Archive - October, 2014

Tower Burger – Alpharetta Highway

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

Got you, didn’t I?  You thought that that mysterious burger place on Alpharetta Highway was finally open?

tower burger signHere at Roots, when a new restaurant starts a build out, we take notice and update our readers on the progress until the new place opens.  Then we visit a few times and we post a review.  That’s how it normally works but not with Tower Burger.

The old Sonic sat empty and run down for a long time.  Honestly, a lot of that section of Alpharetta/Roswell looked pretty sad.  The building stayed there, neglected until… wait! Signs of life appeared.  Everything was torn down except the main building.  Then, nothing.  Tumble weeds rolled through the parking lot.

Eventually we learned that a burger joint called Tower Burger was coming to that location.  Ok, another burger place, fine.  No big news.  The build out started, and stopped, and started, and stopped.  This continued for the next two years.

I was able to scope out some conceptual drawings online.  The place looked promising, with its second story deck serving beer and wine.  Anyone who drives Highway 9 daily has thrown at least a passing glance at the building as it now sits.  It looks done.  The sign is up, the landscaping done and parking lot paved.  So what’s the deal?

I’ve peeked in the windows and circled the building.  The last time I was there there were still unpacked boxes inside and no chairs and tables to be seen.  I can tell you this, the place is small.  In fact it’s tiny.  The downstairs patio couldn’t hold more than one or two tables comfortably.  It’s a cool looking place, but the function seems to be lacking.  And of course the second story deck will have a stunning view of J. Christopher’s.  If you crane your neck you might catch a glimpse of the Ferrari place up the street.  Granted, all these observations are just from my view in the parking lot.

I will be able to form more fair opinions once Tower Burger opens.  When will that be?  It’s anyone’s guess.  The mystery still remains.  Tower Burger has no social media presence, no website, no nothing.  It took an Indiana Jones-type effort to even get a name of someone who might be related somehow to the project.  Attempts to contact that person have been met with bupkis.  So keep your eyes peeled folks.  If nary a whiff of meat cooking escapes from that place, our readers will be the first to know.  After all, the most asked question from our readers is “Why do you hate Avalon?”.  But the second most asked question is, “What’s up with Tower Burger?”  You guys are in the dark as much as we are.  The one question I have is, when Tower Burger eventually does open, will anyone care?

Reflections on Avalon’s opening

Avalon opens today. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you already knew that.

Avalon logoFrom the point of view of my writing interests, Avalon is in my sweet spot. It combines nearly every theme I ever wanted to blog about, from restaurants to politics to affluence, all into one neat little project. I couldn’t have asked for better writing material.

We here at Roots provided what I believe (and hope) has been the best, most comprehensive coverage of this enormous project. From the time the property went under contract to this opening week and beyond, we’ve written about it all. We’ve gone well beyond printing press releases and the stories spoonfed to editors from PR departments. We’ve tried to dive deep into the issues and discussions of this complicated and multifaceted development.

Comprehensive I believe our coverage has been. Impartial? Certainly not as this is an opinion blog after all. Many parts of the process have turned me off, in particular the back-room deal making and politicking. The sausage making analogy was one I used last year and it still holds true.

And then there’s Mark Toro. The guy is a character and at times has a snarky attitude on social media. “El Toro” was a name I once called him, a moniker he probably relished in a narcissistic kind of way.

But I’ll say this about Mark Toro… he’s delivered on what he promised.

Prospect Park

Photo credit:

It’s this kept promise that’s resonated with political and community leaders alike in Alpharetta. Even the apartment opponents I know respect Mr. Toro for what he’s put together. After all, the memories of Prospect Park, Stan Thomas, an incomplete Westside Parkway, the mud pit and broken parking deck are not forgotten in this town. Toro’s kept promise resonates loud in Alpharetta right now, so much so that some on Alpharetta’s council were willing to go against their own past campaign promises and approve more apartments on Monday night.

The first few weeks at Avalon may tick some people off. The crowds will be relentless, traffic will suck, parking will be a mess and service kinks will have to be worked out. But in the end, Alpharetta will treasure Avalon. It is a beautiful development with outstanding restaurants and activities run by people who know what they are doing.

The  process that got us here was downright ugly at times. Hopefully we here at Roots chronicled it well. But at the end of it all, we’ve got a gem. Congrats Avalon on the opening. Welcome to Alpharetta.

Diwali and Alpharetta’s diverse Indian restaurant scene

Yesterday was Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. It’s a huge holiday for those from the subcontinent. It ought to be a bigger deal in the Alpharetta area. The Indian population here is surging as the IT industry again picks up steam. Indians are an important part of our economy and community today. Why there are not public events and recognition for Diwali is beyond me.

What does make sense is the surge of Indian restaurants in town. They’re too numerous to count. The smaller ones often change hands from time to time, trading chefs and shifting focus from one style of Indian cuisine to another. It’s tough to keep up with and quite frankly, I don’t know that I’m qualified to review the food.

skvThat’s a difficult admission to make considering that I’ve been to India. I was in Mumbai for three months in 1998 shortly after graduating from college. I was intimidated and terrified by the food. It didn’t help that my colleagues strongly discouraged me from being adventurous with their food lest I experience the finest gastrointestinal distress south Asia could offer. I heeded the advice and survived on vegetarian pizzas from a Dominos franchise out there (although I did partake of a few amazing home cooked meals).

My culinary experience there, or lack thereof, isn’t serving me well today as someone who lives amid these wonderful choices of Indian restaurants. Take for example my visit this week at Sri Krishna Vilas‘ newer location on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth. There’s no buffet here but rather a fast-casual feel. The vegetarian-only menu is on the board but no descriptions are available for guys like me. I selected something that ended with “chana” which I knew involved chick peas. I asked the man about “puri” and was told simply that it was round. So with that tiny bit of information I ordered the puri with chana and hoped for the best.

What I got was amazing. Puri is a deep fried bread, served hot and golden brown and puffed up like a fresh baked pita. Oh yeah, puri’s round too. It was amazing and went well as a dip into the spicy curried chick peas. I’d later learn, thanks to my google skills, that puri is a snack or breakfast food. Thankfully I ordered another familiar item, samosas. Again they were delicious.

Sri Krishna Vilas is worthy of your visit and popular. I drive by on weekends and the place looks like a Nissan Leaf sales lot. Clearly they have a following.

You’ll not go wrong at the various Indian buffets around town. Try a spoonful of just about everything and go back for seconds of what you like. Madras Chettinaad is the granddaddy of them all on Old Milton Parkway. My coworkers still call it Minerva, the name of the restaurant from a few years ago. It’s easier to pronounce. Whatever you call it, their selection can’t be matched. Sri Krishna Vilas‘ Windward location is probably your best bet on on that street although I occasionally like Abhiruchi Indian Cuisine down the road. Their selection is limited but decent. I like that they’re not afraid to dial up the spice level in their food. Grab an extra napkin to dab the sweat off your brow. And again, their unpronounceable name completes the experience.

But if you try only one joint mentioned in this column today, make it Myzenes Indian Coastal Cuisine on Peachtree Parkway in extreme south Forsyth. These guys prove that Indian food in our humble burb is diverse. They offer cuisine from the coastal city of Goa which was heavily influenced by the Portuguese. You’ll see it in the menu when things like chorizo make an appearance. Sausage at an Indian joint? And seafood? Certainly not something you see everyday. The owners are very friendly and will guide you through their menu. They’re even willing to describe the food in more detail than just the geometric shape. This non-desi likes that.

So get out there are try some Indian joints this weekend. Let me know your favorites. And wish your Indian friends a happy Diwali!

Convention center negotiations should be public

I handle rejection well. It’s a valuable trait for a blogger that occasionally writes about government. But in this case my attempts shouldn’t have been rebuffed.

This week the City of Alpharetta turned down my open records request to see documents pertaining to negotiations for a convention center at Avalon. City officials are negotiating in private a deal that could result in a public/private relationship financed by debt paid for with increased taxes. That fact alone should result in a public process but it isn’t the case.

So today I offer two more compelling reasons Alpharetta should come out of the dark and be more transparent in this process.

Avalon Phase 2 – The proposed changes in Avalon’s phase 2 are complicated. It need not be that way. North American Properties’ application, which goes before Council on Monday, hinges on what happens in these closed door meetings for the convention center. The public and members of the Planning Commission have been put in an uncomfortable position. How do you consider a zoning request that is conditional on a private negotiation that no one know anything about? It doesn’t make sense.

Cobb County Braves Stadium – My rejected open request request was written similar to the one AJC attorneys made of Cobb County in the wake of the Braves Stadium controversy. That story is still developing and has Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee in very hot water.

Like Cobb County, Alpharetta is negotiating in private for a public/private deal that involves floating public bonds financed with tax dollars. Unlike Cobb, we at least know this is happening as Cobb residents were completely unaware the negotiations were happening at all. But the similarities end there in my opinion.

Alpharetta has the opportunity to do the right thing. They have the opportunity to set a high bar for transparency and ethics, especially in the wake of the Cobb County fiasco. It’s time for the convention center meetings to take place in public and not in executive session. The city should release documents pertaining to the negotiations. And all this should happen prior to considering changes to Avalon Phase 2.

Whole Foods Market – Avalon

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

WF Avalon now openThe Avalon doesn’t officially open for two weeks, but one small section is open now, Whole Foods.  It opened this week to replace Harry’s Farmers Market.  Me and 184,000 of my closest friends checked out Alpharetta’s newest organic grocer this week.  It was good to be able to be on Avalon’s property for the first time, well not counting the other times one snuck in and wandered around.  (editor’s note: This is a joke.  Mike did not trespass on Avalon’s property).

The majority are concerned about parking.  They are right to be worried.  The lot isn’t as big and it is tight maneuvering.  I have had to seek spaces across the street and had to hike in.  Good thing I was able to grab some trail mix inside to sustain me for the journey back to the truck.  If you have an electric vehicle you’re in luck.  Whole Foods has a few EV spaces with charging stations right near the front.  I didn’t see any of those expectant mother spaces, but I wasn’t really searching.

Entering the store, my first impression was “man this place is huge, bright and green.”  Farm inspired artwork adorns the walls and bright lights make everything easy to see.  Sometimes that’s a bad thing. It can also expose flaws.  It seemed that the produce section was a little small and the spaces around the displays were cozy.  I imagine if you get a few carts roaming around in there then traffic jams would be inevitable.

The seafood and meat counters are right next to each other.  Both are well lit, pleasingly arranged and well staffed.  The meat counter isn’t as long as the one at Harry’s so the meat is more condensed on display.  It’s not a bad thing.  The dry aging meat hanging behind a window was a neat touch.

The wine selection looks smaller than before, and the local options have diminished greatly. That’s disappointing considering the substantial North Georgia wine production.  I did enjoy the sign on the wall that marked the wine section that read, “Put a cork in it”.

One thing that’s made Whole Foods at Avalon stand out is the sale and consumption of alcohol on site.  There is a wine bar/cafe/cooking school located upstairs that overlooks the store.  Guzzle some vino while learning to cook?  Count me in.  It sure would make first dates there go much better.

WF Avalon GrowlersWhole Foods does sell growlers to-go as well.  From what I could tell, they have only the 64 oz size growler wrapped in a “Whole Foods Avalon” growler-cozy.  There are only four options to choose from, all local.  Current selections include beers from Orpheus Brewing, Monday Night, Second Self Beer Company and Eventide Brewing.  It seems that what Whole Foods lacks in local wine, they are making up in local beers.  I saw an end cap display for Jekyll and there is a very large cooler fully stocked with all the Georgia breweries represented.  Single bottles are also available.

Then you get to the eating food section.  Several serve-yourself bars are available. One bar was marked “Paleo choices”.  Dinosaur food?  I moved on.  This Whole Foods has more choices than most mall food courts.  It was dazzling.  A sushi bar, olive bar, make your own Wok place, pizza, sandwiches, it goes on and on.  If that wasn’t enough, there is a counter in the front of the store where you can order a beer or a coffee and pick out one of the several pre-made sandwiches from the display.  It had a very European feel to it. It makes for a very fast turnaround.

Once you’ve stuffed your face and drank your beer/wine, don’t forget dessert.  I always laughed at all the healthy choices, gluten free, organic, etc, and then the most popular spot was the bakery.  Tons of cakes, tarts and cookies are on display.  And do not miss the (echo voice) Wheel of Gelato!  My son was fascinated with the rotating tubs that resemble a spaceship from the planet ice cream.  Samples are readily given.

Let’s not forget, Whole Foods is after all a grocery store.  While the aisles themselves were narrow, there were a lot of them.  It seemed that the packaged food aisles at Harry’s seemed like an afterthought or an addition.  These at Whole Foods were designed to go here.  The sheer volume of products is gluten free, organic and other styles is staggering.

Yes, prices are high.  Whole Foods doesn’t have the nickname “Whole Paycheck” for nothing.  While the selection is great, the lights bright, and the food options are overwhelming, it just doesn’t have that neighborhood feel that Harry’s had.  Being the only organic grocer on the block will make Whole Foods a hipster, vegan, paleo paradise. But for me, it’s no replacement for Harry’s.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – October 2014

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

Let them eat cake!

How bad is it that I have more bakeries to report than restaurants? The pace of new restaurant announcements has slowed considerably over the past few months. Perhaps Avalon is to blame.

Let’s get these bakeries out of the way first. A new location of Nothing Bundt Cakes will open at The Collection Forsyth. Look for them near The Chocolaterie.

Cupcake makers Smallcakes will open on Old Milton Parkway in the same shopping center with Carmine’s and Ipanema. The franchise outfit has a handful of other metro Atlanta locations. I figured by now we’d have several pure-play cupcake makers in town. Looks like it will be just these guys and Jilly’s (and a small outfit in the mall).

piece of cake logoAnd finally, a shop called Piece of Cake will open on North Point near Guitar center. Alpharetta will be the seventh location for this growing Atlanta-based chain.

And in the rapidly expanding breakfast restaurant market… we sound like a broken record reporting on another location of Another Broken Egg. This one will open in Johns Creek Walk at the former Keso space. Nearby is Maverick’s Cantina which opened recently and was reviewed last week.

It will be interesting to contrast Maverick’s to Costa Vida which will open Monday in the Brandon Crossing shopping center across from The Collection. The franchisee here is Forsyth’s State Senator-elect Michael Williams.

Also now open in Forsyth is Pueblo’s Mexican Cuisine. Look for them in a former Chepe’s location on Mathis Airport Road.

And finally, we’re hearing reports from reliable sources that Kababish may be kaput. The Indian/Pakistani restaurant in Milton rolled the dice on an extremely poor location and it didn’t work out for them.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Tower Burger – A towering delay.
The Farmhouse – Coffee and crepe shop opening in Johns Creek.
Boneheads – Grilled fish and peri peri restaurant coming to Windward near Sri Krishna Vilas.
Anabelle’s Table – Promising new restaurant on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth.
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse - About to sell the sizzle on Haynes Bridge.
Made Kitchen and Cocktails – Targeted opening in November for this concept from the Sedgwicks.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – Coming to McFarland in the former sandwich shop.
JD’s Sports Pub & Pizza – Replacing TPS Pizza on Peachtree Parkway in Forsyth.
Eggs Up Grill – Breakfast chain coming to Crabapple.
2b Whole European Gluten-Free Bakery - It’s too bad that 2b didn’t open this month.
Tom and Chee – Grilled cheese shop to open near Chicken Salad Chick on North Point.

Harry’s Farmers Market to close after 27 years

Harrys logoLongtime Alpharetta grocery store Harry’s Farmers Market will close their Alpharetta store on Upper Hembree Road on Sunday. The closure comes after being open for nearly 27 years. The grocery store was a pioneer in many ways.

The store’s namesake is founder Harry Blazer. The jazz musician and business man first had his hand in the DeKalb Farmers Market before going solo. Alpharetta was his first Harry’s location, announced in October 1987. The concept featured exotic fruits, vegetables, meats, breads and prepared foods made from scratch in-house. The offering was vast, much more so than you’d see in the store today.

The concept was ahead of its time, especially considering the proliferation of organic grocers today. The idea took off in growing Alpharetta, bolstered by the affluent and diverse residents who moved here during that time.

Two more stores would open in Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Another store in Clayton County opened and closed, its failure attributed to the lack of affluent customers to sustain such a concept. They would also roll out a smaller concept called Harry’s in a Hurry.

Good Eats at Harrys

Alton Brown filming episodes of Good Eats at Harry’s

Blazer took the company public in 1993 selling shares on the NASDAQ exchange. But by the time the late 90′s rolled around the chain began to struggle.

Whole Foods came along in October 2001 and acquired the company. They took the three north metro Atlanta stores but not the Harry’s in a Hurry concept. The acquisition was an important one for Whole Foods who at the time only had two Atlanta-area stores. It propelled the store’s expansion into the southeast. They’d keep the Harry’s name on the stores but their offerings were decidedly Whole Foods.

In spring of 2012 Whole Foods announced they would open a store at Avalon. Shortly after Avalon’s approval the company was granted a conditional use permit from Alpharetta to operate an office and distribution facility at the Upper Hembree Road site. This blogger suggested that Harry’s would close upon Avalon’s opening but was asked to print a retraction by Whole Foods’ corporate office. At that time they said they were exploring their options with the Upper Hembree location. But the writing was on the wall.

The company will indeed close the Alpharetta Harry’s, its last day being this Sunday. They will continue to make prepared foods here for sale in other stores. It will also house their seafood and regional offices.

Many Harry’s employees will move to Whole Foods at Avalon. That store will be unique in many ways. For example, it will be the only business in Alpharetta to hold a liquor license for package sales as well as consumption on premises. This allows for wine and beer to be served in cooking classes. They also have a growler permit.

Whole Foods at Avalon will open two days after the Harry’s closure. They’ll welcome guests well ahead of the official grand opening of Avalon on October 30th.

What will you miss the most about Harry’s Farmers Market? What memories to do you have from the store?

Mavericks Cantina – Johns Creek

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

Let me warn you before we get too much into this new restaurant. They play Beach Boys music. It’s played quite often at Mavericks. I counted four of their songs over the course of my last lunch there. If their groovy 50′s tunes set you off then stay away. They have a tendency to linger in my head for unwanted periods of time. If you’re willing to suffer through it you’ll find Mavericks to be a promising new restaurant worth trying.

Mavricks logoNew Mexican restaurants abound these days. It’s a tough job trying to stay ahead of them. I get around, yeah I get around round round from town to town… trying these joints. We try them all, trudging through menu after menu of Speedy Gonzalez.

Yet two have stood out to me this summer, Mavericks and Costa Vida up the road a bit. Both are concepts going for a southern California surfer theme and featuring a Mexican cantina feel. Mavericks of course is the first to open and the only of the two that isn’t a franchise… yet. Success might change that.

The first thing that hit me here was smoke. Yes, smoke. We smelled it in the parking lot walking in. Is there a barbeque joint nearby? Nope. It’s a wood-fired grill in the Mavericks kitchen. So before we event set foot inside, I was pickin’ up good vibrations. This smoke was givin’ me excitations.

The wood-fired grill lead me right to Maverick’s grouper tacos. I’ll try any fish taco that isn’t made with tilapia. The thought of a smokey fish that was wild-caught left no doubt in my mind as to what I’d order. Like I’d later find with their other tacos, these guys know how to layer flavors. From a buttermilk dressing to mangos, pickled radishes and cilantro, there’s a lot of flavor and texture going on in this tortilla. If there was any ding to be made it was that any delicate flavor in the smokey fish was overpowered. Nevertheless these were delicious tacos. They’ll make you want to wear your baggies and your Huarache sandals too.

I wish Mavericks would let you mix and match tacos on the menu. Your best bet is to go with a group of friends and each order something different for sharing. That’s exactly what we did on our second visit. We hit the steak tacos first. The smokey meat came through this time, but these tacos were among the least favorite at the table.

Surprisingly delicious was the fried chicken taco. This had great texture and a bit of spice that was tempered with an Alabama style white barbeque sauce. They had me rockin’ and a rollin’, rockin’ and a-reelin’.

The beer braised brisket tacos are also not a bad choice. A salsa verde sits on top and a lime cream pulls it all together. If fish and chicken are not your thing then make a beeline for the brisket on your first visit.

The menu at Mavericks is still pretty limited at this time so a return visit might be in order once these guys get going. Prices are a tad steep compared to the competition. They’re similar to what you might pay at Pure but are not quite there food-wise.

But Mavericks has a lot of potential and some talent in the kitchen. Hopefully daddy doesn’t take this T-bird away.

Mavericks Cantina is located at 11030 Medlock Bridge Road, Suite 160 in the Johns Creek Walk development.

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