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The Bowl, Modern American Cuisine

Attention, Alpharetta. A restaurant has opened that’s not a burger, pizza or cupcake place. Quick, gather your battered palates and head down Old Milton to The Bowl, which is located in the former Wok and Chopstick location. The main thrust of The Bowl is “Korean style bowls, with a collection of cultural influences”. While I am not an expert on Korean food, I do know what tastes good. The Bowl tastes very good.

The BowlI have yet to have eaten anything here that wasn’t filling and satisfying. While I have stuck primarily to the bowls themselves, The Bowl does have several entrees to offer. Meatloaf, herb chicken, crab cakes, soups and salads round out the menu. Be aware, the lunch menu is quite a bit larger than the dinner menu. The portions may be larger at dinner, but some of my favorite lunch items aren’t offered at dinner.

The bowls come with your choice of white or brown rice or egg noodles with vegetables mixed in. On my first visit I ordered the beef stroganoff bowl over noodles. The meat was crazy tender and was combined with a mushroom sauce, onions, broccoli and carrots. Each bowl comes with a roll to sop up all the juice, which I did.

My wife had the crab cake dinner. We were told that the crab cakes were one of the best selling items on the menu. It wasn’t bad. Not the best she’s ever had, but better than a lot of crab cakes that use Miracle Whip or something along that line as a binder. Note I did say, “it” was good. The crab cake dinner came with one large softball sized crab cake. Odd. The corn succotash and spinach that come with it were very good and complimentary.

I will also recommend the spicy pork bowl. It’s a whole pig’s worth of pork belly cooked with chili pepper and mixed with veggies over rice. I wish they had chopped it up before putting it in the bowl. Each piece was too big and unwieldy on it’s own. The spice level was just right, and by just right I mean way up there. Delicious.

This may sound like a 100% positive review, but alas, there are problems. While the food has been outstanding, the experience has been less than stellar. The lunch procedure and dinner procedure are opposites, which can be confusing. At lunch, you order fast casual at the counter. At dinner, you sit and are waited on. As I pointed out before, the dinner menu is smaller than the lunch menu.

The service has not been up to snuff either. At one point a manager or owner was having a “this is how this place is run” discussion with an employee at the front desk in full view and sound of the dining room. It was awkward for the diners. And in our last visit, an appetizer we ordered was forgotten. When I brought it up to our waitress, we were told flat out that no, we had not ordered it. Not good.

I’m hoping they can get these issues worked out and soon because I am willing to fight the Old Milton traffic to get at this food, but not if this is how The Bowl is run. Straighten up guys. You have a good genesis here, help it grow.

The Bowl, Modern American Cuisine is located at 4000 Old Milton Parkway, Suite 200.

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.

Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen – Milton

What we have here is a mom-n-pop joint masquerading as a chain fast-casual restaurant. Two things jump out and give that impression when walking in the door at Chad Thai.

chad thai logoFirst, it’s that polished look. They’ve done a great job remodeling the former Pretzel Factory space in Milton. The feel is modern but comfortable. Contemporary photography of Asian cities beguiles what piped-in 90′s music confirms – this place is run by American Gen-Xers.

Second, the menu is straight out of that fast-casual playbook. Pick an entree grouped in categories of noodles, fried rice, stir fry or curry. Next you’ll choose a protein followed by a selection of veggies. Finish it off with your heat level of up to five stars.

But don’t let the seemingly boring and predictable trappings of the fast-casual world turn you off to Chad Thai. This joint has potential and is worthy of your ten dollar lunch business. Here’s why.

Proteins. They’ve sourced them carefully. The chicken is from Springer Mountain. Beef and pork are locally sourced. Shrimp is wild caught from the Gulf of Mexico. You can taste the difference. Strips of braised brisket are amazingly tender, the shrimp sweet and delicious.

The rest of the menu is loaded with curious options that warrant repeat trips. Bao buns make an appearance including one with brisket. Or pair up a few small plate choices to make a meal. Chad’s deep fried brussel sprouts are a winner. Tossed in a sweet glaze, these delicious morsels are devoured in no time.

Yet Chad Thai still needs a bit of time to mature into its menu. Spice and flavor levels were a bit subdued on a few visits. The massaman curry, while supposed to be on the mild side, was much too mild and lacked depth. The Boom Boom shrimp small plate was hush hush on the heat, something that should have smacked the taste buds around a bit.

The beer menu features local brews. Jekyll Brewing is there as is Red Hare from Marietta. Monday Night’s Fu Manbrew is on-tap. With a hint of ginger it’s a great complement to this menu.

And extra props are due to Chad Thai’s kids’ menu. Their coconut chicken fingers are excellent and find their way into other parts of the menu. Sweet and sour chicken is another good choice for junior. Some might find it overly sweet with huge chunks of pineapple, but it was a creative twist on a traditional favorite.

There’s no shortage of Thai options along Highway 9 and Windward. Yet with a broad menu, quality ingredients and some talent in the kitchen, Chad Thai will be competitive here. Don’t let the chain-ish appearance of this place fool you, Chad is a worthy contender.

Chad Thai is located at 13087 Highway 9, Suite 910 near the Milton Target. Visit them online at www.chadthai.com

Four Fat Cows Ice Cream Parlor – Main Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House – Haynes Bridge

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

It’s great to finally see two of the largest empty spaces in Alpharetta become occupied. The most recent is the former Rainwater location on Haynes Bridge Road. My wife and I got married here in November of 2007. It closed soon after. The fact that it was a huge space, high priced food and an awkward location combined for Rainwater’s demise. It’s a shame.

Ruths Chris logo smallAlpharetta needed a high-end fine dining establishment, a place where new business owners can take clients, eat expensive meat and toast with high dollar wines and spirits. A real Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity kind of place, unabashed 1% all the way. It’s kind of funny to say that since Rainwater was the cheapest place in the whole area to host a wedding, by far.

Anyway, years passed and I longed for something, anything to open in that space if for no other reason than to get back inside where I got married. Chill Restaurant and Lounge opened and we had hope. Then it closed in a month.

Recently word came that national steakhouse chain Ruth’s Chris was moving its Sandy Spring location to that space. My wife and I took out a loan and went last weekend to finally revisit the place we exchanged vows.

Ruth’s Chris undertook an extensive remodel to bring the place back from the Chill decor that was dominated by turquoise. It looks nice now, a lot like Rainwater used to be. The beautiful wrought iron doors are gone, as are the ultra-cool teardrop lights over the bar. The layout hasn’t changed either. The space consists of a large central room that houses the hostess stand, staircase, wine lockers and five separate dining rooms. Several rooms have fireplaces and all have high-end decor and seating. Each room seems like its own restaurant. Ruth’s Chris doesn’t seem that big when you’re housed in a dining room.

One the rooms is very unique and would be perfect for rehearsal dinners. It has one long table and the walls are lined with brick with very pricy wines on display. It also holds the entrance to the wine cellar housing hundreds of bottles of wine.

Upstairs hasn’t changed a lot at this point either. We were told that events have and will be held upstairs.  We were also told that the Governor Deal and Mayor Belle Isle were there recently to give speeches. I am very glad to see that future couples will be able to be married there.

The food or course was outstanding and insanely expensive. The menus are presented in both normal fashion and on an iPad. I wish it was either/or not both. The table got crowded.

The service was impeccable. The waiter had one of those little crumb scrapers to clean the table cloth. I love that. The steaks came out sizzling of course, but most importantly, perfectly cooked. The 1800 degree broiler does a good job. But for an average price of $40 a steak, I could get several from Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company, cook them at home and be just as happy. Sides are extra of course. Two people with drinks (local beers from Jekyll and Monday Night are available), steaks and sides can run upwards to $200. Ouch.

Ruth’s Chris has and always will cater to the 1% and those with expense accounts. The place is nice and will definitely impress clients and friends. We went at 6:00 PM on a Saturday and it was packed. Time will tell if the name recognition of Ruth’s Chris will keep this steakhouse in the game.

Goldbergs vs BB’s – Tale of the tape

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

Most of the restaurant talk this week has revolved around Avalon of course. Everyone is abuzz about things like poutine with duck fat fries, burgers at Bocado and $20 taco plates from Ford Fry. Somewhere lost in the conversation is Goldbergs. We’ve got another water boiled bagel joint in town. That means a BB’s comparison is in order.

BBs vs Goldbergs

BB’s on left, Goldbergs on right. Notice residue from unwrapped everything bagel.

I hatched up this plan with a coworker. Known to most as simply “Murph”, the Jersey native will be perfect to join me in this project. Here’s what we did. One morning this week I hit Goldbergs while he went to BB’s on McFarland. We both ordered exactly the same thing – a plain bagel, an everything and some regular and vegetable cream cheeses. We spread out our bagel loot in a breakroom at the office along with a camera and ruler. After measuring, photographing and comparing receipts we set out to eating. Here’s what we found.

At five inches wide by about three and a half, these carbohydrate grenades measure in at exactly the same size. But on physical appearance, BB’s has it. Their regular bagel is golden brown compared to pale white from Goldbergs. The everything looked better as well. There’s simply more everything on the BB’s everything as it’s completely covered. But while Goldbergs lacks some toppings, their mixture contains caraway seeds. Even a few of these little guys changes the flavor of the bagel in a big way. Perhaps it’s personal preference but I didn’t care for them at all. The caraway was enough of a turnoff to keep me away from Goldberg’s everything in the future.

But let’s talk about texture. It only took one bite of the Goldberg bagel to tell it wasn’t there. The bagel lacked that chewy exterior which is a signature feature of water boiled bagels. It bordered on being a little doughy and undercooked. Thinking that perhaps I got the runt of the litter that day, I returned later in the week to try a Goldberg plain again. It was a little better but that chew simply isn’t there.

Bagel aftermath

The bagel battle aftermath

It’s possible that Goldbergs needs time. Many restaurants at Avalon are not firing on all cylinders at this point. BB’s has had years now to perfect their process. This week’s bagel from them was worlds better than that from Goldbergs but not the best I can remember from their shop.

We’ll call the cream cheese battle a draw, at least for the plain variety. They were indistinguishable to me. Murph gave BB’s the nod for the veggie cream cheese.

Oddly enough our order was more expensive at BB’s, $6.61 versus $5.68 for the same thing at Goldbergs. The cream cheese is very expensive at BB’s and you get less of it compared to Goldbergs. But it’s interesting that BB’s costs more considering the rent at Avalon is probably ten times what it is on nasty McFarland Parkway.

And speaking of nasty… Goldbergs is certainly cleaner. Many continue to be turned off by BB’s and their long history of below par health inspection grades.

It’s a little easier to get in and out of BB’s. Avalon isn’t exactly where you want to go for a quick to-go meal. The place is designed to draw you in and keep you there to linger. If you happen to be there for something else in the morning then Goldbergs is a good choice. But it’s hard to grab bagels from here and take back to your office elsewhere.

And finally, service was pretty good at both joints. They remembered my name on my second visit to Goldbergs. However, BB’s remembered to individually wrap our everything bagel. Attention to detail is important.

So at the end of it all, bagels from fancy digs at Avalon cannot unseat BB’s from their bagel throne.

Whole Foods Market – Avalon

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.

WF Avalon now openThe Avalon doesn’t officially open for two weeks, but one small section is open now, Whole Foods.  It opened this week to replace Harry’s Farmers Market.  Me and 184,000 of my closest friends checked out Alpharetta’s newest organic grocer this week.  It was good to be able to be on Avalon’s property for the first time, well not counting the other times one snuck in and wandered around.  (editor’s note: This is a joke.  Mike did not trespass on Avalon’s property).

The majority are concerned about parking.  They are right to be worried.  The lot isn’t as big and it is tight maneuvering.  I have had to seek spaces across the street and had to hike in.  Good thing I was able to grab some trail mix inside to sustain me for the journey back to the truck.  If you have an electric vehicle you’re in luck.  Whole Foods has a few EV spaces with charging stations right near the front.  I didn’t see any of those expectant mother spaces, but I wasn’t really searching.

Entering the store, my first impression was “man this place is huge, bright and green.”  Farm inspired artwork adorns the walls and bright lights make everything easy to see.  Sometimes that’s a bad thing. It can also expose flaws.  It seemed that the produce section was a little small and the spaces around the displays were cozy.  I imagine if you get a few carts roaming around in there then traffic jams would be inevitable.

The seafood and meat counters are right next to each other.  Both are well lit, pleasingly arranged and well staffed.  The meat counter isn’t as long as the one at Harry’s so the meat is more condensed on display.  It’s not a bad thing.  The dry aging meat hanging behind a window was a neat touch.

The wine selection looks smaller than before, and the local options have diminished greatly. That’s disappointing considering the substantial North Georgia wine production.  I did enjoy the sign on the wall that marked the wine section that read, “Put a cork in it”.

One thing that’s made Whole Foods at Avalon stand out is the sale and consumption of alcohol on site.  There is a wine bar/cafe/cooking school located upstairs that overlooks the store.  Guzzle some vino while learning to cook?  Count me in.  It sure would make first dates there go much better.

WF Avalon GrowlersWhole Foods does sell growlers to-go as well.  From what I could tell, they have only the 64 oz size growler wrapped in a “Whole Foods Avalon” growler-cozy.  There are only four options to choose from, all local.  Current selections include beers from Orpheus Brewing, Monday Night, Second Self Beer Company and Eventide Brewing.  It seems that what Whole Foods lacks in local wine, they are making up in local beers.  I saw an end cap display for Jekyll and there is a very large cooler fully stocked with all the Georgia breweries represented.  Single bottles are also available.

Then you get to the eating food section.  Several serve-yourself bars are available. One bar was marked “Paleo choices”.  Dinosaur food?  I moved on.  This Whole Foods has more choices than most mall food courts.  It was dazzling.  A sushi bar, olive bar, make your own Wok place, pizza, sandwiches, it goes on and on.  If that wasn’t enough, there is a counter in the front of the store where you can order a beer or a coffee and pick out one of the several pre-made sandwiches from the display.  It had a very European feel to it. It makes for a very fast turnaround.

Once you’ve stuffed your face and drank your beer/wine, don’t forget dessert.  I always laughed at all the healthy choices, gluten free, organic, etc, and then the most popular spot was the bakery.  Tons of cakes, tarts and cookies are on display.  And do not miss the (echo voice) Wheel of Gelato!  My son was fascinated with the rotating tubs that resemble a spaceship from the planet ice cream.  Samples are readily given.

Let’s not forget, Whole Foods is after all a grocery store.  While the aisles themselves were narrow, there were a lot of them.  It seemed that the packaged food aisles at Harry’s seemed like an afterthought or an addition.  These at Whole Foods were designed to go here.  The sheer volume of products is gluten free, organic and other styles is staggering.

Yes, prices are high.  Whole Foods doesn’t have the nickname “Whole Paycheck” for nothing.  While the selection is great, the lights bright, and the food options are overwhelming, it just doesn’t have that neighborhood feel that Harry’s had.  Being the only organic grocer on the block will make Whole Foods a hipster, vegan, paleo paradise. But for me, it’s no replacement for Harry’s.

Mavericks Cantina – Johns Creek

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

Let me warn you before we get too much into this new restaurant. They play Beach Boys music. It’s played quite often at Mavericks. I counted four of their songs over the course of my last lunch there. If their groovy 50′s tunes set you off then stay away. They have a tendency to linger in my head for unwanted periods of time. If you’re willing to suffer through it you’ll find Mavericks to be a promising new restaurant worth trying.

Mavricks logoNew Mexican restaurants abound these days. It’s a tough job trying to stay ahead of them. I get around, yeah I get around round round from town to town… trying these joints. We try them all, trudging through menu after menu of Speedy Gonzalez.

Yet two have stood out to me this summer, Mavericks and Costa Vida up the road a bit. Both are concepts going for a southern California surfer theme and featuring a Mexican cantina feel. Mavericks of course is the first to open and the only of the two that isn’t a franchise… yet. Success might change that.

The first thing that hit me here was smoke. Yes, smoke. We smelled it in the parking lot walking in. Is there a barbeque joint nearby? Nope. It’s a wood-fired grill in the Mavericks kitchen. So before we event set foot inside, I was pickin’ up good vibrations. This smoke was givin’ me excitations.

The wood-fired grill lead me right to Maverick’s grouper tacos. I’ll try any fish taco that isn’t made with tilapia. The thought of a smokey fish that was wild-caught left no doubt in my mind as to what I’d order. Like I’d later find with their other tacos, these guys know how to layer flavors. From a buttermilk dressing to mangos, pickled radishes and cilantro, there’s a lot of flavor and texture going on in this tortilla. If there was any ding to be made it was that any delicate flavor in the smokey fish was overpowered. Nevertheless these were delicious tacos. They’ll make you want to wear your baggies and your Huarache sandals too.

I wish Mavericks would let you mix and match tacos on the menu. Your best bet is to go with a group of friends and each order something different for sharing. That’s exactly what we did on our second visit. We hit the steak tacos first. The smokey meat came through this time, but these tacos were among the least favorite at the table.

Surprisingly delicious was the fried chicken taco. This had great texture and a bit of spice that was tempered with an Alabama style white barbeque sauce. They had me rockin’ and a rollin’, rockin’ and a-reelin’.

The beer braised brisket tacos are also not a bad choice. A salsa verde sits on top and a lime cream pulls it all together. If fish and chicken are not your thing then make a beeline for the brisket on your first visit.

The menu at Mavericks is still pretty limited at this time so a return visit might be in order once these guys get going. Prices are a tad steep compared to the competition. They’re similar to what you might pay at Pure but are not quite there food-wise.

But Mavericks has a lot of potential and some talent in the kitchen. Hopefully daddy doesn’t take this T-bird away.

Mavericks Cantina is located at 11030 Medlock Bridge Road, Suite 160 in the Johns Creek Walk development.

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