Archive - May, 2014

Deal site choices in Alpharetta

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

They’re hardly new. Deal sites like Groupon and Scoutmob have been around for years now. Yet they are still relevant and offer decent savings at area restaurants.

Scout-Mob1I tend to like Scoutmob a little better. Their mobile app works flawlessly, never giving me grief. And unlike Groupon, I don’t have that initial outlay of cash to get the deal. And there are simply more participating Alpharetta-area restaurants on Scoutmob.

Some suggest that restaurants on Groupon are struggling for business. That might be the case but it isn’t true for everyone on this list. However nearly every growler store in the area is on Scoutmob these days. We talked about these guys last week.

Nevertheless, here are some Groupon and Scoutmob-listed restaurants you should consider. They’re certainly worth 50% off.

Thai Star – This small Thai restaurant opened about a year and a half ago on Main Street near Windward. They fly below the radar in my opinion, serving up some of the best Thai offerings in the area. Combine a Scoutmob deal with already cheap lunch prices and this place is a serious deal. Nearby competitor Lime Juice Thai Bistro is also listed.

Mama’s Pizza – Recently relocated from Old Milton to near the mall, Mama’s should make any “best of” list of pizza joints in Alpharetta. Their New York-style pie never disappoints and their Sicilian ain’t bad either. If you still need an excuse to try these guys, 50% off is it.

Hibachi – Straight out of the 90′s, we’ve been there and done that with this style of cuisine. Yet my kids love watching grown men play with their food. It’s become our go-to meal for birthdays in the Guy household – and we never pay full price. Haiku Sushi & Steakhouse on North Point is always on both Groupon and Scoutmob (and SpotOn to boot). Osaka Steak and Sushi on Peachtree Parkway in Johns Creek/south Forsyth is as well.

Indian – Two Windward joints make the list. Abhiruchi Indian Cuisine has one of the better buffets in town. And nearby is Paradise Biryani Point, both of which are on Scoutmob.

Also on Windward is the Original Pancake House. Their overpriced breakfast grub isn’t worth it even at half off. Same goes for Papouli’s Mediterranean Cafe. There are far better options in town, but this place is always on sale if you’re interested.

Entertainment – The itty bitty little concert venue Velvet Note is on Groupon. Their deal includes food, crab cakes to be specific. And Studio Movie Grill on Holcomb Bridge is forever on Groupon. They always seem willing to discount movie tickets with the hopes that you’ll buy their vittles. Take the deal but eat before you go.

Growler stores are going flat

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

beer with frame

My first growler of Ommegang. Now I’m buying bottles.

I walked out of Pop’s Wine and Spirits the other night with two six-packs of bottled beer. The store on Peachtree Parkway has become a somewhat regular stop for me now, meaning once or twice a month. Their beer selection is among the best around, with most Atlanta-area micro breweries well represented in their cooler.

One of my selections this week really stuck with me. It was Ommegang’s Abbey Ale, a dark and malty Belgium-style beer I first tried at a growler store. And now I’m buying it in bottles.

And so goes the way of the growler store. The bubble has burst over this little craze that started about two and a half years ago. Two growler stores have gone bust – Blind Murphy in Alpharetta and Tap It Growlers on McGinnis Ferry. Others will follow. And their demise may be the simple bottle of beer that’s been with us the entire time.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a growler. The stores offer the best service you’re going to find. They lead me to discover a style of beer I never thought I would enjoy. I now love rich, malty beers that are deep with caramel flavors. And I’m completely turned on to craft beer markers who experiment with the style. Monday Night’s rendition, the Drafty Kilt, is by far my favorite Atlanta-area microbrew. I’d have never known about it were it not for growler stores.

But I’m buying it in bottles. Why? Because it’s almost always available and in-stock. A growler store with 20 to 40 taps can’t always have my favorites pouring. It’s also a bit cheaper in the bottle. For nine or ten bucks I can get a six-pack of my favorite. That’s 72 ounces of beer versus 64 in a growler. And I’ve got to polish off that growler in 48 hours or it’ll be flat. My bottles afford me weeks or months before going bad.

Granted there are a few beers only available in kegs. Big Creek Kolsh, my favorite Alpharetta-area beer from Jekyll Brewing, is only in kegs at this time. Same goes for Cherry Street’s brews.

And the growler stores still offer samples. Most cities have carefully crafted these rules just for growler stores. I say careful because they must skirt the line between consumption on premises and selling by the package, something Georgia law separates.

But those same laws usually require growlers to be sold in specialty shops. The result is a handful of one-trick pony retailers selling a dying fad of a product. This can’t end well.

Do you still fill your jugs of beer at growler stores, or are bottles the way to go?

If the CVB wrote about McFarland Parkway

I’m always blown away by what the Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau puts out. They describe why you should visit Alpharetta using such beautiful prose. Wanting to write with the same sense of poetry, I offer my own attempt by explaining why you should come visit Forsyth’s McFarland Parkway.

Forsyth country road traffic

A lovely country road in Forsyth, just off McFarland!

You’re not in Alpharetta anymore! Welcome to McFarland Parkway, the gateway to beautiful Forsyth County. Come spend the day here and take in all the shopping, culinary delights, spas and hotel amenities we have to offer.

Cruise along our nice, four-lane divided road. It’s one of only a few in the entire county! Watch how it easily pulls cars off GA-400 and onto our network of country roads. If you visit at 5:30pm you’ll be greeted with the spectacle of hundreds of cars stacked up along the shoulder and in turn lanes. It’s an amazing site to behold.

And don’t overlook our landscaping! We choose to let nature run its course here and grow whatever her seeds sow in our medians. Often the foliage is allowed to grow wild, becoming waist-high before we mow it back.

McFarland Clearcut

Unsightly trees recently removed along McFarland.

And don’t miss our mass-grading and clear cutting. You can observe it today at the intersection of McFarland and Shiloh Road. We prefer this manner of development in Forsyth as it removes unsightly, burdensome and messy trees. Our traffic and clear cutting are more evidence of the amazing growth in the county. It’s clearly a signal that this is a desirable place to live and we’re justifiably proud of it!

Spend some time shopping on McFarland. The thrifty shopper is sure to find deals at the Goodwill store. Don’t forget to stop by Forsyth Liquor for your favorite bottle of hooch. And take a short detour along nearby Ronald Reagan Parkway. Close your eyes and imagine a luxury shopping mall here. Wouldn’t that be great? We were promised it years ago. It’ll fit right in with the low-end apartments.

Our dining is second to none. Wendy’s cranks out some curiously square hamburgers that are sure to meet your approval. Or perhaps breakfast is your thing. Have some scattered, smothered and covered hash browns at the ubiquitous Waffle House. Like to live on the adventurous side? Play food safety roulette at BB’s Bagels, known throughout the area for their health inspection scores. Let’s just say they’re always below the mendoza line. And the Americanized Chinese food at Wok and Chopsticks is simply sublime.

Following lunch be sure to check out one of our spas. We have two on McFarland that are sure to get a rise out of you. Staffed with scantly-clad young Asian women, their massage skills will curl your toes and leave you with a happy ending. It’s certainly an experience you won’t find in Alpharetta thanks to Forsyth’s lax enforcement of prostitution laws. For more information, see their ads on backpage.com.

value_placeAnd finally, check into McFarland’s hotel, the Value Place. You’ll be beckoned over by their glowing neon sign. Or better yet, make it an extended stay with their affordable long-term rates. You’ll certainly want to stick around a while here in the jewel of Forsyth!

Alpharetta Restaurant News – May 2014

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

It’s been a busy month keeping up with changes to our restaurant scene. Strangely enough I don’t have much to report on in Alpharetta proper. Nevertheless a lot of restaurants are moving off my coming soon list having finally opened doors this past month. But first let’s get on with the newcomers. We’ll start on Peachtree Parkway in Forsyth.

Costa Vida logoThe Baja California-inspired restaurant chain Costa Vida will open their first location in the southeast in the Brannon Crossing shopping center across from The Collection. Their menu will feature southwest favorites with a California surfer motif. The franchisee is Michael Williams, a name familiar to many in south Forsyth as he’s currently a candidate for State Senate. This is Williams’ first restaurant but he ran a successful chain of hair salons. Look for them in the former Larado’s space.

Also opening in the Brannon Crossing shopping center will be Roly Poly Sandwiches. This is their first location in the area.

Yet another Mexican restaurant will open way down on Peachtree Parkway in the former Lupe’s/Rio Balsas space. Look for Senior Quintin Mex-Grill in the coming weeks. There’s a similarly named restaurant on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road but those answering the phone there yesterday didn’t know of a second restaurant in the chain. I suspect that this is though.

Spice AfroBack in Milton you’ll soon find Spice Afro Caribbean Cuisine. These guys were at Taste of Alpharetta last week even though they are probably a few months from opening. Their menu looks similar to what you’d find at Tassa or Caribbean Fiesta on Old Milton. Look for them next to Montana’s on Highway 9.

And I like the name of a small new Indian joint coming to Windward. Dancing Mouth Indian Restaurant is building in the former Quiznos space on Jordan Court near Costco. And I’m hearing rumors of another opening on Windward. Unfortunately there isn’t enough confirming information to publish details at this time.

Restaurant broker Shumacher Group announced last week that they sold Famous Original Pizza on Old Milton. We’re told a new concept is coming to the space but have no word yet on what that might be.

Now open and gladly collecting your restaurant dollars is Crust Pasta and Pizzeria. They’re in the former Al Fresco space on Old Milton and Main. Also opening this month is 12 Slices in Johns Creek. Have I mentioned how competitive the pizza business is here? Good luck slicing out a niche.

Kabibish Indian and Pakistani Restaurant is now open on Highway 9 in Milton. They’re in a poor location but hey, they’ve got a buffet!

Sip Wine and Tapas opened Wednesday at The Collection Forsyth  next to Chick-fil-A. I have high hopes for these guys in this space. And finally, 37 Main – A Rock Cafe has opened in Johns Creek. Go see an 80′s cover band and chow down on bar food. For those about to rock, we salute you.

Restaurants Coming Soon
Senor Patron – Opening very soon in Chepe’s old space in Johns Creek.
Oh Boy Rotisserie and Tacos – Should open in about two weeks in BB’s former digs on State Bridge in Johns Creek.
Tower Burger – Look to be very close to opening yet they have no online presence whatsoever. Strange.
Utopia Bar – Coming to Johns Creek near Sugo.
South Main Kitchen – Louis Soon’s new restaurant on Main Street in downtown Alpharetta.
First Watch – They will anchor the new Twin Oaks shopping center being built on Old Milton and North Point.
Zoes Kitchen – New location at The Collection in Forsyth near Mellow Mushroom.
Made Kitchen and Cocktails – New concept from the Sedgwicks coming to Roswell Street in downtown Alpharetta.
2b Whole European Gluten-Free Bakery - New bakery to open on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta.

TopGolf – an inside look

We sent Mike Christensen to hack a few golf balls at the TopGolf media event. Here’s his report. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

We’ve all been watching.  Watching the progress on a lonely stretch of Westside Parkway.  The clearing of trees, the building of the structure, the erecting of the (oh my God) massive poles and nets.

TopGolf rangeOn May 20th, TopGolf will open its doors to the public and to Caddyshack quotes everywhere.  I got an inside preview of Alpharetta’s newest entertainment complex recently and what I found was a little surprising – and pricey.  But this is Alpharetta, so maybe not so surprised at the costs.

TopGolf, boiled down to its basic skeleton, is a driving range.  In all it’s fanciness, it’s a three story, semi-climate controlled, super high-tech, full bar, don’t skim on the materials and food… driving range.

The place is massive.  102 total bays to play a variety of golf-centric games.  The view from the tee-box  is impressive.  You’ll notice several holes of various sizes all over the yard.  In each hole are nets to catch the balls.  The object of the majority of the games is to hit the balls, equipped with GPS, into the different holes.  The computer will then calculate the distance and award points.  Pretty fancy, huh?

Each bay has seating and a touch screen to control the action.  And of course, there are TV’s all over.  You could watch golf, while playing golf.  Mind blown.  Don’t have any clubs?  No problemo.  Each bay has a selection of both men’s and women’s clubs to use.  Wave your club in front of the infrared sensor and a ball is deposited out onto the green for you. Very nice.  I never play golf, but I had a great time whacking away for over an hour.  There will be table service available when you’re playing so don’t worry about having to venture inside for refreshment.

If you do however you will be greeted by a very nice space.  There’s a full bar with seating like most high end restaurants.  Industrial stainless steel meets wood is the predominant theme with billions of TV’s scattered about.  The bar has a comprehensive inventory of local beers, which I was very happy to see.

top golf logoAfter you’ve played a few rounds of golf, you’re going to be hungry.  I tried a sampling of several miniature versions of items from the upcoming menu and was completely blown away.  The food was fantastic.  According to the presentation, 95% of the menu items are made from scratch.  There were little cheeseburgers with a green chile mac n cheese patty on top, house smoked brisket tacos with ancho chile sauce and slaw and shrimp and grits.

I asked the chef about the pickle fried chicken.  She said they take the chicken and brine it in pickle juice with jalapenos for six to eight hours.  Then they toss it with a rub and fry it in a pressure cooker.  It’s much like KFC, but KFC never made anything like this.  It was outstanding.  Juicy and not greasy.  A big hit.

The brisket tacos were spicy, but not too bad with the slaw offsetting some of the heat.  The burgers were my favorite.  The green chile mac n cheese adds a ton of flavor and texture to the burger and soft bakery bun.  I know the menu will have full-sized versions, but they should keep those burgers as small.  It was the perfect satisfying bite.

Looking at everything, the one question that kept nagging me was, how expensive is all this going to be?  Would this be a place where people can afford to go on a regular basis to hang out?  To be honest, it can be pricey.  The bays work on an hourly rate.  It’s cheaper in the morning at $25 an hour, and more expensive during prime time at $45.  That’s pretty steep.  Throw in the cost of food and drinks and your tab could run upwards of $100.  Of course, the more people in a bay will offset the hourly rate.  There are also monthly memberships that are claimed to be helpful with the cost.

I’ve seen the menu, and most of the food items are in the $9-14 dollar range.  Not terrible for the quality of food I tasted.  The beer is reasonably priced with even local brews in the $4-6 ballpark. The menu itself is 16 pages long with 7 of those devoted to beer, wine, sodas, and cocktails.  I wonder where they expect to make the most money?

Will the folks in Alpharetta get over their anger about the towering nets to give TopGolf a try?  Probably.  The space is huge, the games are fun and the food is out of this world.  But you do pay a price for all that fun.  Time will tell if prices will level out or will they keep people from coming back.

Disclosure: We received freebies from this business as part of a media event. You can read our disclosure policy on the about page.

Big Pie in the Sky – Mansell Road

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.

We love big stuff.  We want big trucks with big engines to pull big boats to big lakes to catch big fish (or small fish and tell big stories).  If a little something is good, then bigger is better.

The latest pizza joint in the north Fulton area goes above and beyond with the biggest pizzas around.  But is bigger better?  In this case, not particularly.

Big Pie in the Sky opened recently in the often vacant strip on Mansell Road next to the Porsche dealership.  It is the second Atlanta location (the first is in Kennesaw) for the pizza chain that rose to national prominence on Man Vs Food for their Carnivore Challenge.  It’s eleven pounds of meat laden pizza, two people and one hour to eat it all.  If you do it you’ll win $250 which you can put towards the gastric or cardiac surgery of your choice.

Big Pie sliceI had the nearly normal sized “small” 16 inch Carnivore pizza.  It is topped with bacon, ham, pepperoni, sausage and ground beef.  It wasn’t bad.  I hate to say this, but it was too much meat.  The sausage was on the verge of being burnt, and the diced ham was piled on too thick for my wife’s taste.  Sliced ham would have been better.  The crust is thin and crispy even with all the meat juices.

Big Pie has loads of other specialty pizzas to try like the West Coast Pesto with cream cheese and chicken and the Big Kahuna with ham and pineapple.  Or build your own.  The largest size you can get is a whopping 30 inch pie.  The box it comes in itself is impressive.  Serves  eight to ten.

Big Pie in the Sky really shines in one aspect, the lunch deal.  One slice from the 30 inch pizza with two toppings and a drink is $5.00.  That’s amazing.  We all got slices at work, and they really are bigger than your head. It fills you up without draining your wallet.  It will give you a hernia carrying the box to the car however. I had the meatball on my slice. It was a little bland.  It could have been kicked up a notch with some Italian seasoning or garlic or something.

The layout of the restaurant is a little strange. The ordering counter where the majority of the employees are is around the corner from the dining area.  There is a window where you can see into the kitchen which is pretty neat, but you have to be standing to see in and that can be a little awkward.  The service that I’ve experienced has been subpar as well.  Some more training or motivation would do some good.

Big Pie in the Sky Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

The pizza itself is not bad.  It’s certainly not up to great pizza standards that have been set in the area, but it’s not something that I would pass by.  With a little love, this place could be a second tier pizza joint.  Stop in and wield one of the giant slices and see for yourself if bigger truly is better.

It’s again time for Jack Murphy to go

Two years ago I wrote this article on Forsyth County’s Jack Murphy and his troubled dealings. Murphy went on to narrowly win re-election. My opinion has not changed since that time. What has changed is that Murphy has two serious and well-funded opponents this year. Either would be a great replacement but I’m supporting Michael Williams.

Meet Jack Murphy. He’s the state senator for much of Forsyth County, including the extreme southern part of the county where I live. I’ve never written about politics in Forsyth but this story has an Alpharetta connection so I beg your indulgence. I’ve also never formally endorsed a candidate for office on my blog. That changes today. Jack Murphy should be defeated in the GOP primary on Tuesday.

In January of last year Murphy was appointed chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Days later he was sued by the FDIC for breach of fiduciary duty and gross negligence from his days as a director of an Alpharetta-based bank. That bank, ironically, was called Integrity Bank. The bank was the first bank in Georgia to fail back in 2008. Scores more would follow.

Murphy continues to say that this is a civil case, not criminal, which is technically true. However it is very rare for the feds to go after board members of failed banks in the manner they have with Integrity’s board. Furthermore, the nature of this case precludes Murphy from sitting on the board of any bank anywhere.

Nevertheless Murphy continues to lead the Senate’s Banking Committee. Calls came from all over the state for him to step aside until this case was resolved. He refused to resign, holding onto the chairmanship to this day.

The voters of Forsyth County need to do what Jack Murphy and the Senate leadership wouldn’t do – remove him from power.

Taste of Alpharetta 2014 – a preview

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

I have something to confess. Each year I wonder if it’s worth going to Taste of Alpharetta. Of course it’s a huge event, attended by tens of thousands. It’s a terrific showcase of Alpharetta’s budding new restaurant scene. And it’s a chance to sample a lot of food from a lot of great chefs.

TOA_Banner_2014But we’ve done that. If you’re like me you’re trying a lot of these new joints as they open. You’ve sampled the best their menu has to offer. If you’re lucky they might offer something off the menu at Taste of Alpharetta. But chances are that something is a braised pork slider that’s easy for them to make ahead of time and assemble on-site at Milton Avenue. Is it worth fighting huge crowds, buying tickets and elbowing up to a booth for a few bites?

Probably so. There are always a small handful of participating restaurants worth your visit, even in 2014. Here are the places I would try.

Spice Afro Caribbean – These guys slipped below even my radar. They’re not even open yet but will be soon on Highway 9 in Milton. They’ll be at Taste and probably with a menu nowhere close to the competition.

The F&H Restaurants – I don’t recall that these guys have ever been to Taste. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong. But Salt, Opulent, and Little Alley are all on the list this year. Other Roswell joints at Taste this year include The Mill Kitchen & Bar.

Tin Roof Kitchen – They’ve only been open a few weeks on Alpharetta’s Main Street. And while I’ve not been I have high hopes for these guys. Be sure to pay them a visit.

Kickshaw Tavern and Grill – Sky-high prices have kept me away from this newcomer near Campania. But Taste of Alpharetta might be a good way for grubbers to try these guys on the cheap. I’d blow some tickets here for sure.

And don’t forget the old reliables at Taste. Milton’s never seems to disappoint the crowd. And Bite always impresses me at this event, often teasing with something delicious yet off the menu. If you’ve got leftover tickets, blow them on the way out with some doughnuts at DaVinci’s or a cookie from Wildflour.

If you don’t go, Thursday night would be a great night to go to an actual restaurant as the crowds will all be downtown! But nevertheless I’ll probably still go this year but will arrive later in the evening. Let me know which restaurant you’d try first.

Taste of Alpharetta is on Thursday May 8th starting at 5:00pm in downtown Alpharetta.

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