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Growler Wars – comparing north Fulton and Forsyth’s growler stores

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today’s article is co-written by Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

Growlers are the frozen yogurt of 2012. These specialty beer stores are sprouting up like weeds all over the burbs. Certainly they all can’t survive, so how will they compete? Will it be price, service, variety of selection?

Or will those that were first to market rule the day? Typically the first growler store in each municipality literally wrote the local ordinance. That’s been the case with Crafty Draught in Forsyth County and Blind Murphy in Alpharetta. And in Blind Murphy’s case, they worded the law such that samples are allowed, a clever competitive advantage.

So together with my blogging partner Mike Christensen, we set out to try them all. From Cumming to Roswell we filled our beer jugs with brew from each store. It’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it! Here’s how they compare.

Blind Murphy Craft Beer Market
53 South Main Street, Alpharetta
Hours: M-Ths 10-8, F-Sa 10-10, Sun 1-7

Blind Murphy opened a month or so ago in the Kell’s building in downtown Alpharetta. Owner David Sheets doesn’t want to be considered just a growler store. He wants to be an entire beer supplier, from growlers to bottles to home brewing supplies and brew classes. They’ll fill 32 and 64 ounce growlers in addition to tap-poured 12 ounce bottles you mix and match.

And thanks to Alpharetta’s growler ordinance that Sheets helped write, one ounce samples are available, three per person per day. 30 taps are available with plans to offer up to a thousand bottled beers. Selection tends to be more seasonal than the competition with a current emphasis on ales, IPAs and heffes rather than stouts and porters. Local brews include Red Hare and Monday Night Brewing.

Prices are very competitive over the competition. They also plan to donate net proceeds to local charities. Blind Murphy’s social media presence is decent with a focus on Facebook. Watch the tricky parking during peak traffic times.

Crafty Draught
415 Peachtree Pkwy #215  Cumming
Hours: T-Th 11-9, F 11-10, Sa 10-10, Sun 1-6, Closed Monday

The guys at Crafty Draught where the first on the scene and have had time to build a following.  They have 20 taps, glassware and bottled beers. Their growler bottles have different graphics, some quite funny. A rewards card is available.

They have a large social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and their website. Unfortunately Crafty Draught is a little pricier compared to the other shops.

They have a good selection of beers from IPA, ales, stouts, cider and root beer. Local beers include Jailhouse and Terrapin. They are very friendly and are ready and willing to talk beer. A ping pong table is in the store for your enjoyment.

Tap It Growlers
5354 McGinnis Ferry Road #204, Alpharetta
Hours: M-Th 12-8, F-Sa 12-10, Sun 1-6

Unlike the competition, these guys quietly opened with little fanfare or social media push. They are owned by the folks behind Mangia, a pizzeria in the same stripmall.

Tap It is a pure-play growler store. They have little plans to offer much of a selection outside of draught beer. Their 30 taps pour some variety although connoisseurs may bore of mundane selections like Negra Modelo and Sierra Nevada.

What could set them apart, especially to stout drinkers, is their nitro draughts. They also fill growlers via a tube from the bottom up and fill the air with CO2. The claim is that this adds some shelf life to your growler.

Cumming Growler Shop
1770B Buford Highway, Cumming
Hours: M 10-10, T-Th 9-10, F-Sa 9-11, Sun 12:30 – 7

The Cumming Beverage Mart skirted the Forsyth growler ordinance a bit. The liquor store, unable to sell growlers, added onto the back of the store with a separate entrance for their growler business. Clever.

They have 20 beers on tap with the usual 64 and 32 ounce bottles for sale with pretty cool resalable tops. In addition to the taps, there is a small selection of glassware and one rack of bottled beer.  It seems the growler store was just an attempt to cash in on the growler craze with not a lot of thought put into it. You’ll notice a beer pong kit consisting of a few Solo cups and some ping pong balls wrapped up in plastic. Classy touch.

They do not have a website, but they are on Facebook with a list of what’s pouring.  Prices are comparable to the average, with a few very expensive beers running at an eye watering $30. Service was lacking as the staff didn’t seem eager to discuss beer.

Ale Yeah
408 South Atlanta St. #157, Roswell
Hours: T-Th 11-9, F-Sa 11-10, Sun 12:30-6, Closed Monday

Decatur-based Ale Yeah recently opened their second store in Roswell on Hwy 9 south of the Roswell Square. It’s apparent that this is not their first rodeo. The shelves are all built and stocked with many bottles of beer organized by type – Ales over here, stouts and porters over there, fruit, sours and IPAs.  There was even a small section of wine.

18 taps are on the back wall appearing to be as almost an afterthought, as if the bottles were the main show. They have a large selection of local brews from Monday Night, Red Hare, Terrapin, and Sweetwater. Prices are on the website and they are about the same as everyone else. They are on Facebook and Twitter and know what they’re doing. Employees are approachable and knowledgeable with a passion for beer.

City Growler
214C Atlanta Hwy, Cumming
Hours: M 4-8, T-Th 11:30-8:30, F 11-10, Sa 10-10, Sun 1-6

City Growler has been open for nearly three months in the Olde Town strip mall just east of downtown Cumming. They have 22 taps but a limited selection of bottled beers.

They have a large variety of beers such as IPA, heffes, stouts, ciders, and a very popular root beer. There are several local brews available with some limited editions from Georgia brewers. The prices are on par with all of the other stores if not a little lower. They are on Facebook and Twitter with Facebook being the more active.

Staff is knowledgeable, very chatty and willing to educate both newbies and experienced beer drinkers.

Burger King’s Bacon Sundae

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

Fast food giant Burger King has rolled out a revamped menu this summer in an attempt to win back customers. And up until now their attempt hasn’t lured this suburban gastronome. I can’t remember the last time I darkened a door at Burger King. But the pull of bacon cannot be underestimated, especially when it plays a role in a sweet and savory dessert. I knew the BK Bacon Sundae needed a review here on Roots, even over the objections of my wife.

My wife’s concerns were quite valid. At 510 calories, 18 grams of fat and 61 grams of sugar, the BK Bacon Sundae is a cardiologist visit waiting to happen. On the flip side, Burger King’s menu isn’t exactly loaded with healthy options. But my wife also thought my blogger credibility might suffer as a result of this review. Credibility, schmedibility! We’re talking bacon here!

So I sneaked over to a Burger King in Johns Creek yesterday and plopped down my $2.49. A minute later my creation arrived. It’s a generous helping of soft-serve ice cream topped with chocolate and caramel syrup. Next comes two strips of bacon. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the strips are sandwich-length strips and not the length you might expect from a slab of bacon.

One strip of bacon is crumbled atop the sundae. The second strip is impaled vertically into the sundae as if to plant the victory flag. The meaning is clear – bacon has conquered this sundae. It might be the best visual presentation of any fast food dessert.

As would be expected, the smokey and salty taste of the bacon complements the caramel and chocolate. It didn’t go well with the ice cream though. It also didn’t help that the bacon pieces were large. Diced bacon would have worked much better in this sundae. And I would have much preferred the four ingredients  to have been mixed together, along the lines of what Cold Stone Creamery might do with their toppings. The bacon may have infused its salty goodness a little better with this approach.

At the end of the day, this is a fast food soft-serve sundae with bacon sprinkled on top. I ate perhaps a third of the sundae and pitched the rest. And while there is some novelty to this, having now experienced it I doubt I will repeat.

Inviting bacon to the dessert menu is hardly a new culinary idea, even in the suburbs. Dutch Monkey Doughnuts has had a bacon-wrapped doughnut on their menu for years. Jilly’s Cupcakery bakes a very delicious maple bacon cupcake. It’s perhaps the best thing on their menu. Those craving this sweet/savory yin yang should pursue these creations, not the BK Bacon Sundae.

Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company – South Forsyth

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature a guest post from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

I remember when I was a small child going to the local butcher shop with my mother in Tucker, Georgia. I would pick out the cuts of meat, having each one wrapped in that white butcher paper to take some and enjoy with my family.

Flash forward to 2012, and that classic butcher shop has returned in the form of Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company in South Forsyth off of Hwy 9 just north of MacFarland Road.  Owner Woody Hornsby, a Columbia, South Carolina native, has a passion for serving the best beef, pork and sausage in the northern suburbs.

Woody spent many years working in the corporate world before a chance encounter with a local butcher lead him to his true calling.  He spent over a year scouting locations in and around Alpharetta before finally opening his shop in September of 2009.  Woody has a family history of sausage making.  He uses a 100 year old recipe from Italy passed down through his wife’s side of the family as well as spices procured from a cousin in Northern Louisiana to make his sausage.  The sausage contains no preservatives, a natural casing and is a single grind for texture.

Woody is a mad scientist when it comes to his sausage, constantly trying new blends.  The current best seller is a three cheese jalapeno bratwurst.  The sheer number of types they make will make your head spin.  He grinds most of the types of sausage in house every day.  Some types such as the pork alligator are shipped in from Louisiana from the same cousin who has the spices, although Woody is working on making all those in house as well to keep costs down for his customers.

Speaking of customers, Woody strives to make his customers a part of his family.  He’s constantly in the shop greeting folks, cutting meat to order, and educating people on the types of meat as well as preparation techniques.  I’ve visited Woody’s several times, and I have never been disappointed.  The strip steaks I got on my first visit were cut as thick as I like it (1 ½ inches) and trimmed perfectly.  It takes longer than grabbing a shrink wrapped steak off the shelf at Kroger, but it’s worth it 10 times over.  Once cooked on my grill, the steaks were better than most steak houses I’ve been to.

Woody uses the top one third choice meats and wet ages them a minimum of 14 days.  Every cut of meat you will find there is fresh, never frozen.  On subsequent visits, I’ve happily tried the ribs and bacon, both of which lead me running back for more.  The ribs came devoid of the dreaded silver skin, which was a pleasant surprise, and the bacon was hearty and didn’t shrivel up in the pan.

Woody doesn’t advertise but instead relies on word of mouth to build a loyal following.  They have recently started offering entrees.  Several days during the week Woody makes a main course and sells it throughout the day such as white chicken chili or red beans and sausage.  You can like their Facebook page or sign up for their email list in the store for new product info such as the entrée of the day, new types of sausage or any news or changes.

Woody is looking to add more coolers and equipment in the near future to keep up with demand.  The shop is welcoming with a children’s table to occupy the little ones while your order is prepared.  Everyone there is very friendly and will take all the time you need to make sure that you’re satisfied.  Stop on by and while you’re waiting check out the pictures all around the shop.  See Woody’s wife’s 7th grade patrol trip to Washington D.C. and try to pick her out.  (hint: she’s the one in the white).

If you want the best meat buying experience that you’ve had since you were a kid, check out Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company.  Your carnivorous taste buds will thank you.

Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company is located at 5925 Atlanta Highway in south Forsyth. www.woodysmeatandsausageco.com

Crepe Cottage – Alpharetta Farmer’s Market

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

Meet John Peltier. By day he’s a mild-mannered software consultant. But on weekends he dons the apron and transforms into a foodie entrepreneur. He’s teamed up with his wife Phay to create Crepe Cottage, a mobile crepe station and catering operation.

Like any business duo, each partner has their specialty. John is the marketing machine and has been responsible for their social media presence. They are on Facebook, Twitter (@CrepeCottage), and even YouTube.

Phay has the crepe talent. When they’re busy (which is often the case) you’ll find her next to a propane-powered crepe griddle. It’s best to watch this YouTube video to see her work in action. She starts with a ladle of crepe batter that lands in the middle of the griddle. Much like a pancake this batter cooks quickly. Yet unlike a pancake there is no leavening agent (like baking powder) in crepe batter.

 

 

The secret to crepes is to spread the batter around quickly. You can tell Phay has done this a time or two. Using a thin spatula-like device she twists and turns her wrists in circles, spreading the batter evenly across the entire surface of the griddle. The process is finished in seconds.

But the crepe is not finished. It’s real duty is to serve as a vehicle to deliver taste and flavor. Phay folds the crepe in half and considers its fillings. On this day I choose banana and Nutella on my first crepe. An entire sliced banana goes in along with a generous helping of Nutella. It is folded again, quartered, and allowed to warm up on the griddle. A paper plate is folded around the crepe and served. It’s almost like eating a large waffle cone of gooey, fruity goodness. The crepe provides some texture although tended to get a little soggy on the last few bites.

I also tried their strawberry and cream crepe. This creation has a white chocolate cream along with fresh strawberry slices. It was good but the creme was very messy and hard to contain. The Nutella crepe was easily the favorite in my group. I had a tough time wrestling this away from my daughter.

Crepe Cottage also has a savory side of their menu. If you try them at a farmer’s market then there’s a good chance the savory menu will be mostly breakfast items. I regret that I didn’t try anything here before my review.

All in all I enjoyed the crepes. They are a little pricey, around $8 each, but are large enough to share. And given time I think they can expand their menu to be a little more adventurous. Since my visit they have rolled out an Elvis crepe which is basically the banana/Nutella crepe with added bacon. Oh my.

The Peltiers plan to split their Saturdays this Spring and Summer between the farmer’s markets in Alpharetta and Sandy Springs. It might be best to check their website or social media channels before trying to catch them. They are also available for catering.
Crepe Cottage LLC (Farmer's Market) on Urbanspoon

The follow-up review

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

Restaurants change. It’s just a natural progression I suppose. Staff turns over and sometimes ownership. Menus are updated based on customer preferences and choices. Food quality improves or declines.

Many of the restaurants I review as fledgling newcomers might be somewhat different six months to a year later. For that reason I thought it might be worth doing a follow-up review column from time to time. How are these guys adapting to a new concept?

Thanksgiving Spring Rolls - still delicious

BW Tavern

When I reviewed these guys five months ago I talked about taking chances. They took a chance fiddling with a concept that had been in place for years. But now the restaurant seems to be regressing slowly back to their former self. The menu has become more simple and more pub-like. Favorites like the Thanksgiving spring rolls remain, thankfully. And they’ve left their bowls on the menu. I’ve yet to try a bowl entree that excites me though.

MyFavEats

I don’t use it anymore. This location-aware app built, by Alpharetta-based Radiant Systems (now part of NCR), was supposed to be a mobile device version of a rewards card. However their daily specials kept me interested for a while as some were better than Groupon and Scoutmob. But this wasn’t their business model.

I found the app difficult to use. It often required a perfect data connection on my Android phone, something that can be elusive inside the walls of a restaurant. Additionally many restaurants require you to obtain a daily code-word to get credit for a check-in. I don’t want to have to bother a busy waitress to get a word. And the chances are she probably doesn’t know what My Fav Eats is to begin with.

Studio Movie Grill

Amazingly popular. My wife likes going here so much she’ll drive past several other theaters on the way and not miss a beat. North Fulton has fully embraced the eat/movie concept. What surprises me the most is that other theaters are not coming to town to challenge SMG. As best I can tell the new theater at North Point Mall and the Regal at Avalon will NOT have a restaurant component. Strange.

My opinion of SMG’s food remains the same – forgettable. Most times we will plan to eat elsewhere on Holcomb Bridge Road and just do traditional drinks and popcorn at SMG.

Where SMG is earning our business is with deep discounts and specials. They have great deals on their Facebook page and Groupon. There’s no reason to pay full price to see a flick here. It seems their business model is not to make cash at the box office but rather in the restaurant.

Be careful with the popular shows here. They sell out quick as their theaters don’t seat as many as a traditional theater might. We’ve wasted several trips down for this reason.

Crafty Draught

The only thing that’s changed about our first growler store is their popularity. I waited in a pretty long line on my last visit. One customer was filling four growlers at a time.

I’ve tried some pretty cool beers because of these guys. My favorite so far has been the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale – a fantastic beer packed with bourbon flavor as well as a creamy vanilla core.

But Crafty Draught will face an Alpharetta competitor probably in late summer or early Fall. I’ll get into that next week in my restaurant news column.

Photo Credits: Robyn Guy Photography

DA Butcher – McGinnis Ferry

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

You might get a sense of deja vu walking into DA Butcher. At this early stage they still bear a strong resemblance to the New York Butcher Shoppe, the former occupant of this space. Replace “NY” with “DA”, drop the quaintly spelled “shoppe” and everything else remains the same?

There’s a little more going on with DA Butcher. New York Butcher decided back in the fall to close this Alpharetta location. Their goal was to concentrate on their Sandy Springs store, the last one in Metro Atlanta. A former employee at this Alpharetta location decided to open the independent butcher shop you see today and brought on an entirely new staff.

The store has the same layout as before with a meat case separating patrons from staff. Large cuts of steak are featured prominently here including a monster porterhouse with impressive marbling. Also catching my eye were a handful of prime steaks including a few whole beef tenderloins. There was even this nice Wagyu sirloin, something you don’t see everyday.

Along the wall you’ll find a bank of freezers. Their compressors emit an abnormally loud groan that makes conversation a little difficult in the store. But inside their doors you’ll find an array of prepared foods and frozen meats. They’ve got sushi-grade tuna curiously sitting next to bricks of pork scrapple and many other proteins. You’ll find expensive pastas, ravioli and potato gnocchi along with more mundane steakfries.

On my first visit I took home two prime beef filets. They were cut to order and turned out a little thicker than I had planned. They also offered to season the filets, a suggestion I found unusual of such a quality cut of meat. I declined as I had an au poivre preparation in mind. Otherwise I had no complaints with the steaks. They were wonderfully tender as you might expect from this cut and grade. But price will keep me away from these guys except for the most special of occasions.

I was determined to try their barbecue on my second visit. They smoke pork and brisket in front of the store and sell it at lunch or as whole pieces of smoked meat sealed in cryovac. I’m always on the prowl for good barbecue in the suburbs and am willing to try just about anything out of the ordinary. As I explained to a co-worker, you’ve gotta kiss a few frogs before finding a prince. Unfortunately for DA, there was nothing princely about their barbecue.

I opted for a pulled pork sandwich and cringed as I watched the guy place chilled pork meat into a microwave oven. The small quantity of meat was not tender at all but did have a solid core of smokey flavor. It was a little fatty and overall was not very good at all. I was hungry an hour later.

So for an early look, DA Butcher seems eerily similar to their predecessor. Their steaks and prepared foods are expensive, especially when compared to places like Costco. They can distinguish themselves somewhat by offering very premium cuts and grades, something most are not in the market for on a regular basis. They are planning to expand offerings including beer and wine. That could help as would better execution on the smoker. Give them a little more time and they’ll have it all figured out.

La Casa Italian Grill – Alpharetta

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today I feature a guest review from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

Inside a quaint converted house on Old Roswell St less than a block from Main Street is La Casa Italian Grill.  Owner Pasquale Cardamuro opened La Casa four months ago in the old Café Efendi location to make a fresh start.  Having owned several previous strip mall and shopping mall restaurants in Atlanta, the long time Alpharetta resident longed to have a free standing building in which to serve his generations old Italian recipes.  Pasquale has gathered a loyal following in his 31 years in the restaurant business since he came to American from Naples.  All the ingredients used are locally sourced from the pasta to the herbs grown by Pasquale himself.

The house has undergone extensive renovations since purchased.  Pretty much everything except the walls has been molded to suit Pasquale’s needs.  Walking across the porch to enter the restaurant feels as if you’re going to a good friend’s home for dinner.  Inside it’s cozy, inviting, and warm.  There are several rooms to dine in, each lending an intimate feel to your meal.  La Casa would be great for either an office party or a private date out with your sweetie.  The front porch overlooks a nice fountain as well as a few herb planters that were recently added.  This spring and summer, La Casa will have live music on the porch.  The parking lot is limited, but there are plenty of other lots to choose from within walking distance.

Growing up in the South, I have experienced my fair share of “Italian” food (I’m looking at you Olive Garden).  The food you will get at La Casa is the real deal.  My wife and I visited La Casa a few weeks ago for dinner, and I was very impressed not only with the quality of the food, but also with the professional level of service.  Choices on the menu range from the more traditional spaghetti and meatballs to much more advanced dishes such as mussels marinara and scallops terramia.  All of the sauces, breads, and desserts are made in house.

After you are seated, they bring out two different type of bread along with olive oil with herbs for dipping.  Both types did not last long at our table.  I had the lasagna Bolognese and can only describe it as the best lasagna I’ve ever had.  The pasta was fresh, the cheese had  great texture and flavor, and the sauce was superb.  My wife picked the Pappardelle Bolognese, which is wide ribbons of pasta in meat sauce.  She kept commenting on how fresh tasting the pasta was.  There were no take home boxes.  She did take home a slice of cheesecake, which was gone before we got home.  She said that it rivals the cheesecakes in New York.

One interesting observation I made was one of the employees bussing a table across the room was making faces and waving at my 2 year old son.  It was nice to see someone take the time to entertain even the smallest customer.

Most of the items on the menu for dinner are in the $12-18 range, but taste much richer.  La Casa’s menu will change seasonally, and has already undergone a few changes since they have been open so check with them often for any changes.

La Casa is open Monday through Friday 11 AM -2 PM for lunch and Monday through Saturday 5-10 PM for dinner.  They are also open on Sunday noon to 8 PM for brunch, lunch, and dinner.  They are in a prime location to take advantage of the foot traffic in Alpharetta.  Take a stroll off busy Main Street and come have some real, fresh, and delicious Italian food.  We look forward to visiting La Casa many times in the coming year.  Pasquale is frequently in the dining room greeting customers with the enthusiasm and warmth that can only come from someone who has found his true home.

La Casa Italian Grill is located at 37 Old Roswell Street in historic downtown Alpharetta.

La Casa Italian Grill Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Crafty Draught – The Avenue Forsyth

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

Andre Airich and his partner Cody Anderson accomplished much before their business even opened. In a few short months they managed to change the law in Forsyth County. They successfully lobbied for a change to an alcohol ordinance, a remarkable feat here in the South. We’re not exactly known for our forward-thinking laws when it comes to booze.

What did Airich and Anderson change? Forsyth now allows retailers to break the original packaging of beer. This paves the way for growlers. What’s a growler? It’s a 64 ounce glass jug used to transport draught beer. Their newly opened beer store, the Crafty Draught, will fill your growler with one of twenty craft beers they have on-tap. It’s a new concept for this area, something I had to try.

Crafty Draught’s selection changes almost daily. It’s best to check their website ahead of time to see what’s pouring. Also be sure to check their “coming soon” page. It’s sort of an on-deck circle of beer – a list of kegs in the backroom waiting to be tapped. When they empty a keg, one of these will replace it.

Most beers are in the $10 to $12 range for the 64 oz growler portion although some can reach as high as $20. Unfortunately samples are not available. New growlers can be purchased for $5, a one-time cost.

On my visit I met co-owner Andre Airich and secretly put him to the test. I explained that I don’t like beers with a lot of hops. I also mentioned my love of Bavarian hefe-weizens. Both of these statements are true which probably completely ruins any credibility I may have with the beer drinking world.

Being wintertime their selection is geared towards a lot of stouts and IPAs. Thankfully Airich didn’t steer me towards any of these. I let him talk me into a highly-rated beer called Ommegang Abbey, a Belgium-style ale made by a microbrewery in Cooperstown, NY. Twenty bucks later I had paid for my beer and new growler. Yikes, this had better be good! How did I like it?

Airich didn’t lead me astray. The beer had a yeasty character much like the hefe-weizens I enjoy. I tasted a lot of rich flavor going on including toasted nuts and honey. I can see why this brew wins awards. It also had a higher alcohol content, something I’m not accustomed to. Let’s just say I would avoid operating heavy machinery or writing wordpress blogs while  enjoying this beer.

Airich and Anderson might make successful political lobbyist if this beer gig doesn’t work out. I doubt that career change will be necessary. Crafty Draught is a cool little shop and I wish these young men much success. If this concept catches on I’d imagine they might have some competition soon. They’re well prepared to face it in my opinion. Check them out at 415 Peachtree Parkway, across the street from the Avenue Forsyth. I also like they’re active and effective use of social media. Follow them on Facebook and twitter @CraftyDraught.

Photo Copyright Robyn Guy Photography, used with permission

Azul Agave – Alpharetta

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

Before blogging I used to write reviews on yelp.com. And over on yelp they have an expression for a two-star review… “Meh. I’ve experienced better.” I keep coming back to this when I reflect on my dining experiences at Azul Agave. But let’s back up a moment.

Azul Agave opened on Old Milton Parkway a few months ago after a long buildout. I regret that I’ve never dined with this building’s past occupants. Had I done so I might have been prepared for the magnificent decor of this restaurant. Outside a small bridge spans a waterfall. Inside it’s spacious with beautiful stacked stone features and blue accents. I’m hard pressed to think of other Alpharetta-area restaurants that rival Azul Agave in looks and decor.

Unfortunately the same creativity and attention to detail that went into Azul’s decor didn’t go into their menu. It’s boringly divided into sections like fajitas, tacos and quesadillas. I meandered my way through its options, searching for something I couldn’t eat at El Azteca or La Parrilla. Nothing jumped out at me.

I settled on some fish tacos, which can be a good litmus test for a joint like this. The fish was a little dry and needed some help from a creamy sauce drizzled on top. The cole slaw was crisp and pretty good but no other toppings were available to provide a flavor boost. These tacos were, at best, a smidge past mediocre.

My wife ordered a steak quesadilla and found it to be on the greasy side. She wound up deconstructing it to salvage some morsels of meaty steak. Side items like black beans are just okay but lack depth or robustness.

In the end, I found the food at Azul Agave to be ordinary and lacking of creativity. They’ve got amazing decor and good service working in their favor. But even the hip and contemporary china can’t save the food resting upon it. Meh, I’ve experienced better.

 

Azul Agave Mexican Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Boga Taqueria – Milton

Chef Alfonso Huerta, left, and Medardo Briceno

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

Medardo Briceno has paid his dues in the restaurant industry. This soft spoken man from Venezuela has worked nearly every job in the business. He started in kitchen prep before working his way into the managerial ranks of Frontera, a chain of Atlanta-area Mexican restaurants. Following that gig he worked for food service distributor Sysco. Boga Taqueria marks a big stepping out, his first venture into restaurant ownership.

“I wanted to offer something different to Alpharetta, an experience like you would find in midtown,” said Briceno. So don’t let his history with Frontera set any expectations you might have of Boga. This restaurant is a far cry from the ubiquitous Mexican joints that fill suburban stripmalls. Speedy Gonzalez is nowhere to be found on the menu. That alone makes Boga worth a visit.

Boga’s menu is a mix of Mexican cuisine with some South American influences. Portion sizes are generous, especially for the money. Most entrees are priced in the $8 to $10 range. Atop the menu is their taco selection. For $10 you mix and match three tacos. The Taco al Pastor stood out. This traditional Mexican favorite of pork, onion, pineapple and cilantro forms a harmony of flavors.

More pedestrian taco choices are available, such as ground beef and shredded chicken. Boga pokes a bit of fun at these choices, labeling them as “gringo”. This gringo passed on them.

El Macho

A best seller is the El Macho. They start with a bed of lettuce and add a generous helping of braised pork or pulled brisket. Next comes black beans and a few pieces of mango to tease with some sweetness. A delicious lime vinaigrette is drizzled above that. Finally a large plantain is sprawled across the top. The presentation is beautiful. And don’t let the lettuce and vinaigrette fool you as El Macho does indeed live up to its name.

The talent in the Boga kitchen comes from chef Alfonso Huerta. His most recent gig was at Rio Nuevo on North Point. Owner Medardo Briceno described Huerta as “a MacGyver in the kitchen,” but not for judicious use of duct tape and Swiss Army Knives.

Huerta pulled a MacGyver with his dessert. His flan cheesecake was dazzling and amazingly delicious. It was the perfect marriage of two desserts that didn’t neglect anyone’s taste. The custard flavor from the flan was still there but the cream cheese brought a dense richness. The caramel on the plate fanned out with flames on the edges covered by a layer of chocolate sauce. It almost looked like a total solar eclipse. It was as beautiful as it was culinarily resourceful.

Music like Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” dances out of speakers at Boga. It’s cool, hip and – more than anything – helps to create a cool vibe to this place. The modern and minimalist decor doesn’t hurt either as it’s very well done. If this restaurant thing doesn’t work out, Briceno might consider a career in interior decorating. The work inside was all his effort, not contracted out.

But the decorating world will have to wait on Medardo Briceno. Boga Taqueria should be a serious contender for Mexican food in this area.

Photo Credit: Robyn Guy Photography

Disclosure: I received free food from this restaurant. You can read my disclosure policy on my about page.
Boga Taqueria on Urbanspoon

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