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The chain restaurant rumor mill

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

I wrote not long ago about locally-run eateries that are good replacements for chain restaurants. Let’s turn that article on its head and talk about chain joints. And to make things more difficult, let’s get predictive. Which chains or franchise restaurants may soon open new locations in the Alpharetta area?

I’ll preface the article by saying that my restaurant crystal ball has proven to be rather cloudy over the years. Rarely do my predictions come to fruition so take these ideas with a grain of salt, or perhaps file them away in the rumor bin.

FirebirdsWe’ll start off at the higher end. Charlotte-based Firebirds Wood Fired Grill serves hand-cut steaks, chicken, seafood and ribs cooked over wood-burning grills. They operate 36 locations throughout the southeast but none in Georgia at this time. I’ve heard rumors they are eying Alpharetta, in particular the new Atwater development across the street from Avalon. No definitive plans are in the works though so we’ll keep it at that. But it could be interesting to see how they fare against the restaurants in Avalon itself.

Expect a few more franchise sandwich chains to appear in town before too long. I’ve got my eye on two in particular. First is Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop. Last year the Las Vegas-based chain announced a franchise agreement that would bring stores to our area. Since then only a Duluth location has opened but Alpharetta is promised.

And in the same genre, Penn Station East Coast Subs could arrive. This month they announced a franchise deal with potential stores in Alpharetta, Cumming, Roswell and Johns Creek. They already have Atlanta-area stores in Suwanee and Druid Hills. Their made-to-order deli sandwiches probably won’t get too many foodies excited, but their website touts a good Philly cheesesteak, a sammich lacking in this area.

The burger craze is far from burning out and new fast-casual chains could still make an appearance in Alpharetta. While west Windward is thick with burgers, downtown Alpharetta is ripe for a concept. I also think Old Milton Parkway’s east end could support one and possible another near the mall. As for who might make an appearance? Florida-based Burger 21 announced Alpharetta plans years ago but got caught flat footed. Eventually they finalized plans to open at Johns Creek Promenade, a new shopping center coming out of the ground now along Peachtree Parkway. I’m also watching Texas-based Grub Burger Bar, Grindhouse Killer Burgers and Zinburger. All three have ITP locations and could consider making the jump north.

And finally we get to fast food. Watch out for Del Taco. I’ve heard credible rumors that they are eying a location in Milton along Highway 9 near Target or Aldi. And chicken fryer Bojangles doesn’t have a presence in our area even though they are slowly growing their exposure to the Atlanta market. I’ve seen their name penciled in for a few spots around town but none have materialized.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – April 2015

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

A new burrito joint may soon be rolling into town. Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina has plans to open at 5215 Windward Parkway in the former Uncle Maddio’s space. Started in Charlotte in 2000, the fast-casual Mexican concept is rapidly expanding through franchising. Currently they are in 19 states but curiously not in Georgia. That’s about to change.

salsaritas logoThe company at one time had a location in Savannah but closed it in 2013. This year they plan to test that Savannah market again with a new store. Their Windward location will be the first in metro Atlanta but they promise several more.

The location is an interesting pick and has proven to be unsuccessful to a few chains. Mini burger purveyor Krystal tried a test concept called K-Cafe here a few years ago. And of course there’s Uncle Maddio’s and their slow death spiral. A source very close to this piece of real estate once suggested to me that Your Pie was interested in the space but that didn’t come to fruition.

Then there’s the competitors. Chipotle, Qdoba and Moe’s have all had a long presence on Windward Parkway. How will Salsarita’s compare?

Avalon recently announced on social media that Chick-fil-A will open at the mixed use development. There were rumors of this years ago when Avalon was first zoned. However another Chick-fil-A operator once told me he didn’t think it would happen due to the real estate being too expensive. So the announcement came as a bit of a surprise to me, albeit a welcomed one. Avalon needs a cheaper food alternative.

That’s about it for restaurant news this month. Since last month Cookout opened on Haynes Bridge, but based on the crowds I think everyone in town has been there already. And Senior Fajitas Mexican Grill has opened on Highway 9 and McFarland in south Forsyth.

Restaurants Coming Soon

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.
Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen - Coming soon to Milton in the old pretzel store near Target.
Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.
Mondo’s Pizza Kitchen – Coming to Highway 9 in Milton in the original Zola Bistro location.
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.
Pura Enchilada Taqueria - Coming to Jones Bridge in Johns Creek.
Varasano’s Pizzeria - New buildout within North Point Mall. Construction has not started.

Show Me the Money – Alpharetta’s most expensive steak

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

I recently received a $100 gift card to one of Atlanta’s fine dining establishments. Reading the menu online made me realize that a hundred bucks wasn’t going to cut it. It got me thinking, where in Alpharetta would a sawbuck not be enough? Continuing on that line of thought lead me to want to find the most expensive single menu item in Alpharetta.

oak steakhouse logoThere aren’t a ton of “$$$$” priced places up here. As expected, most of them are steakhouses. If you want a prime slab of cow, you’re gonna pay for it. Cabernet, Ruth’s Chris, and Viande Rouge in Johns Creek all are candidates. Keep in mind, the steak joints are all al a carte, which is French for “You ain’t gettin’ nothin with that”. All sides are extra, so we’re just talking the price for one steak.

So, who’s steak will cause your wallet to cry for mercy? The most expensive menu item in Alpharetta isn’t in any of the above mentioned places. The distinction belongs to none other than Avalon’s Oak Steakhouse. Its “Master Purveyors of NYC 24oz. Dry Aged CAB® Prime Bone-In Ribeye” is far and away the most expensive steak I’ve ever seen at $85. You read that right. In fact, three of the five steaks offered are $50 and over. I’m sure the Millennials will be lining up to drop that kind of cash on dinner.

Ruth’s Chris and Cabernet barely touch the $50 mark and Vinny’s on Windward isn’t even in the discussion. Oak’s got them all beat. I’m sure the steak is good, but really, who’s going to fork over that much money? That’s a “I earned my PhD” or “I was just elected President” or “I really want to sleep with my date so I’ll try to impress her” kind of a meal. Would even an expense account justify that price? Maybe it’s one of those menu items like the Ol’ 96er or the 10 pound burrito where no one really orders it, but the restaurant has bragging rights. Well, go ahead and brag, Oak Steakhouse, you’ve got the most expensive menu item in Alpharetta.

Varasano’s Pizzeria coming to North Point Mall

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

You’ll soon have a reason to eat at North Point Mall again. Atlanta’s highly lauded Varasano’s Pizzeria is planing to open a location inside Alpharetta’s mall.

varasanoslogoPlans call for them to build a 4,500 square foot restaurant with outdoor patio adjacent to American Girl. The mall office and watch store will be relocated to a different part of the mall to accommodate the restaurant.

Varasano inked a strategic partnership with mall operator General Growth Properties that would have them anchoring restaurants near mall entrances. The first such location will be at Perimeter Mall and, after some delays, is very close to opening.

Alpharetta’s location will be nearly identical to that at Perimeter Mall. The concept will be a hybrid fast casual restaurant that focuses on a more convenient experience at a lower cost. Locally brewed beer and hand-crafted cocktails are also in the mix.

Despite being in the rear of the property, this entrance is the mall’s busiest. It’s something General Growth wants to exploit with the addition of the restaurant. And American Girl, rumored to have been saved from Avalon poaching, continues to be a huge regional draw.

Varasano should fit in well here in Alpharetta. It seems that a new Neapolitan-style pizzeria opens each year. First to market was Campania then 850 in Crabapple and of course Antico at Avalon. And all that is on top of a very crowded yet top notch offering of New York-style pies in Alpharetta. Varasano will carve out a niche with a cheaper option that doesn’t skimp on quality. Expect an opening in the Fall.

Minis by Maria – North Point Mall

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

Alpharetta has been buried under a mountain of cake the last few years. Cupcakes, regular cakes, bundt cakes, gluten free and organic cakes. I have had to go to the dentist to get several additional sweet tooths implanted to handle it all.

minis by mariaThere’s a small kiosk at North Point Mall at which North Georgia native and self taught cake decorator Maria Lawson has carved out a niche in the sea of frosting. She makes tiny little bite-sized cupcakes. If you left your normal cupcakes in the dryer and they shrunk, you’d have these cupcakes.

Although these are not your normal cupcakes. Scratch made daily from old family recipes in 15 normal and one rotating flavors, these cupcakes are the perfect little treat. The cake is moist and the icing is just the right sweet hat for the cake. It’s not super heavy like a Jilly’s cupcake.

Minis by Maria opened right before the Christmas rush in 2013 and they have been going gangbusters ever since. People love these little cakes. Maria’s husband Scott runs most of the day-to-day operations. You’ll find Maria on hand Saturdays. Minis by Maria does a ton of work with corporations for events and parties. They did all the cupcakes for the Avalon’s opening. No job is too big or too small ranging from a few cupcakes to hundreds. They also can make custom cakes for birthdays, graduations, etc. Just email a picture to Maria and she will make it happen.

In addition to the cupcakes Maria is churning out, you can also get cake pops. Normally, cake pops are soft and mushy, falling off the stick after the first bite. Not in this case. Maria’s cake pops are dense and chewy and delicious. I would go back to the mall just for those and that’s saying a lot. I hate the mall. And if you don’t want to go inside, call ahead and they will meet you at your car at the mall entrance by the parking deck for carside pickup.

I have tried nearly all of the flavors that are available. (except coconut, yuck) Here are my top 5:

1. Lemon Drop – Topped with a Teddy Graham
2. Cotton Candy – Crunchy sprinkles
3. Red Velvet – Red sugar crystals make this one
4. Brownie Bite – Chewy brownie cake
5. Salted Caramel – A small pool of salted caramel instead of a drizzle is the way to go.

So how does the cost of these mini cupcakes compare to their larger siblings? A dozen will set you back less than $11.00. Considering you could get 12 different flavors, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal. And there’s no paper wrappers, so nothing will get in your way to cupcake glory.

You can find Minis by Maria on the web, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Minis by Maria is a welcome addition to Alpharetta’s cake scene. I guess you could call it the little cupcake shop that could.

Disclaimer: I received some free food during my interview with Maria. I had previously visited and had paid for several cupcakes.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – March 2015

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

The rumors seem to be true. Ricco’s Italian & Tapas will not open as planned in the former Zola Bistro space in Milton. Instead a restaurant called Mondo’s Pizza Kitchen is building out in the space along Highway 9.

Senor Fajitas coming soon signA little ways up the street you’ll soon find Senor Fajitas Mexican Grill & Cantina. They’ll open in a rundown little space just above McFarland Parkway. It’s been home to a few Mexican restaurants, most recently Picante Grill.

The scene changes almost daily down near North Point Mall. We reported earlier this week about the drive-thru Starbucks set to start construction next to Taco Bell on Haynes Bridge Road.

Mayuri Indian Restaurant has closed in the former Pizza Hut space close to the mall. The concept will change and become Bawarchi Biryani Point Indian Cuisine. The chain has a smattering of locations across the country including one in Sandy Springs.

Cupcake purveyor CamiCakes announced recently on social media that they will open in the Mansell Crossing shopping center near the new REI. There’s no word on exactly which storefront they will occupy and buildout has not started.

Also making an announcement on social media was Mugs on Milton. Downtown Alpharetta’s little coffee shop will open a second location in Crabapple at the former Scoops Ice Cream store. It would be great to see an independent coffee shop thrive here but it’s proven hard to get people out of Starbucks. Element Coffee Company brewed a very good cup of joe there in Crabapple a few years back yet folded.

And not to be confused with the Sedgwick’s concept, a Mexican joint called Pura Enchilada Taqueria will open at 11550 Jones Bridge Road near Kimball Bridge in Johns Creek. These guys also operate a restaurant at the Pendergrass flea market. Definitely not the Sedgwicks.

anabelles table logoWe’re watching for a French-inspired concept called Anabelle’s Table to re-emerge soon. They pulled back on plans to open last year on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth. Recently on Facebook they teased that they may lease space on Windward very close to GA-400.

And finally, let’s take a quick trip through south Forsyth. Jay’s Mexican Grill opened about a month ago on McFarland Parkway. We had high hopes for these guys, but they’re bush league compared to our beloved El Trompo. Jet’s Pizza will open a store on McGinnis Ferry in the shopping center with Sweet Apple Donuts. And Cuoco Italian Table has closed on Peachtree Parkway near Sharon Road.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Cook-Out – Moving along on their buildout on Haynes Bridge. No word on an opening date.
Cafe at Pharr – The sign went up this week at their new location off Windward in the old Pig-n-Chik.
Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen - Coming soon to Milton in the old pretzel store near Target.
Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.

Special thanks to Mike Christensen for his help scouting restaurants around town.

St. Patrick’s Day 2015

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

GuinnessThree years ago I wrote an article profiling several locations to celebrate the luck of the Irish in and around Alpharetta. Sadly, most of those places back then are now out of business. (See Firkin and Crown, Crafty Draught, Erwoods Kitchen and Keg, and the Tilted Kilt) While I don’t mind throwing back a green beer, like most everyone else the closest I get to being Irish is watching Irish Mike make huge swords on the Discovery Channel. Let’s dive in to see how you can green it up this year in the Alpharetta area.

The Olde Blind Dog – Crabapple

The area’s resident Irish pub is the place to do St. Patrick’s Day right. With live music, drink specials and Irish eats, you can’t go wrong. The Olde Blind Dog will be partying on both Saturday the 14th as well as the 17th. Check the web site to see the countdown clock as well as the band lineup. Did I mention that the Olde Blind Dog was recently named the 2015 Irish Pub of the Year by the Irish Pubs Global Federation at their convention in Dublin? Yeah, this dog is legit. Aim your shamrock here for a good time.

Tower Burger – Alpharetta

After a bit of research I found an event listed for March 14 at Tower Burger on Highway 9 called the “Spring Break/St. Patrick’s Day Mash-up”. It’s listed as going on “all day and night”. No other details are listed. So I guess don your green swim trunks and floaties and check it out if you dare.

Avalon – Alpharetta

Alpharetta’s newest and largest attraction is hosting what sounds like the largest and most confusing St. Patrick’s Day celebration. They’re calling it Luck of Avalon and it runs from 2-10 PM on St. Patrick’s Day. Many of Avalon’s retailers will be participating in crafts and activities from 3-7 PM. There will be a pub crawl of sorts all afternoon and evening. Check the website for all the specials and/or offerings from the eateries at Avalon.

There will be a pipe and drum band playing late in the afternoon. I was at first thrown because pipe and drum bands are in fact Scottish not Irish. I was told by a co-worker that St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into more of a Celtic holiday.

But then I read that the band that will turn the streets of Avalon into a dance party is Az-Izz. According to the website, Az-Izz “will transform Avalon’s plaza into a dance floor for a special Motown performance.” Motown? I guess they are just going with a good party band no matter the holiday. Since most of us aren’t really Irish, I’m sure it will be a rockin’ good time.

Whatever and whenever you celebrate, drink responsibly and either have a designated driver, call a cab or have your Uber app installed. Do not drink and drive. The police will be out in force and a DUI is not the way you want to go. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Photo credit: Sami Keinänen (creative commons)

Chain restaurant substitutions in Alpharetta

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

We’re big believers in supporting local restaurants here on roots. It’s not just about supporting our home grown businesses either. We just prefer the food over the homogenized sameness the big corporate players serve up. That’s not to say we never eat at these places as occasionally a hankering for scattered, smothered and covered hits me.

But if you’re still eating at these chain restaurants all the time, here are some direct alternatives you should consider that are 100% local.

mugs on milton logoPour out your Starbucks latte and try Mugs on Milton. It’s a shame this area can’t support local coffee shops. But it’s a hard business and standing up to Seattle’s goliath is tough. Spend a few more minutes one morning and seek out this indy shop in downtown Alpharetta.

Replace Olive Garden for Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant in south Forsyth. Is there anything parent company Darden Restaurants does well? Certainly not Italian food. While we have some outstanding Italian restaurants, particularly in Johns Creek, Casa Nuova probably matches Olive Garden the best. It’s pretty good Italian grub that’s not so refined to keep it out of the price range. And you won’t be a stranger at this place very long.

Ditch the North Point Mall food court for Mama’s Pizza. It is a shame that mall operator General Growth Properties doesn’t try to attract better food options in the mall, although we’re hearing rumors that this might be about to change. Nevertheless, your best bet for local grub near the mall is Mama’s. They often get overlooked as Alpharetta’s pizza scene flourishes and that’s too bad. Their New York-style pie is a solid contender and a great value at lunch.

Say adios to Speedy with beans and try El Trompo Mexican Taqueria. I still can’t convince my frugal co-workers to ditch El Porton. They are seriously missing out. El Trompo’s street tacos cost almost no pesos and are packed with flavor. I won’t spill too much digital ink on these guys because we’re written about them a bunch. But please, for the love of God, don’t set foot in the Jones Bridge El Porton when El Trompo across the street.

Put the plate down and leave Golden Corral for Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. If putting on the feed bag is your only motivation here, then I guess GC gives you the best ratio of carb or protein for the buck. But it’s disgusting. Instead try Pappadeaux on Mansell Road. You’d be hard challenged to find a better all-you-can-eat buffet in Alpharetta.

And finally, scatter from Waffle House and try breakfast at Scratch Fresh. It was tough to think of a decent replacement for this Atlanta institution. The burgeoning high-end breakfast scene, with players like Egg Harbor, Another Broken Egg and First Watch, doesn’t really fit into the Waffle House genre. So we went with Scratch here for their affordable cost and super friendly staff.

Chicken and Waffles

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

Chicken and waffles is, let’s say, a unique menu item. It’s not for everyone. The appeal is the combination of the hot savory fried chicken and the sweeter waffle. Combined with syrup and honey mustard, it’s an odd pairing. Let’s compare and contrast a few of Alpharetta’s offerings.

Bantam Biddy Chicken WaffleBantam and Biddy’s chicken and waffles consists of a few freshly prepared chicken strips on top of a cheddar waffle. Served alongside is pure cane syrup and vanilla bean apple sauce. As waffles go, the cheddar waffle wasn’t all that sweet. The syrup made up for it by being sticky sweet. The chicken was tender and breaded just right. Dousing the whole thing with the syrup is the way to go. The waffle wasn’t too dense and actually complimented the chicken. It’s pricey though at $14.

Here’s where all the hate comes in. IHOP? On a foodie blog? How dare I. Hey, they’ve got chicken and waffles and I would be remiss if I skipped them. Know what? For frozen chicken strips and a waffle made from most likely a mix, it was pretty darn tasty. The waffle was sweet and the chicken tenders were a good balance with the very light waffle. The meal comes with honey mustard and of course your choice of maple syrup. If someone gave these chicken and waffles, I would not turn them down.

On the other hand, Top Golf’s chicken and waffles were a complete disaster. It’s very surprising considering how good their food is normally. It’s presented as chicken and waffle sliders instead of the normal chicken on top of the waffle configuration. Two cost $9 with no sides. They do come with maple syrup and some kind of jalapeno gravy stuff. The waffles are made in-house and were extremely dense and heavy. Take two of those as the bun combined with a rather thin piece of chicken and it’s just too much waffle. You’re chewing through tons of bread to get to a tiny morsel of chicken. Adding the syrup just makes your hands sticky. I ended up ditching the waffles altogether and dipping the chicken into the gravy which was very good. Overall it’s disappointing.

Out of the three chicken and waffles that I tried I would give the trophy to Bantam and Biddy. IHOP is a close second, and Top Golf sliced it into the woods. Take a chance, try something different and order the chicken and waffles. Tell me what you think.

Fish sandwiches in Alpharetta

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

This week marks the beginning of the season of Lent. While I personally don’t observe this Christian tradition, many do and I respect that. Often those who participate abstain from eating meat on Fridays and of course Friday is the day we write about food here on Roots. So what happens if an observant, and hungry, Catholic stumbles upon our little blog on a Friday and reads about a juicy steak or delicious smoked barbecue? I don’t want to be responsible for breaking their Lenten penance!

rosa mia seared sole panini

Seared sole panani at Rosa Mia

Strangely enough fish doesn’t count as a meat for this Friday meal. So three years ago at this time we reviewed fish tacos. This week we’ll do fish sandwiches, one of my favorite lunches. There’s only one ground rule today – no farm-raised fish. Sorry tilapia, you’re a fish out of water in this article. Here are three choices that won’t leave that observant Catholic floundering.

Wade over to Rosa Mia in Johns Creek for their seared sole panini. Their menu touts it as a number one seller and I can see why. It’s a generous helping of pan-seared fish on pressed focaccia bread. Roasted red peppers also make an appearance as does a little, almost unnoticeable smear of pesto mayo. But the flavor of this flaky fish really shines through. The downside is its construction. Hard bread doesn’t work against a delicate fish filet. About half way through the sandwich it starts to disintegrate. It can also be a tad bit greasy. But don’t let this stop you from ordering Rosa Mia’s seared sole panini as it easily makes the medal podium today.

The fish sandwich isn’t on the regular menu at Wildflour on Windward Parkway, but they have it almost every day as a lunch special. And it’s hard to cast a net over this fish as the species changes everyday. One thing is for sure, chef Michael Fields uses only the best wild-caught fish in season. Recently it has been flounder, mahi-mahi, cobia and trout. Sometimes crustaceans scurry into their sammiches including scallops, shrimp and their popular crab cakes.

Whatever swimming critter they cook, fish sandwiches at Wildflour are always a winner. Occasionally they grill the fish which imparts a wonderful smokey flavor. Topped off with jalapeno lime sauce, this sandwich is terrific. And unlike most of Wildflour’s dainty lunchtime clientele, this sandwich is large and manly.

While certainly not large and substantial, South Main Kitchen‘s fish sandwich is far more refined. Downtown Alpharetta’s newest restaurant recently hooked this mahi-mahi sandwich onto their lunch menu and it’s decent.

I liked South Main’s chili lime sauce at the base of the bun. It’s a lot like Wildflour’s but with a little less heat. I only wish there was a tad bit more of it.

What I wanted less of was the pickled cabbage slaw on top. I liked its tartness and crunch for texture, but there was so much of it that it overpowered the delicate little fish underneath. And little should be emphasized. The piece of fish offered was pretty small, especially for the $14 price tag. It would have felt more at home on a slider bun.

Strangely enough the only thing generous here was their french fries. The plate was buried with their golden brown goodness. I was seriously impressed with these spuds, but that’s for another article. We’re fishing here.

There may be plenty of other fish in the sea, but these three shouldn’t disappoint. If you know of other sandwiches that are fishing for a complement, I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a comment.

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