Archive - December, 2013

Hop Alley – Main Street

We’re taking the week off from writing to spent time with our families this Christmas. Please enjoy best-of Foodie Friday article written by Mike Christensen.

Ok, let’s tally the score. Over the last two years in Alpharetta and nearby areas we’ve seen eight growler stores, two growler gas stations and two breweries open. Craft beer is the name of the game. Now we can add one more.

A brew pub called Hop Alley recently opened to great anticipation on Main Street next door to Smokejack. Owner/brewer Brandon Hintz graduated Georgia Southern in 2008 with a degree in construction management with dreams of following in his father’s footsteps. The housing market crash lead Brandon and his wife to pursue work in Iowa for the Army Corps of Engineers. While in Iowa he got into home brewing, eventually joining a home brew club and landing an internship at a local brewery.

At the insistence of his wife, they moved back to Atlanta and Brandon found employment as a brewer at Sweetwater. Brandon noticed that all the brew pubs in Iowa seemed to bring the community together. He wanted to bring that sense of community to the Alpharetta area. After exploring several sites, Brandon chose the space on Main Street. Coming from a construction background, they did the build out themselves and saved money and time. From the back deck to the materials inside to the shiny tanks behind the bar, the whole space invites you to come in, have a beer and a good time.

Brandon sees Hop Alley as a chance to expose people to new craft beers; getting people out of the familiar to find something new. I’ve tried several kinds of beers that I’ve never had before like a saison and a red rye PA. The vast majority of the beers that are offered are Brandon’s own recipes. He really has a passion for brewing and is always tinkering with new combinations. Look for new beers rotating through the schedule in the following months. The selection is always changing with the seasons, so expect to try something new.

It’s not all about the beer, though. Hop Alley has a full bar featuring tons of varieties of infused liquors like a bacon bourbon. There is also a series of fruit and candy infused vodkas that people are snapping up by the bottle.

Enough about the booze; let’s talk food. Don’t come to Hop Alley expecting typical bar food such as chicken wings and the like. Brandon hired a chef formally of Going Coastal in Canton to help create a menu of unique and locally sourced cuisine worthy of a high end restaurant. My wife and I have dined on burgers, salads, steak and sausage sandwiches, and we have never left unsatisfied.

The burgers are some of the best I’ve ever had; juicy and flavorful. The bacon could dent a car it’s so big. The steak was tender and the Portuguese chorizo sausage on my sandwich was spicy and left me longing for more. I wish I had ordered the platter and not just the sandwich. The meat is from Heywoods Butcher in Marietta and the produce comes from North Georgia farmers.

The two best sellers at Hop Alley are the chicken avocado salad and the 50/50 burger (half meat, half bacon). While the most popular items will stay the same, the rest of the menu will rotate seasonally. Since Hop Alley has been open the menu has already changed four times. They use their own beer for the beer batter for the few items that are fried. Fresh, not frozen, in house prepared and local are the buzz words for the food.

For all the good points, Hop Alley is not without some criticism. The service has ranged from very good to passable, something that I think will improve over time as they hone their staff. I tried the bacon infused bourbon, and did not like it. I really couldn’t taste the bacon and it was a whopping $9 for just a shot. Pretty scary.

It’s cool to see all the brewing equipment right behind the bar. Spend some time inside and you’ll likely be able to watch the process. Brandon is always open for folks to ask questions about beer and brewing but be respectful when he’s in intense periods of work.

Hop Alley is in a great location and it is a very welcome addition to Alpharetta’s craft beer scene. Will Alpharetta become a OTP beer mecca? Only time will tell. Judging by the crowds darkening their doorway, Alpharetta has embraced Hop Alley, as have I. Cheers!

Best new restaurant of 2013 – Campania Pizzeria Napoletana

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

Two weeks ago I ask my readers for their take on the best new restaurant of 2013. Opinion was pretty evenly split between Hop Alley and Campaign. My vote goes to Campania and here’s why.

Campania pizza

The tartufo pizza at Campania. Amazing.

They brought us a product we didn’t have. Neapolitan-style pizza has made brief appearances in north Fulton but never stayed long. That’s going to change as competitors are lining up to fill this void. In a few short weeks 850 will open in Crabapple and Antico at Avalon later in 2014.

But Campania hit the ground running and has a huge head start. And these first-time restauranteurs never seemed to bobble in their execution, cranking out a superior product with very friendly service to boot.

Hop Alley finally brought us somewhere cool to go in downtown Alpharetta, filling a void. And while they are not the first brewpub in town, their beer is better than the competition in my opinion. So is their menu.

Hop Alley is what we wanted in downtown Alpharetta, a proof of concept that local restaurant goers clearly favor. It’s paving the way for what I hope will be a restaurant renascence  in the historic district next year. I’m closely watching spaces like 45 Roswell Street, Penn Hodge’s “beach houses” and Louis Soon’s concept. The bar is set high.

Salt Factory is a welcomed addition. The fact that the F&H guys came to Alpharetta is a win in and of itself. My biggest disappointment in Alpharetta’s Salt is that it appears to be a carbon copy of Canton Street, from the menu to the decor. We’d love to see a few menu items unique to Alpharetta!

It should also be noted that Alpharetta’s downtown restaurant scene is growing organically, much like Roswell’s did. It didn’t take some sort of public-private partnership or gaudy mixed-use development to make it happen.

But enough about downtown Alpharetta. Here are some other, more dubious best-of awards for 2013. Let me know what you think.

Most overrated new restaurant – BurgerFI. We thought the price of this burger didn’t match the taste and experience. And we don’t understand the crowds.

Most missed – Boga Taqueria. It broke my heart to see these guys close earlier this year. They were starting to roll out some traditional South American dishes that were delicious.

Biggest Fail – Tap on Main. They were only open for a matter of days, a record that may never be broken. (Dis)Honorable mentions to Chill and Firefly.

Rough Road Award – BB’s Bagels. Our legendary bagel dudes drove a rocky road in 2013. First came the closure of their location on State Bridge Road. Then came the inspection problems. There appears to be a new sheriff at Forsyth’s health department and he didn’t like BB’s. Makes you wonder if they should just close up shop on McFarland and move back to their State Bridge digs.

Photo credit: Mike Murphy

Alpharetta Restaurant News – December 2013

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

The Canton Street invasion of downtown Alpharetta continues. Sources tell me that Louis Soon is behind the new restaurant buildout at 9 South Main Street. This space was formerly home to short-lived Tap on Main and The Coffee Pot.

Soon served as the general manager of all three restaurants in Roswell’s legendary F&H Food Trading Group – Salt Factory, Little Alley and Opluent. Looks like he’s gone out on his own for a new concept. Unfortunately we don’t know what that concept will be at this point. But we do know that the city will close the adjacent Jones Avenue. It will become a pedestrian alley in addition to an outdoor seating area for this restaurant.

mugs on milton logoJust around the corner will be a new coffee shop called Mugs on Milton. They will open in January on Milton Avenue right next to Gallery 35. Expect coffee of course in addition to fresh baked goods.

And speak of baked goods… a location of Nothing Bundt Cakes is opening on Windward next to Five Guys. This is a franchise outfit out of California. Milton will be only their second store in Georgia. I’m told a soft opening starts today.

A new restaurant called Volcano Asian Bistro will erupt into Xian’s old space on Windward. We know nothing else about the concept but are happy to see this space remain Asian. I call this area Milton’s cul-de-sac of international cuisine.

Crabapple’s Sip Wine & Tapas will open a location at The Collection Forsyth (formerly The Avenue) in the former Four40 Kitchen+Bar space. Even though most restaurants have done well at The Collection, the 440 location has been cursed. Yet I think this is a perfect fit for Sip, a restaurant that’s been eying Forsyth County for a while.

A little bit down Peachtree Parkway will be Cuoco Italian Table. They’ll be in a hidden little shopping center near the intersection of Sharon Road. The lack of visibility here has sunk two previous Italian concepts in the same storefront (Luce and Biba’s).

Thankfully I have only one closure to announce this month. Growler store Blind Murphy tapped out. The founders are in a hurry to open a brewery (likely to be outside of Alpharetta). Georgia’s alcohol law won’t allow them to operate a retail store at the same time. While they were influential in changing Alpharetta’s alcohol laws (often to their own favor), it’s ironic that convoluted alcohol laws did them in.

Restaurants Coming Soon
Great Harvest Bread – Should open any day now on Windward next to Mambo’s Cafe.
Urban Spice – Mexican/Indian fusion concept that Azul Agave will become.
Sweet Monkey Frozen Yogurt & Cupcakes – Froyo concept to open at The Collection Forsyth.
Tower Burger – South Main Street in a former Sonic Drive-in.
Dunkin Donuts – New construction on Peachtree Parkway near Dutch Monkey Doughnuts.
37 Main – A Rock Cafe – Restaurant and music venue opening in the former Barnacles location in Johns Creek.
Penny’s Popping Delights – Gourmet popcorn retailer coming soon to Mansell Road near The Melting Pot.
DaVinci’s Donuts – Cake doughnut makers opening next year on South Main Street near Alfresco.
850°F Bar Pizza - Neapolitan pizzeria coming to Crabapple.
Kickshaw Grill - Asian steakhouse opening on North Main near Campania.
First Watch – They will anchor the new shopping center being built on Old Milton and North Point.

Details emerge for potential convention center at Avalon

Alpharetta appears ready to publicly discuss the idea of a city-owned convention center at Avalon. A memorandum of understanding is on Council’s agenda for Monday night.

Avalon logoBack in the Spring the city requested proposals from developers for a public/private partnership that would pair a city-owned convention center with a privately built hotel. The city received proposals from North American Properties, developer of the Avalon project, and from the owners of the Northwinds property at Haynes Bridge and GA-400.

Alpharetta has determined Avalon to be the preferred proposal. Up until this point negotiations have occurred in private. However the memo outlines some non-binding terms that indicate how the deal might be structured.

Under the plan Alpharetta would sell revenue bonds and help service them with an increase in the hotel occupancy tax. The bonds would pay for construction of the 47,000 square foot convention center on Avalon’s land. Avalon would build the facility and bear the construction risks and any cost overruns. Avalon would also build and pay for the 300-room hotel (which is promised to be upscale and full-service).

Ownership of the convention center and hotel would be set up as a condominium with the parking deck and lot being common area supported by both parties. Expenses here would be shared.

The city would own the convention center but grant Avalon a long-term lease for operation of the facility.

Again, these terms are non-binding but it appears that the conversation has trended this direction. The only thing binding in the memo would be $60,000 in pre-development funding the city and its Convention and Visitors Bureau would pony up to Avalon. This would help pay for preliminary items like cost studies and site plans.

It does seem odd for the city to increase taxes and borrow money to pay for something to be built on someone else’s land, only to lease it back to them. It begs the question – why doesn’t Avalon just build this themselves? If there is truly demand for a convention center like this, certainly private enterprise would consider making it happen.

Or perhaps it might be appropriate for larger groups to help in the heavy lifting. Fulton County chipped in money to build the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Encore Park. Yet we see no signs of their involvement in this convention center, something that certainly would be billed as a regional attraction.

Is there political will to make a plan like this happen? The fact that these non-binding terms have come out of executive session might suggest some support among council. But there are still a lot of details yet to be revealed.  Alpharetta’s Council was unanimous in their initial support of Avalon but division is likely to occur on this matter. That’s this writer’s prediction.

Do you support a convention center at Avalon? Should tax dollars be part of the equation? Let me know in the comments!

Mitchell abruptly changes Planning Commission appointee

Mitchell BRATo the victor belong the spoils.

Monday night Alpharetta’s Council declared the election results of last month. Donald Mitchell’s razor-thin margin of victory stood. And he’s wasting no time before going political.

At the end of the meeting he surprised many with an announcement. He replaced his appointee to the city’s Planning Commission.

Getting the boot is Nancy Bristol. The Windward resident has been active in Alpharetta politics over the years and is a veteran of the Planning Commission.

Bristol was instrumental in crafting compromise in the Avalon zoning two years ago. She was the first to suggest something similar to transfer of development rights for the project’s apartments. The idea stuck and united Alpharetta leaders. The potentially divisive issue passed unanimously.

Larry Attig will take over for Bristol on the Planning Commission. Attig has been active in the various downtown business associations. He’s a close confidant of Mitchell and chaired this year’s campaign. He’s also kicked in $2,500 to the cause, making him one of the largest contributors to Mitchell’s campaigns.

The abrupt change certainly smacks of cronyism. It also could be a resume building move. Perhaps Attig is being groomed for a Council run in 2015? Either way, the loss of Nancy Bristol on the Planning Commission is unfortunate. That’s my opinion. I welcome yours.

What’s the best new Alpharetta-area restaurant of 2013?

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.

Last year I asked my readers to vote on their favorites. Unfortunately I used a poor WordPress polling plugin that didn’t work so well. Let’s keep it simple this year.

Below is a list of the new restaurants that opened in 2013, sorted roughly in the order we talked about them. Who’s your favorite? Which restaurant made the biggest impact to Alpharetta’s culinary scene? Were any restaurants over-hyped? Or did any flat out disappoint?

Leave me a comment and let me know! I’ll share my favorite and other thoughts in two weeks.

  • Sweet Apple Donut and Coffee
  • Thai Star Café
  • Hop Alley
  • Gino’s New York Pizza
  • Silk Road Asian Kitchen
  • Fish House Seafood Kitchen
  • Branchwater
  • Campania Pizzeria
  • BurgerFI
  • Hurricane Grill
  • OVR Coffee Café
  • AJ’s Home Cooking
  • Rosati’s Pizza
  • The Corner Burger Shop
  • Cafe Caribe
  • TPS Pizza
  • Collet French Pastry
  • Myzenes Indian Coastal Cuisine
  • Pollo Tropical
  • Zoes Kitchen
  • Corner Bakery
  • Chipotle
  • Famous Original Pizza
  • Salt Factory
  • Firefly
  • Taziki’s Mediterranean Café

Strings attached to North Fulton CID’s Blueprint 2.0

North Fulton’s Community Improvement District has created an update to their Blueprint plan. The self-taxing group of commercial property owners advocates, and in some cases implements, transportation projects in the area. Their blueprint 2.0 plan(opens to pdf) outlines projects they hope to work on over the next several years.

north_fulton_cidThe CID does some great work. Recently they finished the triple left turn lanes from Mansell Road onto North Point Parkway. A similar and much need project is planned for the GA-400 ramp to Windward Parkway. They’re also responsible for much of the new landscaping you see throughout the city.

But the CID should be carefully watched. Their leadership has deep ties to Georgia’s establishment transportation bureaucracy. Brandon Beach is the CID’s executive director. He’s a former Georgia DOT commissioner and sits on powerful transportation committees in the Georgia Senate. Atlanta Regional Commission chairman Tad Leithead also sits on the CID board.

CIDs are often used as local advocacy groups, providing the tailwind to get bigger projects moving. They can fund studies and create engineering plans, even on projects outside of their areas. These plans can then be picked up and funded by any of Georgia’s alphabet soup of transportation agencies (GDOT, ARC, GRTA, SRTA, etc).

An example might be transit stations in Alpharetta. The blueprint calls for transit stations at Encore Parkway and Windward Parkway. It was only a few months ago when Alpharetta’s Council was browbeating MARTA over plans to come here. Yet the same Council didn’t even mention the transit stations in the CID’s blueprint when presented to them two weeks ago.

If Alpharetta’s Council is serious about stopping MARTA expansion then they should push back on the CID when they plan for it! Or do they have the guts to challenge Brandon Beach? It’s doubtful.

The CID will hold an open house tonight at 5:30 at their office, 11605 Haynes Bridge Road. The public is invited to attend and provide feedback.

North Fulton’s CID does some great work but with strings attached. It’s important to carefully watch seemingly small transportation plans like this. Read between the lines and watch the process.

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