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A downtown wish list

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

After grabbing lunch and a beer at Hop Alley recently, I took a stroll across the street to the new Alpharetta City Center. It was my first time to get an up close and personal look at what downtown will look like. It was great. I loved the large grassy area, the tree lined streets, the grand city hall, the abundance of sidewalks, and the massive in ground fountain.

downtown overlayI visited a similar development in Virginia last year. They also had a large fountain where kids could get in and get wet. It was a huge it! I don’t expect anything less down here when the temps hit 90.

As I stood in the middle of it all, my attention was drawn to the real estate on either side of the main lawn/gathering place. While we are still a ways off from spending our money here, I can’t help but envision what I would like to see there.

Retail? Meh, don’t care. Some boutique or art store or whatever. I’m talking about what downtown would NEED. Like a good sandwich shop/deli. Like a New York-style corned beef on rye handmade meatballs thousand types of sandwiches kind of place.

If the beer laws change (if) I’d love to see Jekyll Brewing have a presence downtown. I know they’ve talked about it.

I would love to see a cool little ice cream shop with old fashioned deserts and sodas. Like Scoops but better.

Most of the places could have patio dining with live music and gas lamps. Can you imagine how great it could be? I can.

The city has a chance to do something really great downtown, a chance to set Alpharetta apart from every other town in the northern arc. I hope that they think about the citizens and not about who will give them the most money or who is partnered with who. I know some of the city council members read this blog. Comment and tell them what you want to see downtown and how you envision Alpharetta’s future.

Cheap eats in Alpharetta

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

Meet James, a co-worker of mine who eats out for lunch everyday. Sounds familiar. We ought to have a lot in common yet seldom do our restaurant paths cross. But James, along with his cadre of old timers who eat together everyday, are rather set in their ways. They’re also very frugal.

One day I challenged James to break out of his routine of Subway and Speedy with beans. He returned my challenge with one of his own. Find restaurants that are close to our Windward office, offer something delicious and will cost $8 or less including drink and tip.

So James, without further adieu, here’s your list.

Pizza by the slice – Alpharetta is completely covered up in New York-style pizza. Your cheapest way to enjoy is ordering by the slice at lunch. Most joints will do two slices with toppings and a drink for around seven bucks. Top picks in this category include Verra-Zanno Pizzeria in Johns Creek along with their sister restaurant Joe’s New York Pizzeria on Mansell Road. Mama’s Pizza on North Point and Brooklyn Joe’s off Windward are also fine choices and a little closer to most cubicle dwellers.

El Trompo signAuthentic Mexican – Give Speedy Gonzalez the adios. He’s certainly cheap but you can do far better for the same pesos. Mr. Taco and our beloved El Trompo Mexican Taqueria are where you need to be. Mix and match some a la carte tacos and wash it down with a Mexican coke.  It easily fits within our $8 budget.

Mediterranean – Two words: gyro wraps. They are delicious, very filling and well within our budget in most instances. I like Grecian Gyro in Johns Creek Walk, Cafe Efendi on Main Street and Seven Seas Cafe Devore Road. And if you’re willing to approach the $10 mark, nothing beats the chicken shawarma wrap at Jerusalem Bakery on Old Milton.

Chinese – It’s certainly cheap at lunch, but it takes a lot to impress me in this category. Head down to Johns Creek for the good stuff. Liu Fu will serve the Chinese food your accustomed to for $8 at lunch. Or better yet, establish yourself as a Chinese food epicure and order the Szechwan-style hot boiled fish. It breaks our budget at $10 but is well worth it. You’ll need extra napkins to dab the sweat off your brow.

For quality Thai food at very reasonable prices hit Satay House on Alpharetta’s South Main Street. Some lunch options are priced as low as $6.25. How do they do it?

X-tudoAnd finally, for my off-the-wall budget lunch pick, head over to Old Milton’s  Coisas de Brasil and order the X-tudo. For a measly six bucks your sammich comes with hamburger, a fried egg, mozzarella cheese, ham, lettuce, tomato, corn and peas. It’s the most bizarre lunch item in Alpharetta, but it’s cheap!

Not every good restaurant in Alpharetta has to be fine dining. Guys like my friend James are never going to shell out $18 for a plate of tacos at The El Felix. You don’t have to either. Hopefully this list gives the budget-conscious gastronome a decent place to begin. If you’ve got ideas for delicious cheap eats, I’d love to hear them!

Alpharetta Restaurant News – January 2015

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

Ricco's coming soon signThe restaurant server community is abuzz about one of their own hanging out his shingle. Ricco’s Italian & Tapas will open on Highway 9 in Milton in the original Zola Bistro space. The restaurant’s namesake is a popular former server at Zola. Following that restaurant’s sale and relocation down the street, Ricco worked at Campania before quitting recently to work on this gig.

We like Ricco’s chances in this space. Word is that he already has a loyal clientele from his Zola days ready to follow him. They will certainly be familiar with the location and should provide Ricco’s the necessary tailwind to make it in this space.

Simply Pizza on Old Milton has been sold after a short time in business. The latest concept de jour will be called Vito’s Pizza-Rant and will be run by partners who relocated from Florida. The menu will be familiar with pizza and pasta but they’ll also offer gluten-free and vegan options as well. As for the name… the hyphen suggests this is a play on the word “restaurant” but perhaps a rant about pizza could arranged.

Milton’s Kabab & Wraps closed for a short time. They’ve made a small renovation, rebranded the place as Pepper’s Indian Cuisine and have already reopened for business.

Antico Pizza Napoletana finally opened this week at Avalon and the Italian concept Colletta has announced a February 6th opening. This should complete the initial restaurant lineup at the development.

We’re hearing word that a small shopping center and restaurant may be in the works across Old Milton from Avalon. Additional retail in this area should complement Avalon which, while very unique and popular, is currently a retail island unto itself.

200px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgAnd in other shopping center news… plans are also in the works for a remodel of the former Tilted Kilt restaurant building on Windward Parkway. The plan calls for a conversion of the space into a three-tenant shopping center with better road visibility from Windward. Update: We’ve been able to confirm that Starbucks will move from their location in the adjacent shopping center into this former Tilted Kilt space. Their new digs will feature a drive-thru and patio.

My blogger friend Eli Zandman reported that stir-fry joint Real Chow Baby abruptly closed their Howell Mill Road location in Atlanta in late December. The sign on the door indicated that they are moving to Alpharetta however we’ve seen nothing to suggest that hard plans are in the works. We’ll keep them in our rumor bin until something something more substantial materializes.

Eli also sniffed out the to-be location of Burger 21 in Johns Creek. Last month in this column we suggested that they were closer to announcing something. Turns out they will be in a new shopping center called Johns Creek Promenade on Peachtree Parkway just a little above Johns Creek Walk. Construction on this large shopping center is just starting so the burgers won’t be flipping for some time.

Opening since last month is JD’s Sports Pub & Pizza in south Forsyth. And Nothing Bundt Cakes has opened their latest location at The Collection at Forsyth.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – Little place on McFarland.
Tom and Chee – Grilled cheese and soup joint that should open in February on North Point.
Smallcakes - Another cake joint at 4055 Old Milton Parkway.
Cook-Out – Still no signs of life on Haynes Bridge. This location may take a while to open.
Cafe at Pharr – Another slow buildout for this sandwich chain coming to Windward.
Laguna Mexican Grill – Speedy Gonzalez coming to south Forsyth.

What changes to Georgia’s beer laws might mean to Alpharetta

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

Imagine for a minute that you and I went into business together. We had perfected a recipe for lemonade. So good was our product that we were convinced we could make millions.

We’d build a modest lemonade factory in Alpharetta and judiciously source our ingredients. We cooked up batches and sold them by the bottle to restaurants and shops. Hard work was put into distribution plans and marketing. Pretty soon business was taking off! And before long our loyal customers wanted to see the terrific operation we’d put together.

Jekyll TastingSo we started offering tours of our lemonade factory. At the end of the tour we would sell customers cases of our fabulous drink to bring home.

You know where this is going. The story is all well and good until you substitute beer for lemonade. It’s still a beverage and still crafted in small batches right here in Alpharetta. The only difference is that you can’t sell a single bottle of beer at your point of manufacture thanks to Georgia’s stupid, prohibition-era beer distribution laws.

Places like Jekyll Brewing get around the rule by offering small samples for free with the purchase a tour or perhaps a glass mug. But they can’t sell you the very product the make. And they can’t sell you a pint of the beer to drink on the premises either.

That is the crux of the problem Georgia’s craft beer industry is trying to tackle. Last year a bill was introduced in the Georgia General Assembly to make a modest change. It didn’t go far, stymied by a powerful beer distributor lobby in Atlanta.

This year the craft beer industry has regrouped and redoubled their effort. More money is being thrown into a PR, lobbying and social media effort. Branded as a way to increase jobs in Georgia, the proposed change would allow the sale of beer by the package at breweries and brew pubs. And you’d also be able to buy pints at the brewery as well.

How would this change the beer landscape in Alpharetta? Realistically it wouldn’t add a ton of jobs but certainly a few. Brewpubs like Hop Alley and 5 Seasons North could pour you a growler to take home. Perhaps they would need to make a little more beer or hire an additional person to fill those portly glass bottles.

Jekyll Brewing could do a lot with this. These guys have done amazing work in a short amount of time, expanding their product state-wide. They could get real creative if given the option to sell product in their shop.

And while breweries probably won’t see huge volumes of sales in their shops, they would however be selling at retail price. The margins of this business are through the roof compared to the puny prices they receive from distributors. It may be the financial shot in the arm that many breweries need to take things to the next level. Next comes new capital investment or new breweries entering the market. That indeed creates jobs, and better beer too.

So if my fictional lemonade factory can sell product, why not Jekyll Brewing? If anything these changes just make things fair. It’s hard to find fault with that.

For more information on the attempt to modernize Georgia’s beer laws, visit gabeerjobs.com and sign their petition.

Looking back, gazing forward

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

Every year at this time I make some predictions on what’s likely to happen in the restaurant scene in the coming year. And usually I’m completely wrong. It’s embarrassing to look on these past columns. Case in point, pizza.

Big Pie sliceLast year I thought we’d had enough pizza. The bar was set very high, especially with New York-style joints. So what happened in 2014? Crust opens and hits it out of the park. The BB’s Bagels founders boldly say the pizza here sucks and open their own joint. And we’re about to have three Neapolitan-style choices available.

So keeping my track record firmly in the back of your mind, let’s look back and consider the near future.

Downtown Alpharetta‘s restaurant scene is nearing the critical mass it needs to sustain itself. Last year at this time we knew South Main Kitchen was coming and had vague knowledge of what would become Made Kitchen. Those combined with Salt Factory, Hop Alley and the aforementioned Crust have created our own little Canton Street. It’s what we desperately needed.

So what’s next in downtown Alpharetta? I’m not aware of another deal at this time. Rumors once suggested that new restaurant space may come to the Kell Building or perhaps the abandoned gas station but neither have proven correct. Certainly new restaurant space will be available in the city center outparcels. We’ll have to see what kind of choices the property manager brings in. And what will thriving new restaurants do to rents downtown? Can the handful of older restaurants here keep up?

The Mediterranean/Greek/Persian/Middle Eastern genre has exploded over the past two years, something I certainly didn’t see coming. Chains like Zoes Kitchen expanded rapidly. Additionally some very good indy joints have opened including Noosh in Johns Creek. They complement some terrific options that we’ve already come to enjoy like Jerusalem Bakery and Baba’s in south Forysth. Expect some closures this year in this space, particularly with smaller mom-and-pop shops and franchise operators.

And finally there’s the growler store fad. Alpharetta, who had the most progressive growler law in the area, is down to only one store in their city limits. The stand-alone, pure play growler store isn’t a sound business model. Combining growlers with stores that already offer alcohol by the package is the best bet. Milton did right by allowing their sales in convenience stores. Growlers would also do well in the big box liquor stores if municipalities would allow it. I predict a few more closures in this space, particularly in Johns Creek.

What new restaurant trends do you see in 2015 and who’s not going to make it? Let me know in the comments.

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.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

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.

Winter is upon is here in the South. And by winter I mean lows in the 30‘s and highs in the 50‘s, normally. I’ve lived in Atlanta for 40 years and can count on one hand the number of severe winters I’ve seen. Snow drifts and mittens are not why we are all in the great state of Georgia. We love to be outside, hiking on the Greenway, catching some rays on Lake Lanier, and cruising with the top down. We also love to eat outside.

A lot of restaurants in Alpharetta have some sort of alfresco space. No matter how small the patio or how terrible the views, folks flock to these outdoor spaces to take advantage of the 7-8 months of favorable weather.

But what happens in the winter? Most places put portable heaters outside or slap up plastic sheets to keep the cold at bay. Those are both fine, but I was looking for more. I drew back on my college days of bonfires in the field. That’s what I wanted. Fire. Primitive; it speaks to our deepest natures. Are there any restaurants in Alpharetta that would have such a feature? I found two, and oddly, both of them have the fire inside.

The Village Tavern on Haynes Bridge has a huge fireplace in the middle of the dining room. It’s impressive and certainly hot, but only the tables immediately around it can benefit from its warmth. The other is 5 Seasons Brewing on Old Milton Parkway. The mountain chalet feel of the building is echoed with the tall round fire pit near the bar. More show than go, it is a very cool place to hang out with your friends and have an in-house brewed beer.

You could say, why would any restaurant spend money making an outdoor fire feature considering the relatively short amount of time it’s cold here? I say why not? Restaurants are a year round business. Would you rather go to a place and eat outside next to the buzz of a rented space heater, or feast on a meal next to a roaring, crackling fire? Having the fire just makes the food better. Heck, I’d go hang out at a doughnut shop if I could suck down my glazed goodness fireside.

Avalon is on the right track. They have two areas of outdoor fire. There’s the “Living Room” with a fire pit and an outdoor fireplace near the skating rink. They aren’t involved with a restaurant, but you are encouraged to enjoy your open container by the fire.

It’s time we take advantage the worst time of the year called winter. I would love to see more outdoor fire features in Alpharetta’s eateries. Those places would get my cold hard cash.

Alpharetta rolls out Rately

The City of Alpharetta has partnered with local technology firm Digital Scientists to promote a new location-aware mobile application. Called Rately, the Android and iPhone app will offer shoppers rewards programs.

rately logoWe’ve seen apps like this come and go over the years. The idea certainly isn’t new. And technology like this isn’t new from even Alpharetta-based companies. Back in 2011 NCR (formerly Radiant Systems) rolled out a similar app that leveraged that company’s existing presence in the cash registers of restaurants. It didn’t gain acceptance in the marketplace. The challenge has always been either with flaky GPS locations or having a process that requires restaurant staff to check you in.

Rately stands a chance to make it here for a few reasons. First, they are using a bluetooth-based location technology to check users into a business based on proximity to a sensor. This should be more reliable that GPS however users will have to enable bluetooth on their phones at all times.

Second, Rately already has wide retail participation from the very get go. By partnering with the city and its tight-knit business coalition, they have a huge local adoption rate. Nearly every downtown retailer and restaurant is already on board in addition to several along Windward Parkway and at Avalon.

Another draw with Rately is it’s anonymous. Every other app wants to maintain profiles, collect data and build dossiers on your shopping and dining habits. Not Rately. No login is required and it isn’t spamming your Facebook friends.

This program is very new and way too early to review. However the biggest drawback I see is the lack of serious rewards from the Alpharetta restaurants and merchants participating. For example, South Main Kitchen is offering a paltry 10% off your bill after ten visits. Others are doing buy one get one free deals after several visits. That’s about it. Restaurants are going to have to sweeten the deal a good bit before consumers install apps. But we’ll see.

Do you think Rately will gain widespread use in Alpharetta? You can download it at iTunes and the Google Play store.

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