Two newbie chain restaurants that impress – Great Harvest and Zoёs

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

I have a confession to make. I eat at chain restaurants.

Terrible huh? Yes it’s true. Figured it was best to get this out of the way now, lest a blog reader discover me and my family out at pizza buffet after a little league baseball game and feel disappointed. Sure we try to support the mom and pop joints. I’m always dishing out generous helpings of free publicity, especially if they are good. But at the end of the day I’m just a guy who eats out a lot – and I’ve got the waistline to prove it.

great harvest logoTwo recent additions to Alpharetta’s chain restaurant scene have impressed me. They seem to be impressing others as well, especially the cubicle ladies and tennis moms. They’re on these two joints like white on rice. That’s usually a good sign.

Leading off is Great Harvest Bread. Technically this is a franchise operation, not a chain. Nevertheless the Johns Creek franchisee has opened a second location in Alpharetta at Windward and Main Street.

My wife and I have been trying to eat less processed foods. Great Harvest fits the bill perfectly. Their breads, baked fresh in-house, are made with simple ingredients. Contrast that to the garbage in the grocery store these days. Your average loaf of bread is a chemistry project in how to extend shelf life.

So go try some samples. Great Harvest is plenty generous with them. Try a French baguette? Merci. How about some of this snickerdoodle loaf we’re working on? Don’t mind if I do! Chocolate biscotti? Munch munch.

Save some room for your meal because they have an actual menu here. I tried the spicy smoked turkey panini. It’s not a hard pressed panini yet is still warm with grill marks. I liked the roasted red peppers and how their sweetness contrasted with the spicy chipotle mayo. It looked small but was filling. The samples didn’t hurt to fill me up either.

Skip the potato chips as your side and opt for a cookie. The oatmeal raisin is huge – the size of a frisbee. They’ve somehow managed to make a chewy cookie that still has a crunch to it. Great Harvest simply nailed it on texture.

Breakfast isn’t a bad choice here either but is a little on the pricy side. A blueberry muffin will set you back three bucks. Nevertheless it’s dense and will easily fill you up for the morning.

Overall, Great Harvest is a winner. It’s a terrific alternative to something like Panera, a chain I’m not fond of at all.

Rounding out my duet of new chain restaurants is Zoёs Kitchen. These guys are taking over suburbia. Fresh off their recent IPO, they are expanding rapidly. A location at The Collection Forsyth is in the works.

The store on Haynes Bridge near the mall is crazy popular. I dare you to find a parking spot. I couldn’t at 12:15 yesterday and risked a visit from the tow truck by parking at the nearby hotel.

Zoes Beans and Chicken rollupLike Great Harvest, Zoёs strives for simple and fresh ingredients, yet with a Mediterranean feel.

Try the chicken roll-up. Despite having a rather boring name, this little rolled up tortilla packs a flavorful punch. The marinated and grilled chicken is perfect. Feta and caramelized onions are simple but delicious. It’s a lite and refreshing warm weather lunch that doesn’t let you down. Unfortunately the salsa on the side seems like an afterthought. Resist the urge to dip your roll-up in it.

I liked my side item better. Braised white beans with rosemary hits the spot. Only decorum prevented me from swabbing my finger into the empty cup for every last drop of this white bean goop.

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