It’s again time for Jack Murphy to go

Two years ago I wrote this article on Forsyth County’s Jack Murphy and his troubled dealings. Murphy went on to narrowly win re-election. My opinion has not changed since that time. What has changed is that Murphy has two serious and well-funded opponents this year. Either would be a great replacement but I’m supporting Michael Williams.

Meet Jack Murphy. He’s the state senator for much of Forsyth County, including the extreme southern part of the county where I live. I’ve never written about politics in Forsyth but this story has an Alpharetta connection so I beg your indulgence. I’ve also never formally endorsed a candidate for office on my blog. That changes today. Jack Murphy should be defeated in the GOP primary on Tuesday.

In January of last year Murphy was appointed chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Days later he was sued by the FDIC for breach of fiduciary duty and gross negligence from his days as a director of an Alpharetta-based bank. That bank, ironically, was called Integrity Bank. The bank was the first bank in Georgia to fail back in 2008. Scores more would follow.

Murphy continues to say that this is a civil case, not criminal, which is technically true. However it is very rare for the feds to go after board members of failed banks in the manner they have with Integrity’s board. Furthermore, the nature of this case precludes Murphy from sitting on the board of any bank anywhere.

Nevertheless Murphy continues to lead the Senate’s Banking Committee. Calls came from all over the state for him to step aside until this case was resolved. He refused to resign, holding onto the chairmanship to this day.

The voters of Forsyth County need to do what Jack Murphy and the Senate leadership wouldn’t do – remove him from power.

Taste of Alpharetta 2014 – a preview

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

I have something to confess. Each year I wonder if it’s worth going to Taste of Alpharetta. Of course it’s a huge event, attended by tens of thousands. It’s a terrific showcase of Alpharetta’s budding new restaurant scene. And it’s a chance to sample a lot of food from a lot of great chefs.

TOA_Banner_2014But we’ve done that. If you’re like me you’re trying a lot of these new joints as they open. You’ve sampled the best their menu has to offer. If you’re lucky they might offer something off the menu at Taste of Alpharetta. But chances are that something is a braised pork slider that’s easy for them to make ahead of time and assemble on-site at Milton Avenue. Is it worth fighting huge crowds, buying tickets and elbowing up to a booth for a few bites?

Probably so. There are always a small handful of participating restaurants worth your visit, even in 2014. Here are the places I would try.

Spice Afro Caribbean – These guys slipped below even my radar. They’re not even open yet but will be soon on Highway 9 in Milton. They’ll be at Taste and probably with a menu nowhere close to the competition.

The F&H Restaurants – I don’t recall that these guys have ever been to Taste. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong. But Salt, Opulent, and Little Alley are all on the list this year. Other Roswell joints at Taste this year include The Mill Kitchen & Bar.

Tin Roof Kitchen – They’ve only been open a few weeks on Alpharetta’s Main Street. And while I’ve not been I have high hopes for these guys. Be sure to pay them a visit.

Kickshaw Tavern and Grill – Sky-high prices have kept me away from this newcomer near Campania. But Taste of Alpharetta might be a good way for grubbers to try these guys on the cheap. I’d blow some tickets here for sure.

And don’t forget the old reliables at Taste. Milton’s never seems to disappoint the crowd. And Bite always impresses me at this event, often teasing with something delicious yet off the menu. If you’ve got leftover tickets, blow them on the way out with some doughnuts at DaVinci’s or a cookie from Wildflour.

If you don’t go, Thursday night would be a great night to go to an actual restaurant as the crowds will all be downtown! But nevertheless I’ll probably still go this year but will arrive later in the evening. Let me know which restaurant you’d try first.

Taste of Alpharetta is on Thursday May 8th starting at 5:00pm in downtown Alpharetta.

Two newbie chain restaurants that impress – Great Harvest and Zoёs

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

I have a confession to make. I eat at chain restaurants.

Terrible huh? Yes it’s true. Figured it was best to get this out of the way now, lest a blog reader discover me and my family out at pizza buffet after a little league baseball game and feel disappointed. Sure we try to support the mom and pop joints. I’m always dishing out generous helpings of free publicity, especially if they are good. But at the end of the day I’m just a guy who eats out a lot – and I’ve got the waistline to prove it.

great harvest logoTwo recent additions to Alpharetta’s chain restaurant scene have impressed me. They seem to be impressing others as well, especially the cubicle ladies and tennis moms. They’re on these two joints like white on rice. That’s usually a good sign.

Leading off is Great Harvest Bread. Technically this is a franchise operation, not a chain. Nevertheless the Johns Creek franchisee has opened a second location in Alpharetta at Windward and Main Street.

My wife and I have been trying to eat less processed foods. Great Harvest fits the bill perfectly. Their breads, baked fresh in-house, are made with simple ingredients. Contrast that to the garbage in the grocery store these days. Your average loaf of bread is a chemistry project in how to extend shelf life.

So go try some samples. Great Harvest is plenty generous with them. Try a French baguette? Merci. How about some of this snickerdoodle loaf we’re working on? Don’t mind if I do! Chocolate biscotti? Munch munch.

Save some room for your meal because they have an actual menu here. I tried the spicy smoked turkey panini. It’s not a hard pressed panini yet is still warm with grill marks. I liked the roasted red peppers and how their sweetness contrasted with the spicy chipotle mayo. It looked small but was filling. The samples didn’t hurt to fill me up either.

Skip the potato chips as your side and opt for a cookie. The oatmeal raisin is huge – the size of a frisbee. They’ve somehow managed to make a chewy cookie that still has a crunch to it. Great Harvest simply nailed it on texture.

Breakfast isn’t a bad choice here either but is a little on the pricy side. A blueberry muffin will set you back three bucks. Nevertheless it’s dense and will easily fill you up for the morning.

Overall, Great Harvest is a winner. It’s a terrific alternative to something like Panera, a chain I’m not fond of at all.

Rounding out my duet of new chain restaurants is Zoёs Kitchen. These guys are taking over suburbia. Fresh off their recent IPO, they are expanding rapidly. A location at The Collection Forsyth is in the works.

The store on Haynes Bridge near the mall is crazy popular. I dare you to find a parking spot. I couldn’t at 12:15 yesterday and risked a visit from the tow truck by parking at the nearby hotel.

Zoes Beans and Chicken rollupLike Great Harvest, Zoёs strives for simple and fresh ingredients, yet with a Mediterranean feel.

Try the chicken roll-up. Despite having a rather boring name, this little rolled up tortilla packs a flavorful punch. The marinated and grilled chicken is perfect. Feta and caramelized onions are simple but delicious. It’s a lite and refreshing warm weather lunch that doesn’t let you down. Unfortunately the salsa on the side seems like an afterthought. Resist the urge to dip your roll-up in it.

I liked my side item better. Braised white beans with rosemary hits the spot. Only decorum prevented me from swabbing my finger into the empty cup for every last drop of this white bean goop.

So give these two new chain restaurants a try. And when you speak of Zoёs, don’t forget the umlauts.

Zoës Kitchen on Urbanspoon Great Harvest Bread Company on Urbanspoon

Branding consultant nails it for Alpharetta

The inspiration for my blog’s name came from a 2005 New York Times article on Alpharetta called The Five-Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life. Author Peter Kilborn later turned the idea into a book called Next Stop, Reloville.

The focus of Kilborn’s stores were these nomadic suburban gypsies who would follow jobs around the country, never sinking deep roots in any community. Kilborn also talked about the affluence here in Alpharetta. They are topics I’ve not written about recently. Maybe the economic downturn put the breaks on corporate relocation. Or perhaps I got distracted with other things to write about.

But this topic came crashing back on me recently. Tonight Alpharetta’s Council will receive an update on the city’s branding effort. Their consultant has finished an exhaustive interview process in an attempt to understand this area. And in my opinion, they’ve pretty much nailed it. If you have some time, read their report here (opens to pdf).

The report talks a lot about issues like downtown redevelopment, Avalon, and potential controversial topics like bars and nightlife. It also touches on that topic of reloville. One respondent spoke of Alpharetta’s transient population saying, “You move here to become the boss somewhere else.”

Another spoke of the affluence here, saying “life is not real” in Alpharetta. It was a blast from blogging past for me.

I don’t have time to get into it all today. But there are potentially dozens of tasty blogging morsels in this report. I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll put it to my readers. What in this report stood out to you? Where did they get Alpharetta right, or what did they miss? Do you think this consultant will create a brand that truly captures Alpharetta?

Rooms To Go moving Bahama Breeze out

Furniture store Rooms To Go may build a large new retail showroom on the land currently occupied by Bahama Breeze. The change represents a larger trend of redevelopment along North Point Parkway, something the city is trying to stay ahead of.

bahama breeze logoUnder plans filed with the city, the Bahama Breeze restaurant would be razed and replaced with a large 47,000 square foot furniture showroom. Rooms To Go’s current space on North Point is less than half as big and would be closed. The new space would also include a section for children’s furniture.

Bahama Breeze’s apparent closure would represent a complete departure from Alpharetta by their parent company, Darden Restaurants. Alpharetta and the North Point area have a reputation of only having chain restaurants. That reputation is undeserved and is dying fast.

We’re witnessing a larger trend of outparcel restaurants being repurposed along North Point. The former Razoo’s space next door was demolished years ago and was recently rezoned to be a bowling alley. O’Charley’s and Smokey Bones’ former digs are cell phone stores today. And back in January we reported on jewelry store Jared replacing TGI Friday’s.

The next generation of North Point outparcel development is likely to involve demolition and rebuilding, not renovating existing space. The city of Alpharetta is trying to stay ahead of this curve by changing design standards within the North Point LCI plan.

The city envisions new development along North Point to be closer to the road. They are likely to change setback minimums to setback maximums. This would remove parking lots from the front of buildings. It would also reduce the overall number of parking spaces at most stores, something retailers and restaurants seem to want anyway these days.

The city will also push for larger eight foot sidewalks and more greenspace in the outparcels.

But Alpharetta has got to hurry. Jared’s plans have already been approved and Rooms To Go is in the pipeline now. City officials hinted that other parcels are looking at similar redevelopment. The remaining retail buildings in front of Target might be on the list or possibly the vacant restaurant space most recently occupied by Rio Nuevo. And of course there will be Rooms To Go’s soon-to-be empty home across the street. One thing remains certain – North Point is changing and certainly isn’t dead.

What do you think of the loss of chain restaurants along North Point? And should buildings along North Point be right on the street?

Alpharetta Restaurant News – April 2014

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

It’s been a quiet month for restaurant news, especially following the huge news we’ve followed recently. Nevertheless we’ve got a handful of new joints to report. Let’s get right to it.

The Sedgwicks have been tight lipped about their new concept in downtown Alpharetta. They purchased the empty Coro spec restaurant on Roswell Street a few months ago. The plan is to have a dental practice operate in a big portion of the building. A small restaurant will take the remainder. Rumor is that the place may be called Made Kitchen and Cocktails and will be an Argentinean tapas restaurant. The space will be tiny, even smaller than Pure Taqueria down the street.

Express Burger coming soon signA new burger joint will open on North Point in the former Dahlia Grill location in the Mansell Crossing shopping center. Look for Express Burger and Grill to open in a month or two. I don’t know anything about the concept at this point.

Milton will soon have a new Indian restaurant, something you don’t see often in this part of town. Kabibsh will open on Highway 9 in the former El Molcajete/Zola location. We wish them the best of luck as this is an atrocious restaurant location.

2b Whole European Gluten-Free Bakery will open a small shop at 42 Milton Avenue in downtown Alphartta. They currently operate a business in Kennesaw. They’ll be almost across the street from Mugs on Milton, the new coffee shop who is also making baked goods.

Johns Creekers can expect a few new restaurants this Spring. Senor Patron will open in Chepe’s former digs on Old Alabama. This will be the second location for the Mexican restaurant out of Midtown Atlanta. Chepe’s completely quit the restaurant business a few months back. We’re still watching for activity in their two former locations in Forsyth County.

oh boy logoOh Boy Rotisserie and Tacos will open on State Bridge Road where BB’s Bagels used to be. They’ve got an active Facebook presence if you’re interested in tracking their progress.

Closing last month was Incredible Sandwich Factory on McFarland.

And the Windward location of Tilted Kilt went tango uniform. And while this location lacks some road visibility, we don’t think it will be vacant long. It’s adjacent to the Cobalt Center which will soon have several hundred new IT workers calling it home. Plus the property is managed by Penn Hodge. His stuff isn’t staying vacant long these days.

Opening this month is Big Pie in the Sky on Mansell Road. This is the second location for the pizza joint out of Kennesaw. Mexican restaurant El Don Bar and Grill is open on Highway 9 in south Forsyth. Burger flipper Scratch Fresh has finished their short move to the old Fish House/Boga location.

Tin Roof Kitchen has started a soft opening period this week. They’re in the cute but hidden little space at 52 North Main Street in downtown Alpharetta.

Restaurants Coming Soon
37 Main – A Rock Cafe – Restaurant, bar and music venue coming to Johns Creek. Opening has delayed but is expected in a week or two.
Sip Wine & Tapas – Second location coming to The Collection (fka The Avenue) in Forsyth. Should be open in about three weeks.
South Main Kitchen – Louis Soon’s new restaurant on Main Street in downtown Alpharetta.
Mary’s Bread Basket – Small sandwich chain opening in Forsyth’s Vickery Village.
Utopia Bar – Coming to Johns Creek near Sugo.
Crust Pasta and Pizzeria – Pizza joint opening in Alfresco’s former location on Main and Old Milton.
First Watch – They will anchor the new Twin Oaks shopping center being built on Old Milton and North Point.
Zoes Kitchen – New location at The Collection in Forsyth near Mellow Mushroom.
12 Slices – Pizza joint coming to Johns Creek in former Jersey Boyz location.
Tower Burger – Longest buildout ever but starting to come together on South Main.

850, Campania, Antico and Neapolitan pizza wars

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

No, this isn’t a review of 850. A good deal has already been written about Crabapple’s newest restaurant. Here are some general thoughts on our growing Neapolitan pizza war in the Alpharetta area.

850F Bar Pizza originally planned to open in west Midtown according to blogger Eli Zandman. They backed out of the space in favor of the former Erwoods location in Crabapple. It was a smart move. At that point in the summer of 2013 Alpharetta’s Campania was getting rave reviews. They were sure to draw a competitor.

Campania pizza

Tartufo at Campania

Next 850 pulled a major coup d’etat by stealing Campania’s pizzaiolo. Stefano Rea brings most of the familiar recipes with him to 850. This blogger’s favorite, the tartofu, is still around. Close your eyes and you’ll be hard pressed to taste a difference between the 850 version and that still on Campania’s menu – except that it’s a tad smaller and a few bucks cheaper at 850. But the explosive flavor combination of pancetta, garlic, rosemary and truffle oil is available in both restaurants.

What is different at 850 is the addition of calzones – deep fried calzones that is. It sounds gross but I assure these are amazing. They come out a beautiful golden brown color and not the least bit greasy. The frying gives the pizza bread an amazing texture. My calzone was stuffed with a spicy capicola. These may not be on the menu yet, but if you go, ask them about it.

But now this is starting to sound like a review.

Don’t count Campania out of the fight by any means. They were first to the market and have built a loyal following. Their staff and management are among the best and most friendly of any restaurant in town. That goes a long way. Campania’s biggest challenge from here on out will be staying creative with their menu after the loss of Stefano.

850′s got a better location in the heart of Crabapple. Their patio is awesome as is their beer selection. But the rent is expensive in these digs. The restaurant will have to fire on all cylinders to keep the bills paid. Campania’s management owns the real estate under the restaurant, something that could help if times get tough.

Nevertheless, I think there’s room in this market for both players. I personally will probably keep going to Campania over 850, mainly because city planners don’t want to make it easy for me to drive to Crabapple (but that’s another article).

850°F Barpizza on Urbanspoon

And then there’s Anitco. How will their opening at Avalon shape the Neapolitan pizza fight? We’ll have to see. I’m interested to see if they try to recreate the midtown vibe in Avalon. I don’t think they can do it, especially with the communal dining. I think suburban diners would rather opt for the friendly service at a traditional restaurant like Campania or 850. Again we’ll have to see.

City mulls possibilities to honor Mark Toro

Alpharetta is crafting plans to honor real estate developer Mark Toro. A combination of options are available to the city.

Mark ToroIt seems that conversations regarding the subject have taken place privately for some time. The City Council finally went public with the idea last night in the form of a work session agenda item.

“Alpharetta owes Mark Toro an enormous debt of gratitude,” said Councilman Mike Kennedy. He then proceeded to rattle off Toro’s Alpharetta resume. Mansell Crossing was his work a generation ago while at Cousins Properties. The project defined North Point Parkway beyond the mall.

And of course there’s Toro’s $600 million investment in Avalon, rising like a phoenix from Alpharetta’s ashes. Councilman DC Akien commented that we’d still have a mud pit were it not for Mark Toro. Chris Owens concurred, saying Toro’s benevolence cannot be understated.

Council went on to cite the Gwinnet Tech deal which is happening on adjacent land. And of course there’s the proposed Alpharetta convention center, a potential public/private partnership.

“He’s Mister Alpharetta,” quipped Jim Gilvin. “I love the guy and he owns this town. I can’t wait to partner with him using taxpayer money.”

The love fest continued for a few minutes at the start of the work session. It seems that the touchy subject Avalon’s tax abatement is but a distant memory.

Mark Toro BlvdCouncilmen mulled three options to honor Toro. The favorite seemed to be renaming a portion of Westside Parkway to Mark Toro Boulevard. The stretch of the road adjoining Avalon would bear his name. Council instructed city staff to explore the option however the city’s public works director didn’t think it would be a problem. The request would be forwarded along to the USPS for their consideration.

Another possibility would be to erect a statue in honor of Mark Toro in a potential new pocket park. The city owns land in the former Ellman Tract near Avalon. It would be an appropriate location as this land played a key role in approving Avalon’s controversial apartments.

Cost would be a factor here as the city has not budgeted for such a park. However private funds may be available. Councilman Michael Cross committed to press the Chamber for a grant. And the council’s resident decorator Donald Mitchell stepped forward to chair a committee to design the monument.

Mayor David Belle Isle ended the conversation by offering Toro the keys to the city during the road renaming ceremony. “It’s the least I can do. Mark Toro saved Alpharetta from the doldrums of the great recession. I shudder to think where we’d be without him. Bankrupt probably. I’d name my first born after Mark Toro if I didn’t have kids already.”

Da Vinci’s Donuts – Main Street

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

davincis logoThere’s a new player in the doughnut game after your wallet and waistline. And this ones doing it old school.

Ohio natives Andrew and Melissa Rudd have left corporate life behind to follow a dream that began a long time ago in Melissa’s childhood kitchen making doughnuts with her mother and grandmother. Da Vinci’s Donuts opened recently on Main Street next to the defunct Alfrescos. What makes Da Vinci different than all the other shops in town?

They serve an old-fashioned, classic grab-it-and-dunk-it-in-your-coffee kind of doughnut. A cake doughnut. It’s a dense, yet light delicious two bite fist full of flavor. Yes they come from a commercial mix and yes they are less labor intensive than yeast doughnuts but who cares? They’re great! Take a box to your office and time how fast they disappear.

The box is different in itself. Designed to look and function like a pizza box, it keeps the doughnuts in their place. It’s strong enough to stack several dozen on top of each other without the fear of crushing the lower layers.

DaVinci boxThere are tons of flavors to choose from. Flavors range from the classic powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar to the more outlandish Samoa and my personal favorite, maple bacon. Don’t squinch your nose at the thought of a bacon topped doughnut. It is worth your while. The sweet cake combined with the savory bacon tied together with the maple icing? Oh yeah it’s good.

Don’t see anything you like? You can have them build a custom doughnut. Start with a base doughnut and add any type of icing toppings or drizzles that your heart desires. While much of the menu is set, there will be rotating seasonal flavors. New creations are in development like a pineapple upside down doughnut or chocolate mint.

Right out of the gate, Da Vinci’s is putting a large focus on the community involvement. They encourage creativity with a large chalkboard wall in the restaurant where patrons are free to express themselves however they would like within good taste. They also have several items from a local artist for sale in the restaurant. Look for many other local artists work to adorn the walls in the future.

Da Vinci’s opens early 6 AM and closes at 1 PM. On Fridays they reopen at 6 PM and are open until 9, and Saturday they’re open all day long to catch the later day crowds that most of the other unique doughnut shops miss. They make donuts fresh all day long. Look for them to be open on Thursday nights also to try to capture some of the crowds that come downtown for Food Truck Alley.

Da Vinci’s Donuts on Urbanspoon

Da Vinci’s Donuts has a warm and inviting feel to the space like you’re coming into someone’s kitchen. My only complaint is the doughnuts are too darn small. That’s something I’ll have to learn to live with.

Council agenda: City Center and Northpoint LCI

Tonight’s Alpharetta City Council meeting has a handful of interesting items to follow, including City Center issues.

The first will be a proposal to add a Veterans War Memorial to the park in City Center. Tonight Council will likely change the master plan to allow for such a memorial. Design of the memorial and funding are still to be determined.

And the city will draft a second request for qualifications for development of the four outparcels at City Center. Alpharetta received interest last year from several developers but stopped the process shortly thereafter. This second, grouped effort begins again tonight.

Council is likely partially divided on the issue of allowing residential over retail in downtown. We’ll see if this issue comes up again tonight or if it will resurface once proposals are considered. Nevertheless this blogger thinks the votes are there to allow it to happen.

And finally, Council has a workshop agenda item to discuss the Northpoint LCI study. About a year and a half ago there seemed to be some interest in watering down this plan, perhaps reducing the densities it suggested. We’ll see if that interest is still present or where the conversation may lead.

This LCI plan sets aside land for the development of a MARTA transit station near the mall. If Council is truly serious about halting MARTA expansion into Alpharetta then they should remove this designation altogether.

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