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New/Closed Restaurants – July 2010

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

Thankfully I don’t have any closed restaurants to report.

Mambo Jambo – Windward

Ask and you shall receive. Months ago I wrote about our lack of good Cuban food. That’s all changing. This will be the second Latin/Cuban restaurant to open since then. Mambo Jambo is building out in the space formally occupied by Mad Italian behind Sushi Nami. I haven’t been able to learn much about these guys. They have a restaurant in south Florida that seems to be a higher end joint. Perhaps they are going for the expense account patrons from the Windward office parks. I’m also confused with the name, considering that “Mambo’s Cafe” is not far away and would be a direct competitor. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to these guys.

Scoops – Crabapple

When I was a kid we had this stuff called “ice cream”. It was kinda like the frozen yogurt you kids get to eat today. Ok, everyone knows ice cream. I’m just a little bummed that quality ice cream parlors are closing in favor of the frozen yogurt franchise concept de jour. So I’m excited to see this joint open in Crabapple. I haven’t been yet, but it seems to be a classic parlor with the addition of chocolate truffles and cupcakes and such. The reviews I’ve read thus far have been mixed.

Yate’s Sports Pub – Johns Creek

They are opening in the space formally occupied by American Ale House on Jones Bridge and Old Alabama. I don’t know much about them otherwise.

Tilted Kilt – Perimeter

It’s like an Irish Hooters. Girls with big, um, personalities… serving Guinness and shepard’s pie. I’ve never been to their original Johns Creek location. But our fellow cubicle dwellers to the south will enjoy their new location at the perimeter.

Dickey’s Barbeque Pit – Milton

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday. This week I continue a summer series reviewing barbecue restaurants in Alpharetta.

I took some grief in my review of Cheeky Taqueria when I called their restaurant “contrived”. I still stand by that claim. However, Dickey’s in Milton is a textbook example of contrived franchised barbecue. Every bit of the decor is there to trick you into believing you’re eating at a generations-old barbecue restaurant. It is embarrassing really.

Dickey’s is a franchise concept out of Texas. Their menu consists of pulled pork, brisket (sliced and chopped), baby back ribs, sausage, turkey and chicken plus the usual suspects of sides. Today I picked a two meat plate of pulled pork and ribs.

The pork was a tremendous disappointment. There was no outside meat whatsoever and no smokey flavor. It was a tad on the chewy side. I thought Slope’s pork was bland, but these guys might have them in this department. I didn’t even finish the stuff.

The ribs were tender enough but also lacked flavor. No smoke was evident, nor was there any rub or caramelized sauce. Again, they were bland and boring.

They offer three sauces served warm in pump vats (like the way Wendy’s does ketchup). Their regular sauce tastes like KC Masterpiece, just a little more thin. The sweet and hot sauces are not much better.

With my general dislike of the proteins, I devoured the side items. The Brunswick stew was was hearty and flavorful. I also liked the fried okra and yeast roll.

One gimmick I kinda enjoy at Dickey’s is the free soft serve ice cream. They have a self-serve machine with cups and cones. Since I was still hungry after leaving half my meat uneaten, I wasn’t shy and ate two cones.

There are a lot of barbecue restaurants along Highway 9 in Alpharetta and Milton. Dickey’s is not one I suggest. Maybe they are catching the overflow from ‘Cue down the street.
Dickey's Barbecue Pit on Urbanspoon

Scratch Fresh – Burgers, Biscuits and Shakes

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

I believe we are on the tail end of this burger craze. For the sake of my cholesterol, I certainly hope we are. But in the meantime, let’s add yet another custom burger shop to the mix.

Scratch Fresh quietly opened up about a month ago. I say quietly because they literally hung a banner sign and started cooking. They have a website with no content, have performed no marketing that I’m aware of and have almost no reviews online. Nevertheless, they have a terrific location and people are finding them. For lunch last Saturday they had a decent crowd.

It is easy to compare Scratch to Five Guys. They cook a hand made burger on a flattop griddle. You add toppings like you would at Five Guys and the prices are similar. They deviate from Five Guys in that their menu is more broad and the toppings more numerous.

But let’s get to the burgers, shall we? I enjoyed my Scratch burger a lot. It was perfectly cooked with a little singe on the outside, yet was juicy and flavorful. Is it the best burger in Alpharetta? I wouldn’t go that far. Is it better than Five Guys? Oh hell yes. The Windward location of Five Guys is pretty shitty anyway. This place would be a terrific alternative. Anyway, I promise not to mention Five Guys anymore.

This appears to be a family-run operation; the service is friendly and attentive. They are also very kid/family friendly. My kids enjoyed the chalk boards in the back of the store. They laughed and laughed while getting covered in chalk dust.

There are several things I believe Scratch can improve on. Among those are:

Fresh cut fries – They serve frozen fries. But to give them credit, they were cooked perfectly with a nice golden brown crisp on the outside. To remain competitive I think they need fresh cut spuds on the menu. Even, um, the other place on Windward does this.

Pepsi – I don’t tolerate Pepsi products. Really disgusting. I know it probably costs more to offer Coke, but this is metro Atlanta. Shame shame! Although their lemonade is very tasty.

Milkshakes – I tried one of the hand-spun shakes and it was pretty good. I’d suggest they hide the food service containers of shake flavors. They line a wall and look kinda tacky. It diminishes the experience a bit, taking it from a hand-spun shake down to something I’d expect from McDonalds. They also serve a cinnamon roll dessert which my wife didn’t care for at all.

All in all, Scratch is probably my favorite mid-grade burger joint in North Fulton. They offer a friendly environment that is welcoming to kids and a more diverse burger menu.

Scratch Fresh is located on Highway 9 near Windward, across from Walmart near Meyers Deli.

12872 Alpharetta Hwy 9 Ste 110

Alpharetta GA 30004
Scratch Fresh on Urbanspoon

New/Closed Restaurants – June 2010

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

I post these lists from time to time as needed. In June you get two for the price of one. Crazy, I know. I’m just feeling generous.

The Windward area continues to see a lot of restaurant activity. Unfortunately most of it is negative. Here’s what my restaurant crystal ball is telling me.

Scratch Fresh Burgers – Windward

They’ve been open for about a month, yet have done almost no marketing. Hey, kinda like my blog! Stay tuned because a review of these guys is my very next post!

Rojo Taqueria – Closed

They were on Holcomb Bridge. “Were” being the operative word here, as they are no longer.

Bobby G’s Chicago Eatery – Moving

Bobby G’s has operated a small little shop behind Windward, on the corner of Morris and Webb Roads. Unless you happen to work in a cubicle back here, you may not even know about them. That’s about to change. They have closed this location and will re-open in a few weeks in the strip mall with Aldi on Highway 9. This should be a much bigger space with a lot more visibility. I was never a fan of Bobby G’s, but ex-pats from the windy city would love it.

Field Good – Closing?

Rumor has it that this place will soon be closing. Yet as of yesterday, they are still open. I’m not sure what the deal is.

Which Wich – Windward

Scheduled to open in the strip mall with Five Guys. They will be next to the new Yogli Mogli. I tried their location at the Avenue Forsyth and was very disappointed. I can’t decide which restaurant has the most annoying name on Windward, Lettuce Souprise You or Which Wich.

Slopes BBQ – Alpharetta

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday. This week I continue a summer series reviewing barbecue restaurants in Alpharetta.

I really want to like Slopes BBQ. There are several reasons outside of barbecue that make these guys so darn likable. First, they seem to hold some pretty conservative political views. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I’m a hardcore red state kind of fella. Behind the counter the Slopes folks have a cool collection of right-wing bumper stickers. I got a chuckle out of a few of them.

Slopes also does a great job at old fashioned social networking. I mean the face-to-face variety, not Twitter and Facebook. They are friendly folks who get to know their customers well. I have a lot of friends who are very loyal Slopes customers for this reason.

Slopes is probably the oldest Q joint in North Fulton that is still operating. They are also in the midst of expansion, currently with six stores across the northern burbs. Consider this a review of their Alpharetta location, which is actually in South Forsyth in the Midway area.

I have a hard time getting excited about the barbecue at Slopes. The pork comes finely chopped but not to the point of being minced. It is very lean, often dry and lacks smoke flavor. There is absolutely no outside meat (aka bark) served. I once asked about this, wondering if I could order it with some outside meat mixed in. I was told that they remove this in the morning and put it into the stew. I was stunned! The best most flavorful part of the barbecue is drowned in the Brunswick Stew.

They serve a sauce that I find similar to Williamson Brothers in Marietta. It is a tomato base with a little vinegar and some tang. There is also a spicy version available. I find that I use more sauce here than at any other local Q joint. The meat needs a lot of it.

I mentioned the Brunswick Stew before. As you would imagine, it is pretty good. Slopes makes the most authentic Brunswick Stew around. It is smoky and flavorful. The rest of the side items are above average for the most part.

I also like the cobbler at Slopes. On my last visit they had four varieties. I tried the peach and was impressed. You really should save room for a bowl of it.

I keep telling myself that I ought to just order a vegetable plate and cobbler on my next visit. Yet I keep trying the chopped pork hoping that I will like it more. They now offer beef brisket everyday which looks pretty tasty. I haven’t tried their ribs or chicken.

Slopes has a lot of potential to be a well rounded Q joint. I just find their pork to be one dimensional and not pleasing to a refined barbecue palate. Yet there are scores of locals who would disagree with me on that assessment. If you enjoy the Q here then that’s alright by me. They are for sure with a try.
Slope's Barbecue of Alpharetta on Urbanspoon

Restaurants at Outdoor Malls – Measuring How Bad They Are

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

What does a nerdy foodie boy do when he has too much time on his hands? Attempt to measure wacky ideas he has about restaurants around town. Here’s my theory… The restaurants at outdoor shopping malls are downright shitty.

My wife and I enjoy outdoor shopping malls such as The Avenue Forsyth or The Forum in Norcross. They are cool concepts combining shopping, movies and food in a street-like atmosphere. Yet it didn’t take us long to realize that, as a general rule, the restaurants at these malls are just terrible. You’ll find a lot of small chain/franchise concepts here. These are not the big national chains but regional stuff, maybe joints only found in metro Atlanta. By and large they are all mediocre. I don’t think I need to name names, ya’ll know the joints I’m talking about.

The out parcel restaurants tend to be a little better in my experience. These are the places that might be hard to walk to from the shops. Nevertheless, your best bet is to be a true Atlantan, get back in your car and drive down the road to a real restaurant.

So I thought I would try to quantify my little theory to see if it checks out. I pulled a list of restaurants at three outdoor malls in the northern burbs, The Avenue Forsyth, The Avenue West Cobb and The Forum in Norcross. I only considered restaurants that are on the property of the malls, not nearby. Next I went to Urban Spoon and did a little data mining. I pulled the percent rating for each restaurant and came up with an average for each mall. Finally, I pulled an average Urban Spoon rating for all restaurants in each city, Cumming, Norcross and Marietta. I’ll consider these to be my control variables. How did the mall restaurants stack up?

Avenue Forsyth: 70%
Average in Cumming: 74%
The Forum: 77%
Average in Norcross: 79%
The Avenue West Cobb: 77%
Average in Marietta: 80%

Sure enough! The restaurants in outdoor malls rate two to four percentage points lower than their peers. Gotta love that Urban Spoon!

So the next time you pack up the minivan and head to an outdoor mall, consider my little experiment. Skip the crap and eat somewhere along the way. And to the property managers of the outdoor malls… please reach out to the independent restaurant owners. I don’t think I can take another Which Wich!

Studio Movie Grill to Open in Alpharetta

Please check out my detailed review of Studio Movie Grill written after this preview article.

Reports of the death of the movie theater have been greatly exaggerated. You know what I’m talking about. Blockbuster was going to kill the movies. Home theater systems would do them in. Or maybe Netflicks or Red Box. No one would ever go back to the movies once we had these options available for home viewing, right?

Wrong. Going to the movies is as popular as ever. Perfect time for a new movie concept to come along. Consider this the preview… “Coming soon to a suburb near you… Studio Movie Grill!” It’s a movie theater. No, it’s a restaurant! No, it’s a bar. That’s right, it’s all three. An entirely new concept in movies… well at least for around here anyway.

Studio Movie Grill is a chain of movie theaters with locations in Dallas and Houston. Alpharetta will be their first theater in Georgia. Their idea is simple. You build out some big theaters with comfy leather seats and room to eat. They have a menu full of typical chain restaurant type of stuff along with a alcohol. When you’re ready to order or otherwise need a waiter, you press a button of some sort and they come over. You watch the flick while stuffing your face with grub and booze.

I remember a theater similar to this when I was growing up in suburban Tampa. It was more on the pub side than anything. Like a pub with a movie screen, not the other way around. The food sucked, but they had beer!

I don’t get the impression that Studio Movie Grill will be like this. Based on press releases I’ve read, it seems that the theaters will have all the latest technology. The menus look pretty good but I have my expectations set low. Why? Because they have that whole captive audience thing going for them. You don’t exactly have a choice on where to get food once you’re in there, right? The nachos and hot dogs in traditional theaters suck for that very reason.

I’ve read online reviews of their Texas locations and they seem to be mixed. Perhaps the biggest thing that concerns me is that they serve Pepsi products. At least they do elsewhere. I really hope they don’t come to Atlanta with this junk. I know I’m a Coke snob, that’s a given. But if I’m going to pay $4 or more for a drink, it will be Diet Coke or I’m not coming.

Nevertheless, I’m still excited about the new concept and I’m excited it is coming to Alpharetta first! Would be a cool place to take a date since they offer so much more than just a movie. I’d be cautious about going here if you’re really interested in the movie that’s playing, considering that waiters will be coming and going and you’re likely to have noisy clings from silverware. But they are worth a shot. I also predict some of the older theaters are not going to be able to keep up with the competition. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Movies 400 in Cumming or UA/Regal on Northpoint go under.

Studio Movie Grill will open June 17, 2010. They are located at 2880 Holcomb Bridge Rd, Alpharetta, GA 30022.

Smokejack BBQ – Alpharetta

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday. This week I continue a summer series reviewing barbecue restaurants in Alpharetta.

You’ve heard me use the term boutique barbecue, right? Well Smokejack was the restaurant that took my boutique barbecue virginity. It was a bit of an, um, uncomfortable experience at first. Up until that point, my ideal Q experience consisted of roadside shacks or decades-old family-run joints in dingy old buildings. Smokejack is none of these really, well except for the old building.

And it is that building and what they’ve done with it that impresses me the most about Smokejack. They are in the heart of downtown Alpharetta in a terrific old building. It is beautifully restored with brickwork and exposed beams. I think it’s rustic yet refined but not in a way that makes it feel fake or contrived. What they have accomplished with the look and feel of this restaurant is what I hope the future of dining in downtown Alpharetta looks like. During the day the atmosphere is that of the power lunch with downtown businessmen in suits entertaining clients. Happy hour is hopping at their inviting bar. Yet even with that, they offer perhaps one of the best kids eat free deals on Monday and Tuesday nights.

But let’s talk about barbecue. It is amazing how far away I’ve been and smelled their smokers. I’ve caught whiffs of the amazing hickory smoke from across downtown Alpharetta. It will put you in the mood, that’s for sure. Their pork comes pulled, which I kinda like. It is always tender and fairly lean. The outside meat, some call it bark, is very delicious. Tons of flavor in these little morsels of pork goodness. They seem to baste the meat in the kitchen before hitting the table. I’m not talking sauce at this point either. It is something I just don’t care for a lot, and tends to cover up what I believe is very good meat underneath.

They serve only a mustard-based sauce. The fact that they offer only one sauce doesn’t bother me really. I hate it when a Q joint dishes up half a dozen sauces. Makes me think they are trying to be all things to all tastes. Pick a sauce you think complements the meat and go with it. Smokejack does just that. Nevertheless I’m not crazy about the mustard sauce here. It is nothing like the South Carolina mustard I’ve experienced. It has more vinegar and tang than I’m accustomed to out of the Palmetto state. I suggest ordering it on the side and using it in very small quantities (like drops of it).

I’ve yet to find any side items at Smokejack that wow me. They are all made from scratch, except maybe the french fries. Really wish they would consider making hand-cut, skin-on fries. I also think the Brunswick stew should be listed as a side item and not all by its lonesome on the soup list. This is Georgia, and stew is a side!

I’ve tried some of the other menu items on the barbecue side of the menu including ribs and burnt ends. I’m by no means an expert on brisket so I won’t pass judgment here. But it is worth mentioning that they have burnt ends on the menu, something that Texas aficionados should take notice of.

All in all, Smokejack is a cool joint.The restaurant is beautiful and the service prompt and friendly. If you haven’t been, you owe it to yourself to try it once. I tend to like their Q but find their sauce and heavy basting a little disagreeable. That’s probably more of a personal preference on my part though.
Smokejack on Urbanspoon

New/Closed Restaurants – June 2010

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

There’s been a lot of new activity in the last few weeks. Most of these places haven’t opened yet but should within the month. And a lot of this is franchise junk, but we’re still in Alpharetta after all.

Sarku Japan – Windward

Great, the mall food court is coming to Windward. *yawn* Let me try to contain my enthusiasm.  If you like Panda Express then you’ll probably think these guys are the bomb. But for my Asian food dollars, I’m hitting Xian or Lin’s over these guys any day of the week. On the flip side, some of the reviews I’ve read of Sarku say they have a fancy new Coke machine. That might be worth a visit.

Por Fin Creative Coastal – Johns Creek – CLOSED

I never got to try this terrific sounding restaurant. But they closed up about a week ago. I’ll blame the location as it was kinda hard to find. But in its place you’ll soon find…

Quanto Basta – Johns Creek

Rumored to be replacing Por Fin. This is an Italian joint with monster-sized portions. They currently have a location way up on GA-20 near the Windermere area of Cumming.

Studio Movie Grill – Holcomb Bridge

Exciting new movie/restaurant concept coming to Alpharetta. They are a Texas-based chain and this will be their first location in Georgia. I’ll probably write more about these guys in a few days. I’m kinda pumped about this one.

Yogli Mogli – Windward

An alert blog reader of mine informed me of the closing of Windward’s Ben and Jerry’s location. Let us please have a moment of silence… I’m still bitter about this. But this is probably best for my waist line! Yogli Mogli is the name of the franchise yogurt joint opening in its place. These guys will be competing with Yoforia on the other side of Windward. Based on reviews of their other locations, it looks like this is a self-serve frozen yogurt deal. Sounds too healthy for me. I wonder how far a drive the next closest Ben & Jerry’s is now?

Flying Biscuit – Mansell and Hwy 9

This is a franchise from the Raving Brands folks. I never get real jazzed up over their restaurant concepts. So don’t expect to see me at this new location when it opens.

Caribou Coffee – Johns Creek – CLOSED

I kinda liked this place. Why? Because it was the only alternative to Starbucks in Johns Creek… but not anymore. Please please someone open up a cool locally-owned coffee shop in Johns Creek. It’ll be a hit, I promise.

The Starbucks on Mansell near GA-400 also closed. So if you’re keeping score at home, that’s two chain coffee joints gone this month.

Let’s Review Some Barbecue

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

I write about food every Friday, and sometimes more often than that. Yet somehow I’ve managed to not write about barbecue.That’s too bad because no other cuisine is more debated than Q. It is also the cuisine I feel most qualified to speak intelligently about. More on that later.

So now that summer is here, let’s start talking barbecue! Here’s my plan… Every other week I will review a barbecue restaurant. Why every other week? Because my cholesterol is high enough! All good things in moderation, right? I’d also like to keep my blogging schedule open to talk about new restaurants that are likely to come along.

I’ve assembled the following list of barbecue restaurants. I’m limiting my choices to those in Alpharetta, Milton, Johns Creek and south Forsyth. I considered throwing Roswell into the mix but didn’t. They have some terrific Q including Swallow at the Hollow. The list is pretty long as it is, but I’m not opposed to making it longer.

Here’s the list and the rough order I hope to follow:

  • Smokejack
  • Woody’s
  • Slopes
  • One Star Ranch
  • Pig-N-Chik
  • ‘Cue
  • Dickey’s
  • Jim-N-Nicks

They are in no particular order, just randomly assembled. I’ve been to all but one of these, yet will try to visit each one more time before reviewing.

So why do I feel qualified to talk Q? Because I love the stuff! And like many aficionados, I’ve traveled to a lot of venerable Q joints across the southeast. My family is from North Carolina so I tend to favor Q of that tradition (specifically Lexington-style barbecue from the Piedmont region of the state).

I’m also certified to judge competition barbecue in both the Kansas City and Memphis sanctioning bodies (KCBS and MBN). I only judge two or three contests a year, but I’ve been fortunate to try Q from some outstanding champion pitmasters.

Overall Thoughts on BBQ in Alpharetta

I tend to have an overall negative impression of Q here for several reasons. First, Georgia doesn’t have a unique barbecue tradition of its own. There are influences of Carolina style and Memphis style here, but nothing really sets us apart. Second, there are no generations-old barbecue joints in Alpharetta. The oldest joint on my list is probably Slope’s, and they started up in the mid-90′s. Contrast this to Atlanta and the south side which boast some terrific old Q joints. Third, we’re overrun with chain and franchise barbecue. This goes without saying of any restaurant concept in Alpharetta. But in my opinion barbecue doesn’t lend itself well to franchising. This cuisine is a craft. It takes time and talent to make it well. However, BBQ technology has advanced a lot. I’ve had some decent Q from electric and gas cookers that smoke with wood pellets.

A trend you need to pay attention to is what I call boutique barbecue. These are restaurants that craft small batches of barbecue using quality ingredients. Dive joints they are not. Expensive? Absolutely! We’re talking steakhouse prices. Here in the affluent burbs, I believe you’re more likely to find the best barbecue in places like this.

So let’s give this barbecue thing a whirl this summer and see how it goes. Feel free to disagree with what I say. I’ll try to keep my BBQ snobbery in check. At the end of the day, if you like the Q from somewhere, that’s all the matters.

Smokejack, you’re on deck!

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