Archive - December, 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.

At the end of the year I usually take a few weeks off from this column to spend some time with family. Today I replay my review of El Trompo in Johns Creek.

Are they the best new restaurant of 2014? I’ve toiled over that question. The answer is that I just don’t know. But let’s say this… of all the new restaurants this year, I’ve been back to El Trompo the most. If you’ve not been, go have a few al pastor tacos today for lunch. Tell ‘em Lee sent ya.

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.

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.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – December 2014

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

I’ve never had this many new restaurant stories hit my radar in just a week’s span. It’s been crazy and also difficult to wait until Friday to bring it all to the blog. But here goes.

cropped-Enzas_Pizza_Logo_WHT1Anna and Eddie Siino have opened a pizza joint. These names should ring a bell because they are the founders of BB’s Bagels. That’s right, BB’s is in the pizza business. This week they quietly opened Vincenza’s Pizzeria across McFarland Parkway from their legendary bagel shop.

It was hard for me to get in touch with Anna this week for comment. But during lunch yesterday I asked her, “Why a pizza restaurant?”

“Because I didn’t like any of the pizza around here,” she replied as she moved on to help another customer. Um, alright. And here I was thinking we had plenty of terrific options for New York-style pies in the Alpharetta area. But who am I to question someone who already makes a nationally recognized New York-style product?

The Siino’s pizza joint is in the former Dottie’s Delight location next to the seedy massage parlor. It’s not exactly fancy digs, but neither is BB’s. Right now the menu is just pizza by the slice but that will change. Expect big, foldy, saucy and greasy slices with quality meats. I also spied Sicilian by the slice. And since I know someone will ask, their initial inspection is a 100.

pharrBig story number two is Cafe at Pharr. The growing sandwich chain out of Buckhead is coming to Alpharetta and will open in the former Pig-n-Chik location at 3050 Windward Plaza. Word from their PR folks is that their recent expansion into Dunwoody has been very successful and has bolstered their confidence to move further into the suburbs. Their menu and concept is very similar to the popular Chicken Salad Chick and should go over well here. But they’ll face the enormous headwind of this terrible location that isn’t visible from the road at all and is tough to get to. But maybe they will steal customers from Jason’s Deli.

Over at Avalon, we expect Antico will open near Christmas. We’re also hearing that Oak Steakhouse will open a sister restaurant at the development. It will be an Italian concept called Colletta and will open in February.

More than two years ago the Florida-based chain Burger 21 prematurely announced new locations in our area. Since then they opened one store near the Mall of Georgia and that’s it. But this month we’re hearing more credible rumors that a Johns Creek location is in the works but an address has not been revealed. The franchisee is Alpharetta resident Chris Bastecki who owns several Jimmy Johns stores.

We reported last month that growler store pioneer Crafty Draught closed their original south Forsyth location. Looks like their Alpharetta store is all tapped out too. That leaves us only one growler store in the Alpharetta city limits.

And thanks to several blog readers for bringing Breadtime to my attention. The owners of this quaint little German restaurant announced recently on Facebook that they have sold the business. Apparently this happened some time ago.

Also changing hands is the Italian eatery Dal Cuore in Johns Creek. They’d been listed for sale with a restaurant broker for several months. The new restaurant will be called Mari’s Cucina and Social House.

And speaking of selling restaurants, Fresh Mexicano Grill on the Forsyth side of McGinnis Ferry was sold and will become Sushi Ming Japanese Kitchen.

And while we’re in south Forsyth, we’ll go rapid fire on the changes up there…

Laguna Mexican Grill will open in the Midway community on Highway 9 in the former BluBay/BW Tavern/Mulligans/Buffalo’s space. They’ve got locations in downtown Cumming and Hoschton. Osaka Steak and Sushi at 3630 Peachtree Parkway has become Enzo Sushi. On Old Atlanta Road Cooley’s Pizza will become Quest Pizza. And Keso Mexican Grill has closed on Highway 9 near Bethelview and will soon be Marco’s Pizza. Got all that? There’ll be a quiz later.

Opening since last month is Piece of Cake on North Point near Chicken Salad Chick. The peri peri chain restaurant Boneheads is now open on Windward near Sri Krishna Vilas. And Another Broken Egg‘s location at Johns Creek Walk opens Monday December 15th.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Made Kitchen and Cocktails – Spanish tapas joint from the Sedgwicks. Should be open any day now.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – Little place on McFarland.
JD’s Sports Pub & Pizza – Replacing TPS Pizza on Peachtree Parkway in Forsyth.
Tom and Chee – You’ll have to wait until after the new year to get your grilled cheese and soup on.
Nothing Bundt Cakes - Laying down the bundt at The Collection at Forsyth.
Smallcakes - You’re killing me smalls. Another cake joint at 4055 Old Milton Parkway.
Cook-Out – Cheap fast food burgers coming to Haynes Bridge. Buildout hasn’t started yet.

What’s the best new Alpharetta-area restaurant of 2014?

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

This article is becoming a December tradition here on Roots and certainly one of my personal favorites. It’s a time to look back at all the new restaurants we’ve talked about and pick a favorite. Next week I’ll write about my favorite but I always open the conversation up to my readers first.

In 2012 we honored Breadtime with this distinction and gave Grand Champion BBQ a runner-up nod. Last year it was Campania and Hop Alley. For 2014, rather than list every new restaurant I’m going to narrow the field down to some finalists. Please leave me a comment with your favorite and why you think they need to win. And if I’ve unfairly left someone off the list then by all means let me know.

The finalists, in no particular order, are:

850°F Barpizza in Crabapple made a big splash this year when they became the second Neapolitan-style pizzeria in our area. They also stole hired away chef Stefano Rea from competitor and 2013 winner Campania. That alone should make them a finalist this year.

crust logoIt’s an understatement to say there’s good pizza in this area. That’s what makes Crust Pasta & Pizzeria stand out to me. They entered this crowded market in 2014 and easily vaulted to the top of most best pizza lists. Their Crust Special pizza, with sausage, peppers, onions and mushrooms is amazing. And their transformation of this former boring pizza shop is stunning, fitting right in with the growing downtown Alpharetta restaurant scene. Their packed parking lot also proves that Alpharetta restaurant patrons have endorsed Crust.

Down the street is South Main Kitchen. The exploding downtown restaurant scene continued this year with the opening of this restaurant by a former Salt Factory alum. And I love that they are right across the street as well. South Main’s buildout was stunning and creative, and the food ain’t that bad either. A finalist nod here is certainly in order.

You’d have to throw something in from Avalon, however management did these restaurants a huge disservice by forcing a shotgun start on October 30th. By and large these joints were woefully unprepared and not afforded the chance to work out kinks at soft openings. Egregious service and execution problems were the result. That’s too bad because there are some gems here. I’d nominate The El Felix for this article even though I’ve only been once. Their grub stood out to me, but the prices are through the roof. We’ll open the floor for other nominations from Avalon, perhaps Bocado Burger?

We found some delicious new spots on the Alpharetta side of Johns Creek in 2014. Maverick’s Cantina has potential. You’ve got to pick around the menu a bit to find the good eats, but their fried chicken tacos really shined.

The intersection of Douglas and Jones Bridge Roads is turning into a foodie mecca. In 2014 we saw the opening of Cafe 101. Their steamed dumplings are amazing and certainly unique for this area. If you’ve not been, please go. And I’m going to nominate the little taco shack across the street. El Trompo Mexican Taqueria brought a taste of authentic street tacos to the heart of the affluent burbs. Can a cheap taco shack be mentioned in the same breath as all the outstanding and beautiful restaurants above? Indeed they can. But are they worthy of winning it all? Humm.

What is your pick for the best new Alpharetta-area restaurant of 2014? Let me know in the comments.

Forging business relationships at Avalon – DC Aiken

Back in July I wrote about Councilman DC Aiken and a preferred mortgage lender relationship he forged with a past residential zoning applicant. And just like before, an alert blog reader has brought to my attention another similar relationship. This time it’s at Avalon.

Sharp-DC Aiken

Photo from atlantarealestateforum.com

Like previously with Sharp Residential, Councilman Aiken is the preferred mortgage lender at the landmark Avalon project. Those interested in purchasing a home or townhome at Avalon will find Councilman Aiken listed individually on the sales agreement. He’s the only mortgage broker listed, the only preferred lender.

However Aiken’s relationship at Avalon differs markedly from Sharp. First and most obvious is size and scale. Avalon is a $600 million project with enormous visibility and impact. But more importantly, Aiken’s relationship existed prior to the Avalon Phase 2 vote in October and future votes related to the project. At Sharp he came in well after the matter was before Council. He also pledged to recuse from any future Sharp decisions.

But Aiken didn’t recuse himself from Avalon’s Phase 2 vote nor does he plan to recuse from discussions and votes related to the convention center. Why?

His relationship is with Avalon homebuilder Monte Hewett. According to Aiken, that extra “degree of Kevin Bacon” between himself and North American Properties separate him from any conflict. However his name appears on Avalon-branded documents and websites. Additionally he felt he didn’t need to recuse from the Phase 2 vote in October because it didn’t include for-sale residential components.

Aiken consulted the city’s attorney prior to his Phase 2 vote and felt he was in the clear. But the decision to recuse is very subjective. The City’s ethics code calls for officials to avoid the appearance of impropriety. In the past other councilmen have recused for less significant matters in the opinion of this blogger.

Remember that Avalon will continue to have business before Alpharetta’s council in the months and years ahead. The proposed public-private partnership for a convention center is being discussed behind closed doors at this very time. Other future changes are certainly possible at Avalon and conditional use permits may be required for outparcel development.

It’s my opinion that Councilman Aiken should recuse from current and future Avalon discussions and decisions so along as he continues to do business at the development. Additionally I believe Councilman Chris Owens should also recuse for reasons I wrote about involving his wife’s employer’s multimillion dollar contract at Avalon. It all begs the question… which councilmen are not doing business at Avalon?

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