Archive - July, 2015

Rumored restaurant concepts at RocaPoint’s Forsyth development

Late last night I published a long-overdue article about RocaPoint Partners’ proposed (and still unnamed) mixed-use project on McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. Scroll down or hit this link to read about the project as a whole. There’s a lot to it and a scant amount of ink has been spilled on the project.

krog street marketThe development is, at best, 18 months away from opening but the potential restaurant and retail lineup is promising. It could be the culinary shot in the arm McFarland Parkway desperately needs. After meeting with the RocaPoint guys a few times, I’ve been able to glean a few nuggets worth sharing.

First and foremost is an upscale food hall. Comparisons to Atlanta’s Krog Street Market started immediately. Several small chef-driven concepts would exist in an open market setting along the main vista in the development. The RocaPoint guys suggest they have this concept in the bag, the lease essentially already signed for their McFarland development.

Along the Ronald Reagan Parkway portion of the development will be a few free-standing restaurant buildings. Among them may be a Mexican concept with a rooftop bar. Rumor is that it will be Pure Taqueria from Alpharetta’s Sedgwick Restaurant Group although Cinco has a concept meeting this description at nearby Vickery Village.

A small movie theater is promised in the development, one that features a dining component similar to Studio Movie Grill.

An organic grocery store is planned on the corner of McFarland and Ronald Reagan Parkways. The chances are good this will end up being Sprouts. Like at Avalon, grocery stores in mixed-use developments insist on surface parking lots, even though structured parking will abound. RocaPoint actually plans an expensive underground structured parking deck at the development, but the grocery store will have a parking lot.

The site plan depicts several other restaurant locations but no other names or concepts have been suggested. This developer has a resume deep with restaurant development experience. If they can pull off this mixed-use project then I have no doubt they can land some quality grub. And hopefully a successful restaurant scene would be contagious to the surrounding properties.

Photo credit: Christina Kwan (creative commons)

RocaPoint seeks to bring mixed-use project to McFarland Parkway

What promises to be the largest mixed-use development in Forsyth County may come to McFarland Parkway. The yet unnamed project from RocaPoint Partners would mix residential, commercial and hotel uses at the southwest corner of GA-400 and McFarland Parkway and hopefully elevate this neglected portion of the county. But the project certainly isn’t without concern.

RocapointThe development would sit on 134 acres, 43 of which are unbuildable thanks to being in wetlands near Big Creek. 430 apartments are planned, some of which are senior living. 92 single family homes and 168 attached homes are also included bringing the total residential component to 690 units. The amount of commercial footprint varies from a minimum of 250,000 square feet up to a max of 550,000. Two hotel properties are included but will likely be suite products and not full-service.

Six years ago this parcel was zoned mixed-used (or MPD in the Forsyth UDC parlance). The plan was largely a strip mall concept with big-box retailers and apartments. A few years ago the plans were amended to permit apartments to be built without a commercial component. Today you can see these large and undesirable garden-style apartments along Ronald Reagan Parkway. Commercial development remained elusive.

RocaPoint’s concept is promising and unique for a few reasons. First, it potentially pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into McFarland Parkway. This is desperately needed.

Second, the developer would pay for a short extension to the Big Creek Greenway. The new path would extend behind the residential portion of the development and end at a newly constructed trailhead on Ronald Reagan Parkway with more parking and a new bathroom. But more important than this, it links the trail system up to a commercial development, something akin to the Atlanta Beltline. This is certainly more forward than Alpharetta’s near-term plans for its greenway.

The project is promised to be upscale. They’ve inked partnerships with noted mixed-use architect Lew Oliver and homebuilder Monte Hewett. In a public meeting Oliver made the bold claim that this development will be “more sophisticated than Avalon”.

And that gets into the concerns on the project. While this blogger would love to see an Avalon-like development in his backyard, comparisons to Alpharetta’s crown jewel are certainly premature and probably overly optimistic. Here’s why.

First, the commercial development is anemic compared to Avalon. RocaPoint is way too heavy on residential, in particular on the southern end of the property. Forsyth’s planning staff agreed and suggested a smaller residential footprint, a suggestion the Planning Commission unfortunately ignored this week when they signed off on all 690 residential units.

Second, the property is awkward in layout. The developer couldn’t get the Wendy’s restaurant and gas station properties under contract so the project wraps around them. The entire development is bisected by Ronald Regan Parkway, a four-lane divided road that isn’t exactly a walkable road to traverse.

Third, the hotel properties are lower end and not full service. They are some distance away from the commercial core. Office space is also less than Avalon.

RocaPoint lacks experience with projects of this significance. It poses a risk that the deal could fall through, something that weighs heavy on the minds of those concerned about granting more apartment entitlements on McFarland. A great deal of effort was expended to condition the project’s residential component to be high-end, appealing to rich empty nesters. Hopefully, like at Avalon, the price point will be high enough to discourage residents with children from moving in and adding to already overcrowded schools. But if RocaPoint skips town or goes belly up, all bets are off.

And finally, this project is flying way under the radar. By the time Avalon was at the Planning Commission stage, the North American Properties PR and branding machine was in full force and everyone was talking. There has been scant coverage in the media for RocaPoint. The derelict reporting in this Forsyth County News article last week was embarrassing and lacking of detail. Is there a reason this is being considered and approved in a vacuum?

Nevertheless, the principals at RocaPoint have been pleasant and professional to this concerned citizen, even when pushed hard in negotiations. They’ve not resorted to name-calling like their counterparts at North American Properties. That goes a long way. And while they don’t have mixed-use experience, these guys have worked in the restaurant development business. The potential restaurant lineup here is very promising, something we’ll write about tomorrow.

While there is a lot to be concerned about in the RocaPoint development, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of McFarland Parkway. That can’t be all bad.

Cook Out – Haynes Bridge

Haynes Bridge Road between GA-400 and downtown has been a graveyard for restaurants over the years. The only real success has been Village Tavern. The Varsity has been there but for the life of me I can’t figure out why it’s still open. No one is ever there and the food is terrible. It’s cheap eats, plain burgers, chili dogs and onion rings. Maybe it’s there because there’s really no other option.

CookOutRestaurantWell, the fat lady may be warming up for the Varsity since Cook Out opened nearly next door a few months ago. We have a new king for cheap eats in Alpharetta, and you know what? The food’s actually pretty good.

We went to Cook Out about a week after it opened, and it was a madhouse. All the tables were full, the line was out the door and the staff was scrambling to keep up with demand. People were going crazy!

Burgers, chicken breasts, sandwiches, hot dogs and wraps are the main items. It’s basic stuff but everything I’ve had has been done well. The chili dogs kick the stuffing out of the Varsity’s. The burgers have a smokey grilled flavor like you’d get at a, you know, cook out.

The fries are nothing special but you’re not stuck with them as the only option for side items. Onion rings, fried okra, hush puppies and slaw round out an impressive list. The onion rings were most likely not freshly prepared but weren’t bad. My favorite side is the bacon wrap. It’s bacon, cheese, lettuce and a ranch sauce wrapped in a flour tortilla. Yeah, it tastes better than you can imagine.

Cook Out has only one combo on the menu. It’s called the Cook Out Tray and is declared the “Best Combo in Alpharetta”. I have to say, it’s hard to argue. Choose a main entree, two sides and a drink or Coke float. All of that food costs a whopping five bucks. It really is the best combo in Alpharetta.

In fact, everything on the menu is crazy cheap. Five chicken nuggets for 99 cents, chicken wraps for $1.79, hot dogs for 99 cents, chili cheese fries for $1.85. Heck, the most expensive burger is the “huge” burger for $3.39. The food I’ve had has not reflected the prices. It’s all been pretty good. And with those prices, that’s a deadly combination.

Save room for a milkshake. I recommend the fresh peanut butter. It took me twenty minutes to get a taste up through the straw, it’s that thick and creamy.

One more item that’s at Cook Out that isn’t found in a lot of other places is Cheerwine. Cook Out is a chain that’s based in North Carolina, the home base of Cheerwine. It’s a really good cherry flavored soda. Give it a try.

And Cook Out is open late! It’s the perfect late night grub alternative to Waffle House. I’ve seen people eating there at midnight on a weeknight. What was I doing there? Milkshake cravings, man. You can’t fight em.

The combination of decent food, insane prices and long hours have made Cook Out the champion of cheap eats in Alpharetta. Your days are numbered, Varsity. Whaddya have, whaddya have, whaddya have? I’ll have Cook Out, thanks.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – July 2015

I have a theory about doughnuts. They’re the trend in Alpharetta right now. New shops will open in just about every corner of the city.

First up is Delightful Donuts which opened a month ago in the former Scratch location (yes, in Milton). This joint is remarkably similar to Sweet Apple on McGinnis Ferry, selling product probably made from a mix. Oh and they have those pigs in a blanket too as well as a small line of DaVinci ripoffs, mini cake doughnuts with cereal toppings.

A much more promising store to watch is Donut Theory which is building out in the same shopping center as Bite on Kimball Bridge and Webb Bridge Way. Their website and Facebook page promise refined and made-from-scratch doughnuts. Cooking from pre-made commercial  mixes is common at every joint in town save one – Dutch Monkey in Cumming. So obviously these comparisons should be made immediately.

Baldinos Giant Jersey Subs is set to open a restaurant near Scratch on Highway 9 in Milton. They have a handful of other stores in metro Atlanta. Del Taco is still in talks to open up the street in front of Aldi. And rounding out our tour of Milton is Moctezuma Mexican Grill which will open in the former Bobby G’s location at Webb and Morris Roads. That name is uncomfortably similar to a certain colloquial term known to bathroom-weary travelers south of the border. What are they thinking?

And speaking of the runs, look for Tacos on the Run to open in the former Quiznos location near Costco. An Indian joint called Dancing Mouth was set to open here but plans fell through.

Texas-based Black Walnut Grill will soon begin construction of a new free-standing restaurant on the corner of Windward and North Point Parkway. Additional locations are planned in Dunwoody and Peachtree Corners. The casual restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in the $8-13 range. Given the prime location and growing cubicle dweller lunchtime business, this restaurant should be a hit.

Kickshaw Japanese Style Tavern appears to have kicked the bucket. The restaurant was beautiful but lacked visibility. Close proximity to popular Campania wasn’t enough of a boost.

Opening since last month is LottaFrutta at Avalon as well as Bawarchi Biryani Point Indian Cuisine near Northpoint Mall.

Big thanks to Mike Christensen for his help with this article.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.
Mugs on Milton – Second location for this indy coffee joint to open in Crabapple, former Scoops location.
Varasano’s Pizzeria - Coming to the back entrance of North Point Mall. Opening delayed to Spring 2016.
Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina – Still waiting on their construction to begin at the former Uncle Madio’s space on Windward.
The Real Chow Baby – Stir fry joint coming soon to downtown Alpharetta.
Windward Tavern – Building in the former Cinco’s on McGinnis Ferry near Publix.
Anabella’s Table – Mom and pop French joint coming to the former Cosmic Deli location on Windward.
Flavor Juicery – Juice bar opening near Bite on Kimball Bridge.

How Far Would You Go?

Over the last several years writing for this blog, I have seen the Alpharetta restaurant scene evolve from a chain wasteland to a thriving, diverse, indy hip place. Yes, there are a great number of pizza parlors. A lot of them have really good pizza and different styles from Neapolitan to stuffed Chicago style to classic NYC pies. The taquerias, the brew pubs, the Indian places, we’ve got ‘em all.

Sometimes, though, when I cruise through downtown, Windward Parkway, or even across 400 to the “other” side, I want what I can’t have. I want restaurants that don’t have a location in our area, places where I love to eat that aren’t close by. Lots of really great places from around Atlanta have opened Alpharetta locations. Antico at Avalon, Cafe at Pharr on Windward (psst, it’s near Firefly under the trees. You still don’t see it? It’s ok, sadly not many will find it), Big Pie in the Sky on Mansell. Ok, that last one isn’t that great, but you get the idea.

Many people I’ve spoken to don’t want to drive a long way to visit one of these spots, and by a long way I mean Cumming is too far. Come on guys, it’s a couple of exits north and there are some really good options. Georgio’s for example. Excellent Italian and Greek food. Plus that guy from the Bachlorette’s family runs the place, so you’ll probably see him.

Bub-ba-q logoThere are places that I will make the drive to because I love them so much and can’t get them here in Alpharetta. Bub-ba-Q is one of them. They have locations in Jasper and in Woodstock, each is about 30 miles from my front door. I will make that drive. Yes, Cue and Grand Champion BBQ are good and a lot closer, but the ribs at Bub-ba-Q are something to behold. Skip the sauce and order them dry. They’re tender, but not fall off the bone sloppy. The millions of competition trophies littering the place are testament enough that this is Q worth the journey. I don’t go on a regular basis, and folks say I’m nuts for spending 40 minutes in the truck to get there, but I don’t apologize when my mouth is full of delicious ribs.

There are a handful of other spots scattered throughout the metro that I visit. Guthrie’s and the Mad Italian in Dunwoody. The buffalo chicken pizza at the Mad Italian draws me down to the perimeter every time. I was sad when the one on Windward closed. My wife went to Alabama (Roll Tide), so Guthrie’s is a staple to her.

There was a frozen custard place in Tucker called Sheridans that we went to all the time. It closed several years ago, and with it, went the best desert place I can think of. Creamy custard made on site mixed with fresh fruit and toppings or blended into a smoothie was the best. Wild cherry mango was my smoothie of choice. Can we get a custard place up here please?

Let’s not forget the 57th Fighter Group and the Downwind at PDK. Sometimes the drive down 400 isn’t pleasant, but the view at these Atlanta institutions always is.

What are the faraway places that you will make the trek for to get some good grub? How far do you travel to answer the siren song of your favorite place? Now is your chance to voice your desires for the next restaurant to either pull up stakes and transfer to Alpharetta or to open a new location. Comment, and we’ll see just how far you go for that elusive meal.

Dutch Monkey Doughnut’s 6th annual doughnut eating contest

The 2011 DMD doughnut eating champion

The 2011 DMD doughnut eating champion

Dutch Monkey Doughnut’s annual doughnut eating contest, the premier competitive eating contest for our area, is tomorrow. My son has entered the kid contest this year and is determined to win. Then again, this is the only chance he has each year to face plant into an extra gooey doughnut. What fun! My daughter refuses to attend after she witnessed a very young competitor have a roman incident last year.

The adult contest is all about speed, endurance and gluttony. We’re told three-time winner The Guru of Glaze has retired from the contest so a new champion will be crowned.

What: The 6th Annual Independence Day Doughnut Eating Contest
Where: Dutch Monkey Doughnuts, 3075 Ronald Reagan Pkwy, across from The Avenue Forsyth The Collection at Forsyth
When: Saturday July 4th, noon
Why: Why not? Proceeds will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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