce, tomato and red onion create a happiness in my mouth.

Try the more adventurous Saltimbocca burger, a veal patty with fresh mozzarella, tomato, prosciutto di parma and sage mayo. It was so juicy and packed with flavor, truly a high end burger. We also tried the buffalo chicken burger. Pretty spicy but also one I would order again.

In the protein department you’ll find turkey, shrimp, salmon and portobello mushrooms, all ready to be made into burgers. It’s a small menu overall, but there really isn’t anything on there that didn’t look great.

One key aspect of all of these burgers is the bun. Locally baked and toasted, they really make the burgers something special. None of the burgers come with sides, which was a disappointment. The burgers range in price from $7.00-8.00, so once you add in the cost of fries ($2.00), or some of the pricier sides, the cost can add up. The fries are hand cut and double fried. The mac and cheese had great flavor but was too runny for my taste.

Look for unusual side items such as fried okra, creamy green pea risotto, fried calamari, sauteed brussel sprouts and onion rings. The risotto, while not looking very appetizing, was excellent. While not what I normally would have with a burger, it was a good change of pace.

Stax is not very kid friendly. They offer a plain burger and fries as the only kid menu item for an eye watering $6.50.

Stax Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Overall, Stax burger bar is a welcome addition to the blossoming burger scene. It’s a burger place striving to be more than a greasy dive and it succeeds. The atmosphere is comfortable, the service fast and friendly and the food is out of this world. It’s a place I would go to meet friends after work and relax with a great burger and a glass of frozen sangria.

Single family homes can still be walkable

Do you read the blog New Urban Roswell by Michael Hadden? You should.

I disagree with Michael… a lot. But I respect his opinion and find his writing to be well thought out and researched.

I regret not commenting on this Avalon article from Michael when it was written way back in November. Let’s take the occasion of Avalon’s ground breaking (scheduled for next week) to bring it up.

Perhaps the least talked about part of Avalon is what will be known as Avalon Gardens. This will take up the western portion of the development, closest to Westside and Old Milton Parkways. In a nutshell, this is where the single family homes and townhomes will live. Yes, I said single family homes.

Michael has published many of the drawings and maps for this phase of the development in his article. It will be a beautiful place to live with stunning architecture.

What I like best is that it isn’t filled with stacked housing. It isn’t crammed to the gills with condos on top of condos or apartments everywhere like you see at Windward Mill or Peridot.

Certainly there is a demand for walkable communities. However it isn’t necessary for that to translate to extreme density. Avalon Gardens beautifully demonstrates this! You can create desirable, walkable communities and still offer single family homes and townhomes.

This model would work perfectly in downtown Alpharetta. Rather than stacking vertical boxes of residential over downtown, why not encourage housing like Avalon Gardens to be built along the periphery? It would still be very walkable and a desirable place to live. It would also hold back density, which is the real enemy here.

Unfortunately I think stacked residential over retail is already a done deal in downtown Alpharetta. It’s also not likely to get talked about before this year’s municipal elections in November. That’s disappointing because I think Alpharetta really thirsts for developments that are more like Avalon Gardens.

The Counter – Mansell Road Roswell

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

Sticker shock.

If there’s a first impression most folks get at The Counter, this is it. That was certainly the case when they first opened. Many wrote off this California chain, not expecting them to last but a few months.

It’s been five years now and The Counter is still flipping burgers. In the meantime countless fast-casual burger concepts have opened or are planning to open in the Atlanta burbs. Yet these guys are still around, making one of the better burgers in the area and charging a pretty penny for it.

How many pennies? Their basic burger starts at $7.50. This is combo price at some joints. Not here. This price is before cheese, fries, premium toppings and drink. And since they are a full-service restaurant, you’ll need to factor in a tip. Expect to pay upwards of $15 per person for a basic burger meal.

But if you’re serious about trying one of the better hamburgers in north Fulton, fork out the dough. The Counter’s burger should make most best-of lists. They cook an 80/20% fat ratio Angus burger. I like mine cooked medium-well but they’ll do medium without hesitation. Despite the extra cooking time, my burger wasn’t the least bit dry as Angus often is.  I also liked the sear on the patty.

What interested me the most on this return visit was how their menu has changed over the years. Their burger bowls caught my attention. These are part deconstructed burger (sans bun for the gluten challenged) and part hamburger salad.

I settled on the backyard barbeque bowl. What ingredient didn’t this thing have? A bed of lettuce and greens  held some chopped ham, cole slaw and a hamburger patty with horseradish cheddar cheese. On top a generous helping of fried onion strings buried the burger. Ranch dressing and a slightly sweet barbeque sauce were on the side.

The barbecue sauce really didn’t belong in the bowl as much as the ranch. I left it off and thus abandoned the barbeque aspect of the dish. Then again, many from California might consider a burger “barbeque”, but that’s a topic for another article.

In the end this was a delicious hamburger salad. I had hoped for more of a horseradish punch but it wasn’t there. The onion straws brought some nice texture to the party and complemented the creamy ranch dressing.

Would I order the backyard barbeque bowl again? Probably not with the $14.50 price tag.

So what’s completely unique here and totally worth paying for? Wine milkshakes.

There are some things that should never mix with dairy. The thought of marrying pinot noir with ice cream sounds so wrong, but it tastes oh so good. On the menu they call it chocovine. It’s basically a cherry chocolate milkshake with nearly a full serving of a California pinot noir. It’s comes from the bar in a pint glass with chocolate drizzled on the inside and whipped cream. Don’t expect a thick milkshake here as the wine thins it out a good bit.

On the first sip your taste buds experience a gentle warming effect from the wine. It confounds the senses a bit as they try to process the cold shake. The cherry flavor complements the wine and makes this a very drinkable dessert. Priced at $8.50, it costs about the same as a glass of the wine itself. It’s a unique idea that isn’t being tried elsewhere.

The Counter: Custom Built Burgers on Urbanspoon

So what’s the verdict on The Counter? After five years they’ve still got it in terms of burger prep. Is it the best burger in north Fulton? Probably not but they might finish on the medal podium. If you’ve still not been here you owe yourself a visit, but their prices are likely to keep you from becoming a regular.

I received a free meal from this restaurant. You can read my disclosure policy on my about page.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – January 2013

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

Doughnut wars are upon us in south Forsyth. The amazing success of Dutch Monkey Doughnuts has finally invited a competitor. Opening this week is Sweet Apple Donut and Coffee. You’ll find them in the old Legend’s Deli space at 5430 McGinnis Ferry Road. Can they match the quality product that DMD puts out everyday? Or will they compete on price?

And while not in the same league, Dunkin’ Donuts has plans to build a new location on the corner of McFarland Parkway and Highway 9. Another location is in the works in extreme southeast Forsyth on McGinnis Ferry near Old Atlanta Road.

Also in south Forsyth are two new concepts opening on Peachtree Parkway/141. Green China Cafe will open at 3105 Peachtree Parkway near Five Guys. Golden Key European Food and Deli will open near the Brookwood Target. Expect Russian and eastern European goods.

It appears that Tap on Main in downtown Alpharetta is all tapped out. I’m told they will not reopen. Another concept is planned under a different name. Stay tuned.

Also coming soon to Alpharetta will be Teriyaki House at 3710 Old Milton Parkway. Look for them where My Friends Place used to be.

Now Open

Last month I reported on the sale of Izumi Asian Bistro on North Main Street. The buyer is Thai Star Cafe from Sandy Springs. They’ve already changed the concept around and are open. Can these guys compete in a saturated Thai market that includes Lime Juice, Nahm, Satay House and Thai Squared?

Sushi Mania in Johns Creek is now open. This is another case of an ITP joint coming to the burbs. They are relocating from Brookhaven to the fancy side of town in Johns Creek. Look for them near Marlow’s at Old Alabama and Jones Bridge.

And finally, Bite has reopened after a long renovation. They expanded into the adjacent space in their shopping center.

Closures

Lee Garden (no relation) is a goner. These guys had been around forever. Makes you wonder if the rent is too high in the Alpharetta Commons shopping center. Mambo’s Cafe recently ditched this place as well.

Also closing at the new year was Firefly on Windward Parkway. They made a great attempt here and had some decent live music. If you’re keeping score at home, that makes five closures in this cursed location.

Rio Nuevo on North Point appears to be closed. The restaurant was dark last night and their phone number has been disconnected. I suspect they may be re-branding the joint as Jose’s Mexican Grill.

And while they are still open for now, Dockery’s on Main Street is in a bind. Their lease in this city-owned shopping center expires in a few months. The building will be demolished to make way for the City Center project. The restaurant is still considering their options.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Mambo’s Cafe – I expect by this time next month they will be open at their new digs at Windward and Main.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical – A trifecta of new restaurants to be built on Haynes Bridge near the mall entrance.
BurgerFI – Fast-casual burger concept coming to Windward next to FedEx.
Mayuri - Indian joint coming soon to the former Woody’s/Pizza Hut near Northpoint Mall.
Osaka Steak & Sushi – Small hibachi joint coming to Johns Creek/south Forsyth near Michael’s.
Campania Pizzeria – Their sign is up at 800 North Main Street. Expect an opening in March.
Salt Factory – Highly-anticipated Roswell restaurant coming to Main Street Alpharetta.
Nine Street Kitchen - Reportedly planning to open at 52 North Main.
First Watch Cafe - Breakfast joint taking over the J Christopher’s in Johns Creek.

Alpharetta is thriving despite the naysayers

There’s a certain vibe out there in Alpharetta right now. We’re riding a wave of positive news about this area. It’s a fun ride. This is a cool place, despite the naysayers. What’s been going on?

Forbes magazine made local news a few weeks ago when it named Alpharetta as one of the friendliest towns in the country. It was an awesome distinction, one that certainly will be used by civil leaders for years to come.

Remember that this “suburban experiment” isn’t supposed to be working. Our neighborhoods with their inward designs and cul-de-sacs don’t promote a sense of community, right? At least that’s what opponents of suburban living have been saying for years.

Then there’s economic news. Unemployment continues to remain low throughout the northern suburbs of Atlanta. We’ve got the lowest numbers in the state.

That’s because of the jobs! General Motors is going to open a huge new facility on Mansell Road right where Alpharetta and Roswell come together. It will create over a thousand new IT jobs. It’s a huge deal.

Yesterday the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that HP will add 200 new jobs to their Windward Parkway campus. Last year they finished another burst of hiring at this facility that brought in a few hundred more.

Remember that our ability to attract large employers will be hurt if we don’t dramatically increase taxes and fund billion dollar transportation projects. That’s what TSPLOST advocates told us last summer. All these companies will move to Charlotte or Texas or somewhere, right?

Or how about the hip and creative 20-something generation. Remember that they hate Alpharetta. They desire apartments and urban living. If we don’t change our land use plans to welcome them, their creative jobs will move to Atlanta and this place will die. Remember all that talk?

Alpharetta is a tremendous place. Alpharetta is thriving. We’re blessed to live here. Remember this whenever a real estate developer, urbanist, politician or business leader tries to tell you otherwise.

Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB (creative commons)

Start/Stop/Continue – Alpharetta Restaurants 2013

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

Sometimes I draw blogging inspiration from my cubicle life. Hey, you gotta get it from somewhere. But it’s cool because this is the fourth year of this story idea. Here’s how it works.

At the office we follow this routine during annual reviews. Your peers are asked to list things you should start doing in the new year, bad habits you should stop and activities you should continue. It is sort of a kinder and gentler way of telling someone what they should or shouldn’t be doing. I’ve adapted this theme for Alpharetta’s restaurant scene.

In this column’s past we’ve talked about things like the froyo craze. It didn’t take a crystal ball to predict closures. Here are a few trends I’d like to see start, stop and continue in 2013. Let me know what you’d like to see happen in Alpharetta’s restaurant scene this year.

Start – Craft Desserts

Why hasn’t the amazing success of Dutch Monkey Doughnuts inspired more? I would have thought by now we’d have a handful of small dessert shops making silly little things like whoopie pies. It hasn’t happened.

Jilly’s Cupcakery was the first cupcake place to open and now has a second location in Roswell. Competitors never quite got traction. Two cupcake joints came close to opening in south Forsyth but never cut the red ribbon.

What I’d really like to see… a craft ice cream shop. They’d make real, honest-to-goodness ice cream in small batches right there in the store. Locally sourced dairy would be nice as well as seasonal fresh fruit.

Stop – Fast-casual Burgers

Enough already! It seems that chain burger joints want to land in the Atlanta suburbs first before going ITP. That’s true of places like Smashburger (which continues to get sub-par reviews). We’re saturated with Five Guy locations, some of which I’d imagine will close.

BurgerFI will open on Windward almost across the street from Smashburger. Down the street is Five Guys and locally-owned Scratch Fresh. Can west Windward support four of these joints? Doubtful.

Perhaps that’s what scared off Burger 21. The Florida chain was eying the Alpharetta/Milton area for a location. They’ve backed down for now. But if you really wanna try their concept, expect the first Atlanta location near Mall of Georgia.

We also have one of Atlanta’s last Fuddruckers locations near the mall. The Counter is on Mansell and Kennesaw-based Cheeseburger Bobby’s is still flippin’ patties.

So unless you have a truly unique burger concept, please don’t bring your spatula to Alpharetta.

Continue – Building Credibility

Alpharetta’s restaurant scene is slowly earning the credibility it deserves. We saw that late last year when notable restauranteurs started lining up at the city’s border. Ford Fry wants to open a new concept at Avalon. Salt Factory is coming up from Canton Street in Roswell to downtown. Expect to see this trend continue in 2013.

Photo credit: Lodigs (creative commons)

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