Archive - January, 2014

El Trompo Mexican Taqueria – Johns Creek

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

Down in Roswell you’ll find a handful of authentic Mexican restaurants in rundown digs along highway 9. They offer some cheap yet delicious eats that are often overlooked by gringos accustomed to speedy gonzalez. And I’ll admit that the menu at these places can be somewhat intimidating. Lingua? Tripe? Yikes!

El Trompo signSo I was surprised to see one of these joints open shop in affluent Johns Creek. El Trompo quietly opened back in November, flying below many new restaurant radars (including mine). And like their Roswell brothern, don’t expect fancy digs. You’ll find these guys in a small stripmall space with nary a decoration or cheesy nicknack on the wall. About the only thing to look at is a television usually tuned to soccer, in Spanish.

The menu is simple – several different kinds of meat served either as a street tacos, tortas, quesadilla or burritos. Meats include carne asada steak, chicken, carnitas (fried pork), house-made chorizo and of course the spiced pork al pastor.

Start with the street tacos on your first visit. And be forewarned, these are small. You’ll get a corn tortilla about four inches in diameter topped with the meat of your choice, onions and cilantro. Four bites and it’s history so order several. At only $1.49 each you’re not going to break the bank. Mixing and matching is encouraged.

Don’t you dare set foot in El Trompo without trying al pastor in some form. The restaurant is named for the rotating spit traditionally used to cook the spiced pork. Unfortunately theirs is hidden in the kitchen and not on display for patrons to see. The dish and technique are distantly related to sharwarma, the middle eastern delicacy you’ve hopefully tried at Alpharetta’s Jerusalem Bakery.

El Trompo’s al pastor is fabulous. It’s exploding with flavor and spice that’s somewhat tempered with the sweetness of pineapple. Drizzle a bit of salsa verde atop the taco and you’re good to go.

Or try the al pastor tortas. These are manly, two-handed sandwiches that are a bit messy yet delicious. You’ll find the pork along with lettuce, tomato and avocado strips. The bread is slightly pressed but not to the point of resembling a Cuban. I liked my torta with a wee bit of Trompo’s habanero salsa. I’m talking drops of the stuff lest you cover up every bit of flavor.

The house-made chorizo is pretty good but not as spicy as I’m accustomed to. Carne Asada also isn’t bad but plays a distant second fiddle to the pork.

El Trompo Mexican Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Avoid the fajitas. Perhaps they’re on the menu to appease less adventurous gringos. They were uninspiring. The refried beans tasted bland, in desperate need of salt. I doused my fajitas in that habanero salsa which turned things around.

All in all, El Trompo is a winner, a hidden gem in the rough waiting to be discovered. Forget what you think about Mexican cuisine and try some of these street tacos and tortas.

Ashton Atlanta Residential, data centers and compelling reasons

Today’s secret words are “compelling reason.” Whenever you hear these words, scream really loud. Got it?

Tonight Alpharetta’s City Council will hear a request from Ashton Atlanta Residential to build a neighborhood in the business portion of the Windward development. The plan calls for 91 homes on lots as small as 6,000 square feet. Mass grading may be required due to the steep topography. No, we’re not talking Forsyth County here, this is squarely in Alpharetta. Windward in fact.

Required would be an amendment to the Windward Master Plan, a planning document held sacred in this town. And why shouldn’t it be? The Windward development helped define Alpharetta a generation ago. And even though it’s got a few years on it, the land uses it calls for still make sense.

So before anyone makes changes to this holy document, planners and politicians look for a compelling reason.

Whatever a developer has planned has gotta be good. Real good. Or perhaps there’s a significant burden placed upon the land owner by the master plan, something so onerous they cannot use their land otherwise.

That’s what was argued in the last major challenge to the Windward master plan. Two and a half years ago charter school Amana Academy sought to relocate to a vacant office building on Windward (and in fair disclosure, I supported this). The applicant cited, among other reasons, that the office space was not marketable in this current environment.

Alpharetta unanimously rejected Amana’s request saying that there was no compelling reason to change the master plan. And as irony would have it, last year Amana’s potential digs were sold to Peak 10, a Charlotte-based company who plans a data center in this space.

If anything, the Amana case offers a very compelling reason to reject tonight’s zoning request and leave this property’s designated use alone. Alpharetta has undertaken a huge push to rebrand itself as the Technology City of the South. By approving the Ashton zoning, the city would remove one of the few remaining undeveloped parcels in the technology corridor. It’s a parcel that could hold a very large data center. Perhaps several.

“Alpharetta is one of the more significant data center hubs within Atlanta,” ByteGrid CEO Ken Parent said to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “We wouldn’t roll out a 100,000 square foot facility and flood the market with new supply if we thought the demand wasn’t there to support it.”

ByteGrid’s building that facility now. T5′s massive new data center is up the road. And Peak 10 will get started pretty soon.

The technology city of the south doesn’t plow up their much coveted and prized data center farmland to plant a Forsyth-style neighborhood. There’s no compelling reason whatsoever. Perhaps in a few years Mayor Belle Isle will cut the ribbon on a shiny new technology center in this very space.

So watch tonight’s City Council vote carefully. Any councilman who played the compelling reason card with Amana should have a tremendously difficult time voting for Ashton tonight.

They serve breakfast? Breakfast finds on Windward that might suprise

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

Windward Parkway has several familiar breakfast eateries. Yet a handful of popular lunch destinations are open in the A.M. serving up some delicious morning grub. And for some reason the crowds haven’t found these guys. Let’s change that.

Wildflour wafflejpg

Gluten-free waffles at Wildflour

Wildflour – These guys toyed with dinner hours last year. Now they are testing out a breakfast menu. This time the experiment makes sense as the crew is already at work in the morning prepping for the lunch rush. On my last visit a truck was delivering boxes of produce for lunchtime sandwiches and salads. They were busy but certainly had time to whip up some french toast.

And a delicious french toast it was. It was heavy on the custard side, rich and decadent, and is topped with a generous helping of handmade whipped butter and a berry compote. Pass on the syrup as you won’t need a drop.

Included in the $7 price is a drink and choice of meat. Stick with bacon if you’re ordering something sweet. Wildflour’s house-made sausage is heavy on the sage and doesn’t complement sweet items very well.

The rest of their breakfast menu includes a gluten-free waffle made with rice flour, a loaded omelette, and an egg and rosemary hash dish. And like their lunch menu, certain sauces seem to find their way into several dishes. Look for a citrus hollandaise sauce to make appearances in the savory dishes. And that berry compote will join the waffle as well.

Never Enough Thyme – Competing with Wildflour for the dainty female lunch crowd is this cute little eatery near the end of Windward. What surprises me the most about their breakfast menu is how hardy these meals are. Their lunch specials, while good, often leave me hungry later on. Not so for breakfast as the portions are large and will easily fill your belly for the rest of your morning.

I usually keep it simple here and head straight for the comfortable – a biscuit sandwich. For $5.50 you get a huge, flaky biscuit holding a generous helping of eggs and two sausage patties. And don’t forget a big scoop of home fries which are included in the price. I can’t finish it all.

The rest of their breakfast menu is loaded with choices. You’ll have never enough time to try it all. But don’t let silly homophone jokes keep you away.

Qdoba Mexican Grill – I love the breakfast burrito here at Qdoba. Scrambled eggs and Mexican chorizo are a savory match made in heaven. Wrap it up in a burrito with some potatoes, spicy salsa and gooey queso sauce and you’ve got an intensely flavorful breakfast. Enjoy in moderation as this is possibly the most unhealthy breakfast in town.

Nothing Bundt Cakes – Windward

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature a review from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

Bundt displayGloria and Sergio Pacheco have brought the best tasting bundt cakes that I’ve had since my mom’s to Alpharetta. The nearly 20 year residents of North Fulton both were tired of the corporate grind when Gloria happened upon the franchise opportunity while on a business trip to California. They jumped on board, and nearly three years later, their store has opened to tremendous fanfare on Windward Parkway next to Five Guys. Don’t think so? The line for the grand opening last week was around the corner of the building. At 9 AM. In the pouring rain. Folks want those cakes.

Nothing Bundt Cakes was founded by two friends in 1997 in Las Vegas. Today there are locations nationwide. And it’s no small feat to become a franchisee.  Years of undergoing interviews, making presentations and nearly nine months of searching for a location have left first time restauranteurs Gloria and Sergio excited about becoming a part of the community.

So what is so exciting about these cakes? At first I was taken aback at the idea of a store selling just bundt cakes. It’s oddly specific, like opening an apple pie store. Nope, we don’t sell any other kind of pie, just apple. You would think it would appeal to a very small population, but there are so many flavors and sizes of the cakes, it would take me several trips to try them all. There are nine flavors that are standard along with one rotating flavor.

Everything is made in house every day using ingredients and mixes provided by the company. There’s not a lot of room or experimentation due to the company’s protocols, but everything is beautifully presented. Sizes range from the cupcake sized bundtini to a personal sized bundtlet to the larger 8 and 10 inch variety. The larger sizes can even have multiple tiers.

Bundt wait, there more! There are too many good flavors for me to choose from, but I’ve consumed several including lemon (my favorite), red velvet, white chocolate raspberry, and cinnamon swirl. The cakes are moist and delicious. Sure it came from a mix, but I dare you to tell the difference. The icing is super thick, very far from the glazed bundt cakes of my youth. The prices are very reasonable and the employees are neat, professional and helpful.

I’ve found a couple of problems. One is the location. I just hate the parking situation in this strip mall. The second is the hours. They close at 7:00 PM. I would think some later hours could lure in folks from any one of the nearby food places for a late desert.

Gloria and Sergio have gotten involved in the community as well. They have sponsored events, donated time and cakes to schools and churches and are always looking for ways to help out. They have a program called the inner circle where once you sign up, you can get rewards and a free bundtini on your birthday. There are over 400 signed up so far.

One personal story I’d like to share.  My first visit was on a Saturday and I got there about 15 minutes past closing time. I was walking away when Gloria invited me inside. I was able to look at all the cakes and make some choices, and didn’t feel pressured to hurry since it was past closing. A guy even came running out of the back with a tray of samples. It was great. As I was leaving around 6:30, a couple was coming across the parking lot. I heard them remark that the place was closed. I turned and saw Gloria unlocking the door and letting them inside too. That’s the kind of customer service I want. I am very pleased that Nothing Bundt Cakes has come to Alpharetta. The passion inside is evident in every bite.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – January 2014

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

If there’s a theme to this month’s article, it’s relocated restauranteurs. I’ve got two new restaurants to announce,  both from folks who owned restaurants up north and have moved to Georgia to do the same.

The first is Tin Roof Kitchen. Robyn Rowles is a busy suburban mother who also has time to open a restaurant. She’s making us all look bad! She’ll open in a month or two in the cute (but hidden) restaurant space at 52 North Main Street in downtown Alpharetta. Her menu will feature locally-sourced ingredients and offer extensive gluten-free options.

And with apologies to Frank Sinatra, some relocated New Yorkers will open Fry Me 2 the Moon in south Forsyth. They’ll be in the former JP Wat Sub location on Highway 9 across the street from Midway Meal House. Expect fried seafood and veggies. Hopefully Ol’ Blue Eyes will approve.

Moxie BurgerRestaurant broker The Shumacher Group announced recently that they sold Borocco’s in Roswell. The buyer is east Cobb’s Moxie Burger who has confirmed they will open a second location in the space. Look for them at 555 South Atlanta Street.

A restaurant called Cafe 101 will open in the former Shiraz location at Jones Bridge and Douglas Roads in Johns Creek. No other information is known about these guys right now. There’s a similarly named Asian restaurant on Buford Highway in Doraville but it isn’t clear if they are behind this new joint. However, relocating restaurants from Buford Highway to Johns Creek certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility (see also – Liu Fu).

Also filed under “needs additional research” is House of Hummus. They will open on North Point Parkway near Figo Pasta in the former 31 Lunch location.

Update: Louis Soon’s new restaurant in downtown Alpharetta will be called South Main Kitchen.

And we’ve heard that Casa del Sol in south Forsyth has closed after being open only a few short months. Taking over will be Keso Mexican Grill, presumably the same folks from a restaurant down the road in Johns Creek Walk.

fish house logoLast week we talked about restaurant closures. It’s probably safe to add Fish House in Milton to the list. They’ve been dark for a while now. We’ll probably see this family again in a few months.

Restaurants Coming Soon
Great Harvest Bread – They are saying February now for this sandwich and bread joint on Windward and Highway 9.
37 Main – A Rock Cafe – According to their Facebook page this restaurant and music venue will open March 1st. They’ll be in the old Barnacles space in Johns Creek.
Sip Wine & Tapas – Second location coming soon to The Collection (fka The Avenue) in Forsyth.
Cuoco Italian Restaurant – The ever renamed Italian restaurant on GA141 near Sharon Road in Forsyth.
Volcano Asian Bistro – Coming soon to Xian’s old space on Windward Parkway.
Mugs on Milton – Indy coffee shop opening January 17th in downtown Alpharetta.
South Main Kitchen – Louis Soon’s new restaurant in downtown Alpharetta.
DaVinci’s Donuts – Opening will be the second or third week of February for these cake doughnut makers in downtown Alpharetta.
850°F Bar Pizza - Neapolitan pizzeria coming to the old Erwood’s location in Crabapple.
Kickshaw Tavern & Grill - Asian steakhouse opening on North Main near Campania.
First Watch – They will anchor the new Twin Oaks shopping center being built on Old Milton and North Point.
Sweet Monkey Frozen Yogurt & Cupcakes – Froyo concept to open at The Collection Forsyth.
Tower Burger – Slowest buildout ever. But the Sonic conversion should look cool on South Main.
Dunkin Donuts – New construction on Peachtree Parkway near Dutch Monkey Doughnuts.

He went to Jared, but not TGI Fridays

Jared, The Galleria of Jewelry, has filed plans with the city to build a new location at 6250 North Point Parkway. The plans call for new construction of a 5,500 square foot free-standing building.

JaredNorth Point will join four other Jared locations near north metro Atlanta malls – Gwinnett Place, Mall of Georgia, Perimeter and Town Center. Jared’s parent company, Sterling Jewelry, also owns the Kay Jewelers chain of stores. Kay operates a store across the street inside of North Point Mall.

If Jared follows through with their plans they will displace longtime North Point restaurant TGI Fridays. Fridays was one of the original restaurants near the mall, its opening dating back twenty years. One would presume the restaurant would close yet no plans have been formally announced.

In other retail news… Extreme value retailer Five Below plans to open in the Mansell Crossing shopping center on North Point. They sell products that cost no more than $5 targeting teens and pre-teens. The Alpharetta store, located next to T.J. Maxx where Avenue is now, would be the chain’s thirteenth metro Atlanta location.

EnduranceHouseAlpharetta will be the home of the first Endurance House location in Georgia. The chain has a niche focus, catering exclusively to triathletes.  Three metro Atlanta locations are in the works. Look for the Alpharetta store on Haynes Bridge and Old Milton next to Publix in the former Blockbuster location.

Photo credit: M. O. Stevens (creative commons)

‘Tis the season for restaurant closures

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

It’s difficult, as a writer, to report on restaurant closures. For one, it’s hard to learn of them without physically seeing the restaurant. I often rely on my readers and Twitter friends for some extra eyes on the street. But even so, I want to be absolutely sure before announcing a restaurant closed. Publishing factually incorrect information that could harm a business is tortious.

ChepesBut more so than that, I just hate to see businesses close, even ones I don’t care for (like Chepe’s). It means someone’s dream is smashed and thousands of dollars down the drain. They may still have huge debts satisfy. And it means employees are out of work.

But closures are a fact of life. And the number of closures always seems to spike around the new year. Here’s a few we’ve been able to verify.

Jersey Boyz Pizza – Both the Johns Creek and south Forsyth locations have closed. As of last week the Johns Creek location had an interesting message on their voice mail lamenting the closure. They also had some rather frank comments on the Jersey Boyz franchisor. Guess it’s safe to say that disagreements here 86′d this store. But the owner suggested a possibly re-opening as an independent shop.

Chepe’s Mexican Grill – At one point these guys won the AJC’s best taco in Atlanta award. They rapidly expanded from their origins in Cobb County, opening two Forsyth stores and one in Johns Creek. They seemed to be pretty popular restaurants, even though the food never stood out to me.

The first of the Chepe’s in south Forsyth closed earlier this fall. But in December the chain closed entirely, including their Johns Creek and Marietta locations.

El Molcajete Mexican Restaurant – I’m fairly certain a poor location did these guys in. This shopping center in Milton is hidden in a curve of the road and isn’t easy to turn into. Even so I doubt the space will remain vacant long. This is a Penn Hodge property and his stuff isn’t staying empty very long these days.

Borocco – Restaurant broker Shumacher Group reports they have sold Borocco Restaurant near the Roswell Mill. They will close to make way for Moxie Burger. This will be a second location for the East Cobb burger flippers.

Forsyth approves everything

If you’re looking for a late Christmas gift idea for your Forsyth County commissioner, I have the perfect gift.

RubberStampApproveThe rubber stamp got used a lot in 2013. Forsyth’s Board of Commissioners approved every residential zoning application that came before them in the busy year. There were twenty-two in total and every single one was approved.

To put that into comparison, Alpharetta’s City Council rejected two of eleven residential zonings that came before them. I didn’t thoroughly check Milton’s voting record but I know of at least one they turned down in 2013 (the Deerfield apartments).

Forsyth’s dubious distinction comes during a year when the floodgates were opened in the housing market. Developers are pouring in, wanting to build homes on very small lots. Yet the county’s network of two-land country roads and overcrowded schools are ill-equipped to handle the onslaught. Grassroots organizations are springing into action to push back, but at this point have been largely ineffective.

It begs the question – is there a zoning application Forsyth County wouldn’t approve? What does it look like? Where are the limits with these commissioners? Violating the county’s land use plan doesn’t seem to phase them. The unified development code? Most zonings are granted variances to skirt rules on setback distances. Cram ‘em in!

Apartments have been fine with these guys. And putting townhomes on country roads next to estate homes will pass unanimously.

So we’ll watch 2014 to see if anything changes with these guys. A few are up for re-election, unfortunately south Forsyth’s Brian Tam isn’t among them. It doubtful he will find the “nay” button on his voting machine anytime soon.

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