Archive - May, 2015

Competitive Eating in North Fulton

I was a devote of the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food. I loved to see if host/victim Adam Richman would complete whatever food related challenge that was presented to him in the various cities he would visit. I’m sure all of us have wondered from time to time, could I eat a giant insert-type-of-food-here? Could I stand the insanely hot habenero/ghost chili wings?

The 2011 DMD doughnut eating champion

The 2011 Dutch Monkey doughnut eating champion

I’ve scouted out three local eating challenges that will put your gastric talents to the test for glory, or at least a t-shirt.

Lucky’s Burger & Brew – Roswell

Travel a little south of Holcomb Bridge and take on the Grim Reaper Challenge. Don’t let the name scare you, let the size of this massive burger scare you. It’s a four pound burger patty with eight slices of American cheese, 12 strips applewood smoked bacon, seven fried eggs, mound of onion rings and mayonnaise served on a specially made challah bun. Eat it by yourself and not die and you’ll win $250 and a t-shirt. Eat it with a friend and Lucky’s will cover the cost of the burger ($40). If any more participants join in, there is no prize, just heartburn. No one has completed the one or two person challenge to date. According to the person at Lucky’s I spoke to, there are an average of two to three challenges a month.

Big Pie in the Sky – Mansell Road

Fans of MvF have seen this monster of a pizza called the Carnivore Challenge featured several years ago. That was the Kennesaw location. You can take on this pizza at the Mansell location too. It’s eleven pounds of pizza covered in meat, meat and more meat. Two people get an hour to polish it off with no leaving, no heaving (if you do, you have to clean it up) and no breaks. Adam failed when his partner vomited. Seven teams have completed the challenge so far including a man and a woman team. Now that’s a real woman! I’m in love.

Tom and Chee – North Point

The seemingly innocent tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich shop next to the dainty Chicken Salad Chick holds a dark secret – the grilled cheese doughnut. Take a glazed doughnut, slice it in half, flip it around, slap on some cheese and toss it onto the flat top. If that sounds gross to you, you’re crazy. These things are delicious. And if you really like these grilled cheese doughnuts, you can enter the Baker’s Dozen Challenge. The name is pretty self explanatory – eat 13 grilled cheese doughnuts in ten minutes. I would be interested in trying, but wolfing down nearly 7,000 calories in ten minutes? No thanks.

I tried to eat a huge burrito dubbed El Gigante when I was in high school. I cried no mas and was sent home in shame. I try to convince my wife to let me enter the annual Dutch Monkey Doughnuts eating contest, but to no avail. If anyone has or will try one of these contests, please let me know. I want to be there to cheer you on. And to dial 9-1-1 if necessary.

Is reloville back?

Yesterday was bittersweet. I watched as a ten year old little girl tearfully said goodbye to my daughter. They’d spent one last afternoon together at Build-a-Bear making each other a bear. Then they exchanged addresses and promised to write, call and email. Another weepy exchange and she was gone, relocating with her family to suburban Charlotte.

reloville book coverMy daughter’s BFF will be alright as I’m sure she’ll make new friends. But it was sad to watch the exchange. It brought back the topic that inspired the name of this blog, this New York Times article by Peter Kilborn on the rootless relos of Alpharetta. It was published almost exactly ten years ago but is still as relevant as ever. It later became a book. Both are worth a read.

Each member of my family lost a friend recently to reloville. My son’s best friend from school moved to Florida earlier this spring. My wife’s best buddy is moving her family to Dalton in a few weeks. And my good friend and co-worker left our company for a work from home gig. Having no deep ties here and freedom to work anywhere, he’s seriously considering a move back to South Carolina.

Are Alpharetta’s reloville days returning now that the economy is improving? It’s a possibility. New home construction is on the rebound which suggests people are again moving about. Kilborn called them suburban executive nomads, picking up their families every few years to follow the latest professional opportunity. They don’t establish roots in the community and have no hometown.

Alpharetta’s leaders talk of creating a “hometown”. It’s a word thrown out usually when speaking of downtown plans. It’s a worthy goal to create a hometown feel, but overcoming reloville is tough, something they will not be successful in combating. “#1 Reloville” is a moniker Alpharett’s earned over a few generations now. It’s here to stay, unlike many families.

Or maybe it’s just my family’s coincidence, having the reloville bug bite us like this. It’s just been a bummer of a few weeks in the Guy household. Saying goodbye to friends is never easy.

Four Fat Cows Ice Cream Parlor – Main Street

We all scream for ice cream. In the blazing, humid dog days of summer in the South, nothing hits the spot quite like a cold, creamy bowl of ice cream. Alpharetta has had a lack of ice cream sources. We’ve got cakes, cupcakes and French pastries but the only place to get ice cream was Dairy Queen or Brusters. Frankly, that’s sad. We deserve better.

Four Fat Cows logoThat’s what owner Robyn Rowles thought when a small house on North Main Street became available.  The Oregon native and owner of Tin Roof Kitchen really had no ice cream experience save for making an occasional batch at home. That sounds scary but what she lacks in experience she makes up for with passion, drive and dream.

Robyn opened Tin Roof Kitchen last year. A mecca for gluten free diners, it has become a success. The main reason for the gluten free menu is Robyn and two of her four kids have Celiac Disease. Helping people with Celiac Disease or food allergies have a place where they have a wide range of safe food options is extremely important to Robyn. Much of this effort is carried over to Four Fat Cows. Gluten free cones are available and coconut milk-based ice creams are there for those with dairy problems.

The space has a quaint, small town feel. The ice cream takes center stage of course but there are toys, puzzles, games, balls, stuffed animals, soaps and bath products, snacks and Georgia sourced jams, jellies and honey to occupy you while you consume your frozen treat. The idea is to have people just hang out and have fun not just grab and go. There’s something special when neighbors get together while the kids play, all hopped up on sugar. It reminded me of a time long gone. It’s great to see it in Alpharetta. But browsing is pretty much all I did as the prices are steep on some of the items.

Look as hard as you can, but you will find no ice cream machines in house. While Four Fat Cows uses their own recipes, they leave the heavy churning to Greenwood’s Ice Cream on Peachtree Industrial. They supply ice cream to many of Atlanta’s finest restaurants. Four Fat Cows uses a higher fat content and lower sugar content, which gives the ice cream a fuller, creamier, thicker mouth feel. There’s not a lot of air, so the ice cream tends to stick around longer to let you absorb the flavor.

And speaking of flavors, there’s a ton to choose from. My personal favorite was the key lime pie. Chunks of crust along with an extra blast of lime tartness made my mouth happy. I’ve had the chocolate overload and the peanut butter cup. Both were winners. Next on my list will be the bourbon butter pecan. Just saying the name makes me drool. Sizes range from the baby cup, perfect for kiddies, all the way to the pint sized behemoth. Not sure even I could handle a whole pint of this goodness.

It’s ok to look past the ice cream, though. Four Fat Cows also has sundaes, shakes, floats, Counter Culture Coffee, Italian sodas, phosphates and lemonades. Baked goods are also in the works. They are currently open 3-9 PM Monday through Friday, and 11 AM to 9 PM Saturday and Sunday, but Robyn says that expanded Summer hours are not far away. Don’t look for them to slow down when Winter comes. Robyn has plans to shift the menu a bit to add soups and hot and sipping chocolates.

Four Fat Cows is a welcome addition to Alpharetta’s growing restaurant scene. The ice cream is outstanding, the atmosphere welcoming and the service has been top notch every time I’ve visited. You will most likely run into Robyn’s oldest son Brenden behind the counter. He’s got the staff whipped into shape. No slouching or texting employees here. And in case you were wondering, the four cows in the logo are yes, Robyn’s children. Yet none of them are fat. In fact, one of them is in fine shape. Must be cutting back on the ice cream. Check out Four Fat Cows this summer for the finest ice cream in Alpharetta.

Four Fat Cows is located at 64 North Main Street next to Mittie’s Tea Room.

Musings on City Center, openness and growing dichotomies

On Monday night Alpharetta’s city council approved the rezoning of city center in a vote that roughly fell along “party lines.” It was the usual establishment politicians against a small faction of homeowner-friendly councilmen. I regret not writing much about this process as it unfolded. My time has been pressed recently. But here are some random thoughts on the subject.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Woodstock be praised. Alpharetta covets what they have done and has sough in many ways to emulate it. Alpharetta’s council has done everything from touring downtown Woodstock multiple times to poaching staff from that city’s planning department. Now Alpharetta is creating a sweetheart deal for Woodstock’s developer.

There are still questionable issues with the selection process in this deal, almost all of which took place in secret. Alpharetta’s become adept at leveraging bidding and procurement processes to hide important decisions. Send out a request for qualifications, ask your favorite developer to bid on it and the rest of the process stays safely behind closed doors and away from the prying eyes of the public and citizen journalists. Make sure you never have a quorum of council members involved and don’t form official committees so open meeting laws don’t apply. Deny open records requests and stand firm knowing that those requesting don’t have the financial means to challenge it in court. You can even take votes in private, something which admittedly happened with city center.

MidCity’s development of downtown will be subsidized by the Alpharetta taxpayer. They openly admitted in the zoning meeting that these developments are among the most expensive to build and potentially least profitable to operate. It doesn’t help that the buildings will be built on shifting sand, both literally and figuratively. The soil under these apartments isn’t ideal for four story buildings. It makes the real estate less valuable to a builder, something the city will have to adjust for. The developer will also get the added bonus of using the municipal parking deck for their apartment residents.

In the end, I suspect we’ll find out that MidCity will purchase the property for a song. What that price will be is anyone’s guess because, as above, the city hasn’t been forthcoming with details on the negotiations.

Then there’s the whole city center plan versus what was presented to the voters. I spoke in detail with Mayor Belle Isle about this issue last week. In his mind the bond referendum was about municipal buildings, namely the city hall and parking deck. It wasn’t about the city center development plan at all. His comments show a growing dichotomy between those on council and the public who were pitched and sold a far less intense downtown than what is being built. Alpharetta voters can be justifiably upset about this.

Then there are apartments. They are becoming a necessary evil if you are to build mixed use projects like this due to financing constraints. It’s caused Alpharetta to abandon their CLUP’s suggested apartment to house ratio. This council has now approved about 700 apartments. And the precedent is already set. Peridot, the extremely dense project on Haynes Bridge Road, is now asking for apartments at their development. Then again, in a few years the lending market will again shift and someone will break these apartments up and sell as condos.

In the end, I think Alpharetta could have done a lot better downtown and they certainly could have been more open with the process. But it’s clear this is the project the city’s leaders want. Damn the torpedoes it’s full speed ahead on downtown.

Downtown restaurant growth, reaching critical mass or saturation?

“Downtown starts with a restaurant scene.”

That’s what Mayor David Belle Isle told me this week when I sat down to interview him one morning over coffee at Mugs on Milton. Downtown was on my mind, as it is for many. Next week I hope to write more on his comments regarding the City Center project. But a lot of downtown hinges on restaurants. It also dovetails nicely into this Friday column.

We’ve watched with pleasure the growth of Alpharetta’s downtown restaurant scene over the years. But the rapid growth is starting to concern me. By my count there are 18 restaurants within the business district of downtown. The proposed City Center project from MidCity Partners would add eight restaurants. The Alpharetta Lofts project has two restaurants, one with an announced tenant of Chow Baby. A project adjacent to that includes two restaurant locations.

So if you’re keeping score at home, that’s 18 open now plus 12 proposed in new projects for a total of 30 restaurants. If you want to keep going we can speculate on a few other restaurant conversion projects. I’ve heard rumors that the Kell Building, former home to the Blind Murphy growler store, could see a restaurant conversion. There are a number of old homes along Roswell and Old Roswell Streets that could be candidates too.

Mayor Belle Isle is keep score as well. He’s touting that downtown has grown from two to twelve restaurants during his tenure as mayor. It’s been more than that on both ends of the measure. But is it too much too fast?

The amount of restaurant space relative to retail, office or residential in downtown far exceeds that of Avalon or any other similar project. Is it sustainable? Is there a saturation point of restaurants downtown such that exceeding it results in vacancies? And do these vacancies happen in front of city hall or on the town green?

To Mayor Belle Isle it’s all about reaching a critical mass, and we’re not there yet by his estimation. His goal is to make downtown the destination. Rather than leave your home with one particular restaurant in mind, he wants you to drive to downtown then have the “honey, where do you want to eat” conversation.

He also envisions multiple concepts from the same restauranteurs, something that’s started with the Sedgwicks with Pure Taqueria and Made Kitchen and Cocktails. Perhaps F&H could add a second concept to complement Salt Factory.

“We’ve been a catalyst for a lot of it,” Belle Isle said when I asked him how involved the city has been recruiting restaurants. “First there was the promise of downtown that’s not yet here. Then special events got people introduced to downtown. Next, Foodtruck Alley got people in the habit of going downtown. It’s proven to restaurants there is demand and that we can do this. These restaurants have come because there is demand.”

But the city’s been more involved than the mayor will admit. Economic development staff have been knocking on restaurant doors in Roswell for a few years now, selling the vision and encouraging expansion our way. And city grant money exists for development downtown. There are city incentive dollars for everything from building improvements to facade changes, awnings and even street furniture. It’s only available downtown.

But it’s been a nice ride thus far and Mayor Belle Isle can be justifiably proud of the restaurant scene in downtown today. But the question I pose is this – when do we reach that critical mass for restaurants downtown? Are we there now? Have we crossed it? Will City Center push us past that saturation point where it all becomes unsustainable? Or are Alpharetta gastronomes hungry enough to keep this restaurant train chugging down the tracks for years to come?

Alpharetta Restaurant News – May 2015

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

Chow BabyYou’ve got to be a brick-and-mortar restaurant to have a booth at Taste of Alpharetta, or at least have a location in the works. That’s been a requirement from the get go for Alpharetta’s festival and it was why I pointed out Chow Baby last week. They’ve been on our radar since December when they abruptly closed their midtown Atlanta location with a hint of reopening in Alpharetta. Since that time it’s been crickets.

Turns out Chow Baby planted their Taste of Alpharetta booth squarely in front of where they will eventually open – The Alpharetta Lofts on Canton Street. If you’re not familiar with the project, it is a building of condos over retail that will be loved by millennials parents of millennials. Last night the restaurant was talking up a possible August opening. That date seems aggressive as I’d put it later in the Fall.

Also at Taste last night was Four Fat Cows, a new ice cream parlor that’s already open at the corner of Main and Church Streets in downtown. A new ice cream parlor is a welcomed addition in this waning phase of the fro-yo movement, but I’m still holding out for someone to open a craft ice cream concept in Alpharetta.

After a little less than a year in business, Sip Wine & Tapas abruptly closed their location at The Collection in Forsyth County. Their original store in Crabapple has been closed for renovations for some time now. We had high hopes for Sip in Forsyth, especially at this location. But it’s safe to declare this spot as Forsyth’s most cursed restaurant building. Future restauranteurs should open here at their own risk.

MondoLogo-01Opening since last month is Mondo Pizza Kitchen on Highway 9 in Milton. Much like where Sip was located, this space hasn’t proven to be golden. But Mondo’s has a shot here with an upscale Italian concept lead by chef Greg DeMichiel. You’ll recognize this name as he’s been on reality television. He’s also worked at… wait for it… Sip Wine and Tapas!

The Bowl – Updated American Cuisine is set to open in about two weeks in the former Wok & Chopsticks location on Old Milton Parkway. It appears to be an Asian family peddling this concept with a menu that includes grub like beef stroganoff.

Buildout has started for LottaFrutta at Avalon. Look for their fresh fruit cups this summer. And if they are like their counterparts nearby, this fruit will cost a lotta moolah.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen - Opening very soon in Milton near Target.
Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.
Starbucks – Tiny new free-standing location coming to Haynes Bridge near the mall.
Bawarchi Biryani Point Indian Cuisine – Replacing Mayuri in the old Pizza Hut near the mall.
CamiCakes – Another cupcake joint, North Point near REI.
Mugs on Milton – Second location for this indy coffee joint to open in Crabapple, former Scoops location.
The Farmhouse – Extremely slow progress on this coffee shop in Johns Creek.
Cafe at Pharr – Also slow but steady progress on their new location off Windward.
Varasano’s Pizzeria - Coming to the back entrance of North Point Mall.
Salsarita’s Fresh CantinaComing to the former Uncle Madio’s space on Windward. Buildout has not started.

Taste of Alpharetta 2015 – a preview

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

POSTCARD-FRONT-2-6x9-Taste-of-Alpharetta-New-2015Wow, this one sneaked up on us. Amid everything going on right now, Taste of Alpharetta quietly showed up on the calendar. It’s next week!

Shame on you if you don’t know of this event. It’s basically you and about 40,000 of your closest friends all piled into charming downtown Alpharetta to taste little vittles from scores of restaurants. Each year I do a preview article, even though last year I didn’t go. And I probably won’t go this year either.

Why? It’s mainly because I’ve tried just about every restaurant on this list. Chances are you have too. Scoping out new joints is our schtick here. Plus I have a family commitment that night anyway.

There’s always a handful of new restaurants looking to make a splash at Taste of Alpharetta. Here are a few I personally would spend a few tickets on as well as a list of glaring absences.

Mondo’s Pizza Kitchen – They are about to open any day now on Highway 9 in Milton. Here’s your early chance to get the inside story on their menu. I’ve heard this place may have promise.

Real Chow Baby – Did a double take seeing this name on the list. They closed their flagship restaurant in Atlanta several months ago with a promise to open here in Alpharetta. But as of now we’ve seen no evidence that a restaurant is in the works, unless they are outside of Alpharetta proper. Go try their stir fry and ask when and where they will be. And someone send me a tweet with the answer please!

Four Fat Cows Ice Cream – Graze on over to these guys for dessert. They are soon to open on Main Street near Mittie’s Tea Room. I’m excited to try a new ice cream joint in town and have high expectations on the quality of the product. Hope they can deliver. Again, someone send me the scoop!

Oak Steakhouse and Colletta – Wow, they will let the great unwashed at the food festival try their eats without a corporate AMEX? Here’s your chance! Goldbergs and Kona are the only other Avalon restaurants at Taste. Disappointed that El Felix isn’t there. And no-shows from Bantam + Biddy, Antico, Bocado and the others?

Also missing this year are the darlings of downtown – Salt Factory and South Main Kitchen. Perhaps they will do something curbside at their restaurants? Between these guys and the Avalon absence, there are some noticeable gaps in the lineup this year.

That’s pretty much all that stands out this year. Milton’s is always there and worthy of your tickets. Others I’d try include Ceviche, Bite and Noche from Johns Creek.

My only other advice is to get there very early, perhaps before the official 5:00 start. The place is elbow-to-elbow by 7.

Taste of Alpharetta is on Thursday May 7th starting at 5:00pm in downtown Alpharetta.

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