Archive - March, 2013

Easter Sunday Brunch in Alpharetta

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

We always go to Grandma’s house after church on Easter. And in our family,  Easter supper is akin to Thanksgiving lite. It’s a pretty big feast.

But I recognize that some folks like to eat out on this occasion. There are a handful of local restaurants that do Sunday brunch week in and week out. We’ll go over a few of them. And then there’s Alpharetta’s fine dining establishments and their opulent Easter spreads.

Upscale Breakfast – This segment of the restaurant world has taken off as of late. J Christopher’s was the only player in town for many years. Not any more. Check out Another Broken Egg on Old Milton Parkway. Or in Johns Creek try Egg Harbor Cafe and First Watch.

Pappadeaux – This small chain of Cajun/Creole restaurants is underrated in my opinion. They do a Sunday brunch for $22 per person which is similar to their lunch buffet. For Easter they may kick it up a notch.

Fine Dining – Talk about pulling out all the stops. Alpharetta’s fine dining restaurants go to extremes for Easter brunch.

At the top of the list is Cabernet Steakhouse on Windward. Their Easter brunch buffet includes prime rib, lobster tail and leg of lamb, not to mention traditional breakfast items. It’s also $50 per person.

Milton’s Cuisine will do a braised lamb ragout on their Easter spread. The rest of their buffet is southern comfort food including favorites like fried chicken and shrimp and grits. It’s $32 per person.

Ray’s on the Creek (formerly Killer Creek) will do Easter brunch for $30. It’s also buffet style. And don’t forget the Sedgwick family of restaurants. Vinny’s will have lunch and dinner specials on Easter but no buffet.

Potential consequences of Donald Mitchell’s reality show gig

I didn’t editorialize much in my original story on Donald Mitchell’s reality show appearance. It was my intention to get the story out there and see where it went. And oh my did it take off.

But I did editorialize in a few interviews this week. My opinion was that Mitchell acted inappropriately. The way he portrayed himself was crude and his actions were demeaning towards women. He tarnished the reputation of Alpharetta.

What many have missed in this discussion is the television program itself. We watched the youtube clips showing Mitchell and that was it. If you get a chance, watch episode #9 which aired March 17th. It will change your mind. I considered posting some quotes from this episode but didn’t want to drag my blog down to this level.

“But Lee, it’s just acting!”

Yeah, I get it. But remember that he is portraying himself in this program. He’s also perhaps the most vulgar and over-the-top character on the entire show. That’s saying something!

I understand that downtown business owners are supporting Mitchell through this. They are his constituency and he does a lot for them. But allow me to frame this discussion differently…

The Cobalt Center

There are rumors that a large company may be close to inking a deal for this site. This is a 400,000 square foot corporate campus and data center that sits empty. Close to a thousand high-paying IT jobs are at stake. Landing a deal would be a huge win for Alpharetta.

Alpharetta is hunting whales here. These are multi-national, Fortune 500 firms. Companies like this don’t like to deal with uncertainty. Controversy is something they run from. They expect the utmost in professionalism and character. They are looking to relocate to a community of the highest caliber.

Donald Mitchell is jeopardizing deals like this by participating in Big Rich Atlanta.

Right now a Chamber of Commerce leader in Dallas or Charlotte is whispering into the ear of a corporate executive. He’s saying, “You don’t want to relocate to Alpharetta. Their leaders get on reality TV shows and demean women. You don’t want to be associated with a community like this!”

So while Donald Mitchell continues not to see anything wrong with his actions, the rest of Council lays awake at night thinking about the scenario above.

Before doing anything in public Councilmen should ask themselves, “Does this reflect a positive image of Alpharetta?” It sounds cliche but nonetheless very true. The consequences are huge.

Donald Mitchell can’t be a City Councilman and a trashy reality TV star at the same time. He should pick one and resign from the other.

Donald Mitchell, on a trashy reality show?

Alpharetta Councilman Donald Mitchell is a reality television star.

Mitchell has appeared on multiple episodes of Big Rich Atlanta, a reality TV show on the Style Network. The show follows a group of wealthy women and their daughters who do whatever it takes to be at the top of the local social scene. If you’re thinking Real Housewives or Jersey Shore then you’re probably not too far off-base.

I’ve not watched the show but episode guides are online in addition to a few clips. It seems that Mitchell made his way onto the show as the interior decorator and friend of one of the stars. He bristles and overreacts when another designer threatens to steal one of his clients. And in typical reality show fashion, the drama boils over.

One episode guide talks of a drunk Donald using derogatory language towards women in the show. His antics earn him a drink to the face.

In the clip above we again see an inebriated Donald Mitchell at costume party dressed as a cowboy. He manages to crawl under a woman’s dress. Those on the show call it awkward and inappropriate.

Another scene was filmed at Sis and Moon’s in downtown Alpharetta. In it Mitchell’s friend scolds him for calling another woman a name for the female anatomy.

As is typical for a show like this, fans on social media sites either love or hate Mitchell. Some call for him to have a bigger presence in the show.

So it comes as a bit of a shock that Donald Mitchell would place himself in the middle of a nationally-broadcast and trashy reality TV show, with all the drama, drinking and embarrassing situations that go with it. How will his new-found stardom play in Alpharetta?

It’s likely to be a boon for his interior decorating business. Talk about exposure!

How will constituents view his antics? A sitting member of Alpharetta’s City Council is drunk on television with his head up a woman’s dress. Is this unbecoming of an elected official or good-natured fun?

And how will Alpharetta’s business community view this? They are very careful to protect the city’s image and reputation, particularly when it comes to business recruitment. This kind of exposure can’t be good for that.

Let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’m setting my DVR to record Style Network on Sunday at 9:00.

Old Milton Parkway – Alpharetta’s International Corridor

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

Old Milton Parkway, from North Point east to Kimball Bridge Road. This two mile stretch of road has an interesting international character. Over the years a unique collection of restaurants have opened. Most offer cuisine unavailable in Alpharetta or the surrounding area.

Today let’s explore this stretch of road, seeking out a few stripmall gems you might have otherwise overlooked.

Our first stop is Coisas do Brasil (4055 Old Milton Pkwy). This little shop offers Brazilian expatriates a number of grocery items and services. They also have a lunch counter serving up the most bizarre sandwich in town.

Let me introduce you to the X-Tudo. The name comes from Portuguese slang meaning “cheese everything”. It’s typically a cheap snack bar item in Brazil. Alpharetta’s version is no different.

The sandwich starts off innocently enough like a burger. To the hamburger patty they add ham, a fried egg, mozzarella cheese and a sausage link split lengthwise. Somewhere in there is lettuce and tomato. And for good measure, a generous helping of peas and corn are crammed into the nooks and crannies. It’s a sight to behold. Complement it with a random selection of a Brazilian potato chips and you’re good to go.

A few doors down is Coisas’ sister restaurant Ipanema Brazilian Steakhouse (4055 Old Milton Pkwy). I’ve heard this place described as a poor man’s Fogo de Chao. They offer Churrasco-style meats in a very casual and affordable setting. The all-you-can-eat meat orgy will cost you only $12 during the lunch hour. At that price this place gets pretty crowded. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as good as their more fancy competitors. But as of this moment, it is the only Churrascaria in town.

No mention of Old Milton grub is complete without Jerusalem Bakery (4150 Old Milton Pkwy). For lunch try their chicken shawarma sandwich. It starts with a fresh pita, baked on the premises. Next comes chicken cut to order from a rotating spit. It’s juicy with a bit of singe. Throw on some lettuce, tomato, onions, red cabbage and a few pickled veggies. Don’t pass up the garlic, tahini and hot sauces. Wrap it all up and give it a quick warm up on the grill. What you’ll find is an explosion of Middle-eastern flavors and textures. The veggies are crisp, the pickles tart, the tahini creamy and the pita fresh. And at only eight bucks including a side and drink, Jerusalem Barkery’s chicken shawarma is one of Alpharetta’s best lunch values.

Indian restaurants are ubiquitous in Alpharetta. But Madras Chettinaad (4305 State Bridge Road) stands out in a crowded field. They are by far Alpharetta’s largest and most beautifully decorated Indian joint. Their lunch buffet is enormous and is a bargain at only ten bucks.

I like Madras’ vegetarian selections best. Try the bean poriyal. It’s a sauteed assortment of green beans, peas and lentils. They don’t hold back on the spice here either. I went back for seconds – and thirds.

Caribbean food dominates at the other end of Old Milton. Caribbean Fiesta (4000 North Point Pkwy) serves up Jamaican food in a cafeteria setting. I usually stick with the jerk chicken. Ask them to spoon some sauce over your beans and rice. It’s terrific. Braised ox tails are also available but the price scares me away.

Trinidadian cuisine can be found as Tassa Caribbean Buffet (4005 Old Milton Pkwy). This is a spinoff of Marietta’s Tassa Roti Shop. Their buffet is a little small but offers good variety. Try some of their curries and chutneys.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr Taco (4000 North Point Pkwy). The salsa bar is popular here. But when ordering you should stick to the authentic, Mexican specialties side of the menu. Be adventurous and order the lengua tacos. It’s beef tongue.

Massage parlors in Alpharetta and south Forsyth

There’s prostitution on McFarland Parkway.

No, there are not women of the night walking up and down this busy road. But there are massage parlors in south Forysth that are fronts to prostitution. This is a pretty serious accusation to make so I’m not going to name businesses. My readers are smart people – y’all figure it out.

I googled the name of one of these places. Almost all the links are to either prostitution review websites or online classifieds. These ads contain pictures of scantily clad women, most of whom are Asian. The review websites go into lurid detail. They’ll explain sexual acts “services” offered and the price someone might pay.

I write about this to offer some kudos to Alpharetta. Last night the city considered a stronger ordinance designed to keep these businesses away. The ordinance was so detailed it took the city attorney 37 minutes to read it into the record.

These illicit massage parlors invite criminal activities to the area. They can be linked to organized crime and human trafficking. They also contribute to diminished property values and overall blight of the community.

McFarland Parkway is still a safe place, for now. To keep it that way Forsyth County shoulder consider getting tough on massage parlors. Alpharetta’s stronger ordinance is terrific. But the consequences of it might be to push more of these parlors just across the county line.

Alfresco – 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 review from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

The sign advertised “Pizza, Pasta and Vino”. It was up for a long time before the doors actually opened. I stared at it every time I drove by, wondering how Alfresco was going to separate themselves from the dozens of pizza and pasta places dotting the landscape.

I’ve eaten at Alfresco several times since. Each time I’ve come away with mixed feelings.  Let’s start with what’s very right with Alfresco – the location.  They have excellent visibility right on Main Street.  Easy in and out of the more than adequate parking lot thanks to a new exit onto Old Milton.

Once I entered the restaurant my mixed feelings began.  Every time I’ve visited Alfresco there wasn’t anyone to greet us.  There was a short awkward exchange with one of the employees where we were told to just sit anywhere.  There is plenty of room in the large space to find a table, although on a Saturday night there were not a lot of tables to be had.  The seating’s not very private, but even while crowded, the space is not too noisy to carry on a conversation without shouting.  The decor is warm, with numerous photos crowding the yellow walls.  Kind of Buca di Beppo light.

Looking over the menu, all the usual Italian suspects were represented from pizzas to sandwiches to chicken parmingana.  We ordered the fried mozzarella carossa from the appetizer section and were told immediately that it wasn’t mozzarella sticks but actual bread stuffed with cheese and fried.  I was excited to try something new.  Two large cake sized fried pieces of bread arrived in a lake of marinana sauce.  It was very good, if not a little on the bland side.  The sauce helped to add flavor.  Possibly a different cheese would have helped too.  Mozzarella isn’t super flavorful.  That’s the one complaint I had about everything I’ve eaten here.  It all needs to be kicked up a notch.

The meatball sandwich I devoured was on ciabatti bread, which was a great twist. But the meatballs were just larger versions of ones I’ve had in a can of Chef Boyardee.  My wife had the steak sandwich and the classic Italian combo, both of which left her very satisfied.  All sandwiches came with homemade potato chips.  The chips are just thicker than normal chips, and without grease.  They were delicious.

On the next visit, I dove headlong into the NY style pizza.  Alfresco has a lunch special of two slices and a drink for $5.95, which is a great deal considering the slices were bigger than my head.  They were also drowning in grease.  It must have been all the missing grease absent from the chips.  I soaked a napkin drying it all up.  The pizza itself pretty good.  I’d get it again.

The prices are very reasonable while the service was hit and miss.  On a busy night I noted several people getting either the wrong order or not getting parts of their order at all.  I’ve been there when it wasn’t nearly as busy and the service was much better.

There’s one aspect of Alfresco that is beyond reproach.  The bathrooms.  They were tucked away in the rear of the space, and they were hotel quality.  I wish I could have eaten my pizza in there.  I loved them that much.

In addition to the dining room, there is a very nice outdoor dining space with shade and a water feature.  I can imagine sitting out there on a late summer evening relaxing and watching the city go by.

Alfresco on Urbanspoon

Alfresco has a mild social media presence on Facebook and runs a special through LivingSocial.  There are several online printable coupons that would come in quite handy.  Overall, the jury’s still out on Alfresco.  The food is decent, the prices are reasonable and the location is excellent.  Does it do enough to stand out from established pizza spots or Italian restaurants like La Casa?  Time will tell.

Alfresco is located at 131 South Main Street at the intersection of Old Milton Parkway.

Julie Hogg on politics, gardens and the “right to sell it”

The following is a guest post from Julie Hogg. You can read Julie’s work at the Alpharetta-Milton Patch.

When it comes to local politics, I’ve been known to carry on a bit.  Sometimes I just get riled up.  I can’t not speak about issues meaningful to me.

One thing that is meaningful to me is Alpharetta and saying that holds some irony because I didn’t choose to live here – circumstances just converged to bring me here.  I wasn’t happy here for the longest time, but then I had the opportunity to actually DO some things for this city; you know, get involved.  And I got involved with the thing I care the most about:  getting people into the garden, whether that be the Alpharetta Community Garden or the Alpharetta Arboretums at Webb Bridge, Wills Park, Cogburn Road Park, all of which I’m honored to say I had a part in creating.  I believe with my whole heart that if folks would get out of the house and connect with that great mysterious, wondrous, beautiful place – nature – that we would breath, hear, see, eat, sleep, and think better.  And most importantly to me, I think if we would calm down and release ourselves from electronics and the pressures of life to just ‘be’ in the garden or in the woods at a park, we might  find clarity in our souls.

And so, when local Councilpersons flippantly talk of changing the tree ordinance or chopping down 66 trees for City Center or building houses right next to a flood plain (in 2013!)  or squeezing in more subdivisions, which, regardless of the zoning, IS in and of itself, creating more density, I get upset because they’re messing with my garden – our garden.

Of concern to me at present is the potential sell-off and development of 13 acres of land on Rucker Road that contains flood zone and flooding potential.  I blogged about this last Monday on the Alpharetta-Milton Patch.  Since the 13 acres of land on Rucker are adjacent to my neighborhood, I attended a neighborhood meeting about it. Present at this meeting were residents, an attorney, a city councilman, a city staff person, and representatives for the builder/developer.  But that is all I can say as I was requested not to write about the specifics of said meeting in a blog (well, specifically, a blog on the Alpharetta-Milton Patch, but I’m being extra sensitive here).  Was this meeting THAT super secret and scintillating?  You’ll never know, my friends.  But what you can know is that I was asked not to write about it.   Interesting, huh?

There is a statement that sellers and their representatives often say in these situations.  “It’s my land.  I have the right to sell it!” Well, let’s clarify this idea a bit.  Thanks to our Constitution we have the right to own and dispose of private property.  But.  We do not have a guaranteed right to a sale.  Sales are not about rights.  They are about market forces.  And market forces are reined in by common sense, local ordinances, and the well being of the people at large – which is what makes eminent domain possible, but that’s another story.  Our Alpharetta City Council is proving that they believe that all medium to large parcels with a ‘for sale’ sign should be sold to developers no matter what the impact on nature or the larger community, both now and in the future.  I call that government intervening in market forces.  I also call it irresponsible. There are some other words that come to mind but that I can’t prove.  You can draw your own conclusions.

Envision Main Street

Alpharetta will host two design meetings with the public to discuss its Main Street. The focus is on the road from Old Milton to Windward Parkways and other transportation issues. Both sessions will be held at the Devore House, 34 Church Street, from 5 until 9 pm. The first session is tomorrow, March 13. The second is Tuesday March 26.

The sessions are designed to be a drop-in type of function so you need not plan to be there the entire time.

A consultant is likely to show a collection of drawings and photographs to measure likes and dislikes. I would encourage participants to think outside of these pictures as much as possible. Occasionally facilitators of programs like this employ the Delphi Technique in an attempt build consensus around a predetermined outcome.  If your idea isn’t being shown, say so!

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Main Street. We’ve talked about the turn lanes at Old Milton, traffic flow, medians and the intersections at Mayfield and Vaughn. If you’ve voiced concern on any of these then I encourage you to show up at a design session. You can also visit a website set up for the project at envisionmainstreetalpharetta.com .

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – March 2013

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

Beer. Or more specifically I should say craft beer. This business is going gangbusters right now. We’ve gone well beyond growler stores.

Alpharetta will soon have a second brew pub. Opening next to Smokejack at 25 South Main Street will be Hop Alley Brew Pub. Their build out started this week. Also making big news in February was Jekyll Brewing. They exceeded their crowd sourced funding initiative, raising over $30,000 from the community. Their brewery is being built on Marconi Drive near McKesson.

Perhaps the predictions of growler store demise were premature. Forsyth’s first growler store, Crafty Draught, is planning a second location in Alpharetta. They’ll be on Old Milton Parkway near Pepperoni’s Pizza. East Alpharetta should be a good location for a growler store. (Hat tip to Caleb Spivak for scooping this story)

Johns Creek Walk – There are a few changes coming to this small little mixed-use neighborhood. Closing is Essex Bagels. I’m told some of their employees landed at BB’s. Replacing Essex will be Gino’s New York Pizza. This part of north Fulton is saturated with NY-style pizzerias. They’ll have a strong headwind.

And also coming to Johns Creek Walk is Kitchen of Atlanta. Their website suggests gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wings, pasta and salads.

South Forsyth – Two new Mexican joints have plans to open in south Forsyth. First is Rio Balsas Taqueria. They will open at 3455 Peachtree Parkway where Killer Wiches and Lowcountry BBQ once lived. This will be a second location for Rio Balsas, their first being a little north of Cumming.

Casa Del Sol Mexican Bar and Grill will open at 2340 Atlanta Hwy near Bethelview Road. This is where Bad Bob’s BBQ used to be.

A wine and cheese boutique and tasting room called Talk of the Table is coming to the Avenue Forsyth. Aldo Nahed has a great story on them over at the Forsyth Herald.

And I don’t often cover restaurants in Cumming, but here goes… A restaurant called Silk Road Asian Kitchen may have plans to open at 872 Buford Road. This is the former Buckhead Brewery building. It’s a beautiful space but has proven to be bad luck for many including some very experienced restauranteurs.

And finally, Boga Taqueria in Milton has closed. I don’t have any details to add to this story. I’ve reached out to Boga’s former owner but have not heard back.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical – Just when I thought this was stalled. They have cleared the land near the mall and are moving forward. I expect Pollo Tropical to open first. This will be the first free-standing restaurant to be built in Alpharetta in a very long time. Can you remember the last? I cannot.
BurgerFI – They are making visible progress at their new location on Windward next to FedEx.
Campania Pizzeria – I expect them to be open by this time next month. The pizza oven is installed and they are testing and seasoning it. They’ll be at 800 North Main Street.
Salt Factory – Still building out in Tifosi’s old space on South Main Street.
Main Street Kitchen - This will be the name of the restaurant opened by the folks from Nine Street Kitchen in Roswell. Look for them at 52 North Main Street where 52 Bistro used to be.
Teriyaki House – Coming soon to 3710 Old Milton Parkway.
Chill Restaurant and Lounge – Coming to Haynes Bridge in the massive Rainwater building.
Dickey’s BBQ Pit – East Windward near Mellow Mushroom.

WOW Food Truck

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

I love grits. I love barbecue. If there were ever two things a southerner should like, this is it. But barbecue with grits? No. It’s not a marriage that’s meant to be. Sorry, that’s just how I was raised.

But big kudos are due to the WOW Food Truck. These guys take risks trying to crossbreed culinary traditions. It’s what makes food trucks so appealing to me.

WOW makes arepas or small little corn griddle cakes which are popular in Venezuelan cuisine. There are unleavened little grit cakes about the size of small biscuits. Sliced open they hold a number of savory fillings, most of which come from southern cuisine. Served food truck style, they are like slider sandwiches made with grit cakes.

The most popular is the smoked pork arepa. By itself, WOW’s smoked pork is delicious. It’s got a solid core of hickory smoke in every bite. I’d love to have an entire plate of it. There’s no barbecue sauce but rather some “kicky sauce.” This is a creamy sauce of pureed cilantro and jalapeno. It complements the barbecue well. There’s enough smoke and flavor in the ‘cue to stand up to a what otherwise would be an overpowering topping.

But the arepa isn’t the best vessel for delivering barbecue bites to your mouth. I’m accustomed to thick slices of fluffy Texas toast or yeasty rolls. Arepas are more dense. It has the effect of squishing the insides out when you bite.

So I ditched the arepa and tried “The WOW Factor”. This is a like a barbecue bowl. They start with a base of cheese grits then add the same smoked pork. Next comes an over-generous helping of barbecue sauce and a small drizzle of chipotle cream. The sauce was way too much, completely drowning my delicious smoked pork in its tangy mess. I lobbed entire spoonfuls into a nearby garbage can until I could recognize the pork and begin to see the grits underneath.

Barbecue and grits just didn’t work for me. Their ‘cue is finely pulled into short strands. But the texture of the grits isn’t congruent. It has an unusual mouth feel. But perhaps it’s me. I’m still warming up to the idea of eating shrimp in my grits – for dinner.

But again, kudos are due to WOW for taking chances with two very different cuisines. I know of no one else in town doing arepas. Even the now-closed Venezuelan-influenced Boga Taqueria didn’t have them on their menu. But arepas are worth a try if you’ve never had them. And their barbecue could stand on its own any day.

If you’ve tried WOW, let me know what you think. They are among the most popular and critically acclaimed food trucks in metro Atlanta. I must be in a minority because these guys didn’t wow me.

Wow! on Urbanspoon

Wow makes regular visits to Alpharetta. They were at the Christmas tree lighting in December, the British car event and occasionally make mid-week jaunts up to our office parks. Follow them on twitter @wowfoodtruck for a schedule.

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