Life is better outside, just not in Alpharetta

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. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

It’s that time of year again. The days are longer, the temps are warmer, the pollen is coming and the legs are whiter than ever. It’s springtime. Residents are venturing out of their homes to take advantage of all the outdoor activities the Alpharetta area has to offer, and that includes dining.

Many restaurants offer some sort of patio or deck for alfresco eats. The problem is that the vast majority of them are terrible. They’re just add on spaces with no real reason to exist. A few tables and chairs with umbrellas, a unique outdoor dining experience does not make. Places like Scratch, The Corner Deli, The KFC (sorry, Salt Factory) and Burger Fi have smallish patios where you can enjoy your entrees with a side of exhaust and nothing to look at but concrete.

Why can’t we have a cool place to eat outdoors? This is Alpharetta after all, the place where the elitists can drive high tech golf balls into giant nets.

Crab shack tybeeOne of the best outdoor spaces that I’ve eaten at is the Crab Shack on Tybee Island. It’s a true experience. Huge trees adorned with Christmas lights cover a deck overhead with a view of the marsh in the distance.

Now I know we have no such marsh or water feature here, save Lake Lanier or a rare retention pond, but can we at least have a view of something that wasn’t made by man?

Hop Alley’s front deck is pretty cool. The view isn’t too great, but at least there is shade (and beer) and you’re protected from the traffic. The potential rooftop deck at South Main Kitchen in downtown would be a large step in the right direction. Taco Mac on Windward as well as the nearby Hudson Grille have patios with giant TV’s all over. It takes away from the connecting with those around you, unless you want to stare at Sportscenter, then by all means.

The rooftop deck at Cincos as well as the patio at Tanners in Vickery Village are both winners in my book. The whole vibe of Vickery is pretty cool. You feel as if you are in a neighborhood.

Some places can transform to bring the outside in by opening up garage type doors like Pure or Marlow’s at the Collection. Nice, but it’s just not what I’m looking for and what Alpharettians deserve.

We’ve got great weather in the south. That’s why we all live here. Why are we trapped inside to eat? I would love someone to step up and make a truly unique outside eating experience. Your hard work will be rewarded.

Photo credit: jeanphony (creative commons)

Oversimplifying zoning opposition discredits hard-working, concerned citizens

Last week Hatcher Hurd with the Appen newspapers wrote an editorial titled “Zoning decisions: Why can’t they just say no?” He attempted to explain why zonings are contentious. Hatcher boiled down opposition to those who just want government to say no to all zonings. It was a very one-sided article.

kennedy hatcher tweet

Autocorrect gets me every time.

Unfortunately Alpharetta Councilman Mike Kennedy praised the article on both northfulton.com and twitter. He suggested the opinion I’m going to express here is not his experience.

Like Hatcher, I’ve followed a lot of zoning cases in north Fulton and south Forsyth. My experience with the opposition is quite different. The citizens of this area are intelligent, highly educated and generally slant towards being conservative Republicans. They understand property rights.

They’re not dummies. They understand that growth is coming but want it managed. Citizens are concerned with traffic and road capacity. And they’re keenly aware of the situation at local schools pertaining to overcrowding.

Citizens want things like comprehensive land use plans followed. Nearly every zoning request pushes the envelope, asking for a one or two notch jump in density classification. They usually get it.

As frustration grows, opponents form grassroots organizations. You’ve probably heard of a few of these. In Alpharetta you’ve got guys like Windward Homeowners Inc. Preserve Rural Milton has been very busy recently. South Forsyth has no less than four community groups working zoning cases. I’ve been fortunate to meet folks from most of these groups. They put in hours and hours of tireless work. They’re meeting with developers, planers and politicians, working to find common ground and compromise. These are smart guys and gals who know the process and are working within it.

But that’s not the narrative Mr Hurd and Mr Kennedy would like to be told. Their comments do a disservice to citizen groups like this and their hard work.

Are there some citizens who want no development at all? I’m sure there are. But don’t boil down all zoning opposition like this. The citizens are smarter than you think. They want growth managed and the processes followed. Is that too much to ask?

Alpharetta Restaurant News – March 2014

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

This has been an extraordinary week for new restaurant openings. So many have opened and announced surprises that I’m running this monthly column a week early. Let’s get right into it.

cafe 101The Buford Highway invasion of Johns Creek continues. Cafe 101 began their soft opening Wednesday. They also confirmed that their chef worked at the Doraville Cafe 101 three years ago before that restaurant changed ownership. They along with Liu Fu represent a small but hopefully growing trend of authentic Asian cuisine moving from the Buford Highway corridor to this suburb, perhaps following their clientele. Look for them at the intersection of Jones Bridge and Douglas Roads.

House of Hummus opened last week on North Point near the mall. This Mediterranean restaurant out of the Tallahassee area features shawarma, gyros, a real good lentil soup and hummus of course.

Neopolitian pizzeria 850°F Bar Pizza also opened this week in Crabapple. The big story here is that they hired Stefano Rea to man their oven. Rea is no stranger to this space. He put in a brief stint at Erwoods before it closed. But you’re more likely to remember him as the friendly chef at Campania. He left that gig three months ago.

Next to Campania you’ll find Kickshaw Tavern and Grill which is now open. And Volcano Asian Bistro is now open on Windward in Xian’s old digs. Both restaurants do sushi, but Volcano’s doing it right next to Sushi Nami. Gutsy.

12 slices logoNo restaurant news article would be complete without talking pizza. Back in January we talked about the parting of ways between Jersey Boyz and their Johns Creek franchisee. Looks like his promised independent pizzeria is coming to life. It’ll be called 12 Slices and will be in the same location at 9945 Jones Bridge Road.

Down on Mansell Road you’ll soon find a second location of Kennesaw’s Big Pie in the Sky. You might remember these guys from being on Travel Channel’s Man vs Food show a few years back. If you’re up for trying their carnivore challenge pizza, look for them across from the Melting Pot.

Zoes Kitchen continues their rapid expansion with a new location at The Collection at Forsyth (fka The Avenue). They will open in the former Movie Stop store near Mellow Mushroom. And while you’re there, froyo and cupcake joint Sweet Monkey is now open at The Collection.

We’ve been able to confirm that the Sedgwick Restaurant Group will open a restaurant in the long-vacant Coro spec restaurant building on Roswell Street in downtown Alpharetta. You’ll know the Sedgwicks from places like Pure Taqueria and Vinny’s. With Pure, their newly opened office and now this space, they’ll soon own this entire block of Roswell Street. We’re heard rumors of what the new concept will be but have not confirmed.

But if you want rumors, here’s one. Fried chicken and biscuit purveyor Bojangles may be eying a location in Alpharetta. Word is that they may have an outparcel at the new Twin Oakes shopping center at Old Milton and North Point Parkways. No plans have been filed as of yet.

And Florida-based Burger 21 announced the signing of a new franchisee for what they call “South Alpharetta”. Two years ago they announced a franchisee for the north part of our town. Again, we’ve seen no firm plans that they are building here at this time. They’re pretty late to the burger party.

And speaking of burgers… Indy joint Scratch Fresh will move down the strip mall into the former Fish House/Boga location. The new space will be larger and give them a bit more road exposure. Look for their new digs to open in about a month.

On the closed list this month is Rita’s Italian Ice on McGinnis Ferry and Lupe’s Cantina on Peachtree Parkway. And my blogger friend Eli Zandman reports that Windward’s Cosmic Deli will close this week.

Restaurants Coming Soon
37 Main – A Rock Cafe – Restaurant, bar and music venue coming to Johns Creek in April.
Sip Wine & Tapas – Second location coming soon to The Collection (fka The Avenue) in Forsyth.
Tin Roof Kitchen - The new restaurant at 52 North Main in Alpharetta.
Cuoco Italian Restaurant – The ever renamed Italian restaurant on GA141 near Sharon Road in Forsyth.
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 – Pizza joint opening in Alfresco’s former location on Main and Old Milton.
DaVinci’s Donuts – This cake doughnut maker should open next week!
First Watch – They will anchor the new Twin Oaks shopping center being built on Old Milton and North Point.
El Don Bar and Grill – Mexican restaurant on Atlanta Highway in south Forsyth.
Tower Burger – Will they ever finish?

Start/Stop/Continue – Alpharetta Restaurants 2014

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

We’ve done this article five times now here on Roots, and each year my “start” picks never seem to materialize. We’ll trudge on anyway.

If you’re not familiar with this idea, I’ll explain. At the office we are finishing our yearly reviews. Many bosses perform a peer review exercise where your coworkers are asked to list things you should start doing, bad habits you should stop and activities to continue. It’s sort of a nicer way to dish on your coworkers I guess.

The idea gets adapted here at the start of the year and applied to Alpharetta’s restaurant scene. Last year I wanted to see a craft dessert or ice cream joint open up. That’s still not happening. The doughnut scene has expanded though. We’ve kicked around the fro-yo joints, but their demise was easy to predict. And many more failures are still likely.

So let’s get to it.

Start – Healthy Kids Menus

My wife will love this one. We’re trying to get our kids away from eating highly processed foods. Frozen chicken fingers and mac-n-cheese ain’t gonna cut it anymore. Restaurants put almost no attention into their kids menus. Yet surprisingly the costs seem to go up and up.

How about devoting a little culinary creativity to the little guys? Create something unique and healthy that kids will actually want to eat! If a restaurant could pull this off and get a few food and mom bloggers behind the effort, families would beat a path to your door. Restaurants, are you up for the challenge?

Stop – Pizza

It’s hard to say this because I love the pizza options we have in Alpharetta, especially New York-style. The relocated Yankees brought their pies with them and they’re outstanding. The problem is that the bar is set so high. Don’t you dare open a new pizzeria here unless you can compete with the best.

Campania pizzaAnd then there’s Neapolitan style. It’s about to go gangbusters here. 850°F Bar Pizza will open likely within the month in Crabapple. Campania, my pick for best new restaurant of 2013, is doing terrific business on North Main Street. But they’re keenly aware of the coming competition, especially Antico at Avalon. Their arrival in the ‘burbs is huge. It’ll be interesting to see how they settle into their new Alpharetta digs. It’s doubtful they can recreate the hip midtown vibe and communal dining experience at Avalon. But we’ll see.

Continue – Downtown Alpharetta

The restaurant scene here is growing organically. The city doesn’t have to build high density residential over retail to make this happen!

Hop Alley was a huge success last year, as was Salt Factory. South Main Kitchen has the potential to generate the same amount of buzz yet isn’t getting a lot of attention at this point. It’s a concept from Louis Soon, an alum of Salt Factory going independent. They will transform the boring old building across from City Hall and add a rooftop bar.

And then there’s Roswell Street. The spec restaurant built by Coro Realty has been sold. Rumor is that the Sedgwicks have bought the place. We’re anxiously awaiting news on what’s coming here.

What’s next for downtown Alpharetta’s restaurant scene? How about transforming the abandoned gas station on Main Street into a hip little restaurant?

Photo credit: Mike Murphy

TopGolf’s poles and nets now tallest structure in Alpharetta

Alpharetta might like to take a mulligan on its decision with TopGolf.

top golf logoTopGolf is a unique entertainment complex that leverages embedded RFID technology within a golf ball to create a high-tech driving range experience. In January of last year the city approved their plans to build along GA-400 just north of Mansell Road.

But along the way everyone forgot about the height of the poles and netting. City staff, planning commissioners and council all missed the opportunity to ask about it. And certainly TopGolf wasn’t going to make an issue of it last year.

And just how high are the poles? They’re 138 feet as measured from the average grade of the property. Measuring in averages can be a little distorting. Other TopGolf facilities across the country have poles as tall as 150 to 160 feet or about the height of a 12-story building. To put that into perspective, the tallest building in Alpharetta is the Windward Marriott at eight stories.

And if you’ve driven up GA-400 in the past few weeks you’ve likely noticed. The poles and nets tower above the pines in the undisturbed buffer along the highway. TopGolf also sits on rising land. Motorists entering the city from the south will be greeted by the sight.

It’s the kind of issue Alpharetta would have liked discussed a year ago. No one would want to turn away TopGolf, a unique attraction that will employ as many as 400. But the city might have steered them towards another location versus creating a potential eyesore on a hill.

Instead TopGolf had to come back with a height variance request last month, smack dab in the busy phase of their construction. It put Alpharetta’s Council between a rock and a hard place. Rejecting the request might create a second stalled construction project along Westside Parkway (the other being Fulton Science Academy’s land). And there’s no doubt TopGolf would have appealed such a rejection, especially after having invested so much to this point.

With no other choice, Alpharetta quietly and most certainly reluctantly approved the height variance. Sometimes it best to play your ball where it lies versus taking the penalty stroke.

Fry Me 2 The Moon – South Forsyth

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

Fry me 2 the moon logoWith apologies to Frank Sinatra…

Fry me 2 the moon
Is this a hidden seafood find?
Let me try another fish joint
Along Highway 9

In other words, it’s been tried
In other words, they’ve all closed

Try the fish of the day
It’s basa or rockfish fried golden brown
Variety is all I long for
It may keep me coming down

In other words, please be different
In other words, no more tilapia!

Fill my belly with shrimp
But what they have is all frozen
Wild caught is all I long for
Georgia coast should be chosen!

Fry Me 2 The Moon on Urbanspoon

In other words, fresh would be sublime
In other words, in other words, give them some time.

Alpharetta corporate relocations to watch

Only a day after I teased that a deal was in the works, Governor Nathan Deal announced the Fiserv relocation to Alpharetta. It’s clearly the biggest economic development story the city has seen in years. But there may be others not far down the road. Here are two to keep your eyes on.

NCR

NCRIn the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s story on Fiserv, technology writer Urvaksh Karkaria mentioned this firm. They may be willing to leave their Gwinnett digs for a new home in Alpharetta.

NCR, who relocated their corporate headquarters to Duluth in 2009, manufactures ATMs, cash registers and kiosks. In July of 2011 they acquired Alpharetta-based Radiant Systems. Radiant makes many of the cash registers you see in restaurants. They occupy a building in the Brookside area of Alpharetta just off Old Milton Parkway.

Following the Radiant acquisition, fears were that NCR would close the old Radiant office and consolidate employees in Duluth. The Business Chronicle story suggests the opposite may be true.

It would be huge for Alpharetta to steal two large corporate residents from Gwinnett County in a short period of time. Additionally, when combined with the Fiserv deal, it would bring office vacancy rates down to levels not seen in years. The result could mean a rebirth in office construction in Alpharetta.

State Farm

But on the flip side, might Johns Creek lose this insurance giant?

State Farm has purchased 17 acres of land near the Dunwoody MARTA station. The plan is to have as many as 8,000 employees at a transit-oriented development. It’s a direction the company is taking nation-wide.

Will they close their office in Johns Creek? The company has operated a large corporate campus here for as long as this writer can remember.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – February 2014

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

After being open only about a year Alfresco on Main Street has closed. The family operating the restaurant wanted out and sold. The new owner is from Florida and will keep the pizzeria theme. We’re told the new name will be Crust. You’ve got to make a tremendous pie to be in the upper crust of Alpharetta pizzerias. The competition is fierce. We expect additional pizza closures in 2014.

utopia bar logoA joint called Utopia Bar plans to open on Medlock Bridge in Johns Creek near Sugo in the former Sinbad’s Feast space. The owner used to run a bar and restaurant of the same name in Washington DC that featured live Jazz music. We’ll see if this Johns Creek concept is similar.

Back in October we talked about a potential change in concept at Azul Agave on Old Milton. That metamorphosis appears to be complete as they’re now called Agave Tapas Lounge. Part of the concept is Urban Spice, an Indian menu to go along with the Mexican tapas.

Over in south Forsyth’s Vickery Village, OVR Coffee has closed. But opening soon will be Mary’s Bread Basket. This will be the third location for the sandwich joint out of the Jasper area.

And in fast food news – a Subway franchise will open on Windward in the Tara Humata shopping center. Burger flippers Five Guys will open in the North Point Mall food court. This is the same franchisee that operates the North Point Parkway store. And the gas station Burger King at Old Milton and GA-400 has closed.

Now open for your fried seafood pleasure is Fry Me 2 The Moon in south Forsyth. Also open is Great Harvest Bread at Windward and Main Street. And Mugs on Milton, downtown Alpharetta’s new coffee shop, is finally pouring cups of joe.

Restaurants Coming Soon
37 Main – A Rock Cafe – Restaurant, bar and music venue coming to Johns Creek. Their opening has been pushed back to April 1st.
Sip Wine & Tapas – Second location coming soon to The Collection (fka The Avenue) in Forsyth.
Tin Roof Kitchen - Coming soon to 52 North Main in Alpharetta.
Cafe 101 – Coming to the former Shiraz location in Johns Creek.
House of Hummus – North Point Parkway near Mama’s Pizza.
Cuoco Italian Restaurant – The ever renamed Italian restaurant on GA141 near Sharon Road in Forsyth.
Volcano Asian Bistro – Still remodeling  Xian’s old space on Windward Parkway.
South Main Kitchen – Louis Soon’s new restaurant in downtown Alpharetta. We’re told it may feature a rooftop bar.
DaVinci’s Donuts – Still a few weeks away from opening near Alfresco Crust.
850°F Bar Pizza - Neapolitan pizzeria coming to the old Erwood’s location in Crabapple.
Kickshaw Tavern & Grill - Asian steakhouse opening on North Main near Campania.
First Watch – They will anchor the new Twin Oaks shopping center being built on Old Milton and North Point.
El Don Bar and Grill – Mexican restaurant on Atlanta Highway in south Forsyth.
Sweet Monkey Frozen Yogurt & Cupcakes – Froyo concept opening any day now at The Collection Forsyth.
Tower Burger – Slow buildout but perhaps the coolest second generation Sonic you’ll ever see. Also will feature a rooftop bar.

Finding Food in the Snow

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. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

The Great Snowpocalypse is a distant memory to most of us. Last week, snow and ice descended on the South and caused the worst traffic jam that I have seen in my 39 years in Atlanta.

ColdbrewsI work on Holcomb Bridge Rd near Olive Garden. I left work at 3:00 PM and made it as far as Carl Black Chevy on Hwy 9 before turning around and heading back to work. That short sprint took around seven hours. By the time I got back to work, I was starving and was wondering how I was going to survive the night at work without food. Betraying my Boy Scout roots, I was not prepared for anything other than lunch. While I was sitting in traffic, I took note of all the dark restaurants and shops. I was worried I’d have to raid the break room fridge and eat everyone’s left-overs. Sorry, not sorry.

A wave of relief washed over me when I saw that the sports bar next door. ColdBrews was open.  And not only was it open, it was busy. We called in an order and I was dispatched to gather the food. The place was packed. The employees all looked tired but they had a pep in their steps and were very polite. The food took a little longer, but it came out hot and ready.

After slipping and sliding back across the parking lot, dinner was served. I got the basic burger and fries along with chips and cheese dip. The burger was juicy, the bun soft and flavorful and the toppings were plentiful and fresh. I savored every bite. The queso dip however was runny and watery. Not up to standards.

Our belly’s full, we commenced work for the evening. Around 4:00 AM, we needed more supplies, so we headed out into the snow to the only open place around – CVS. Normally this CVS is open 24 hours anyway, but on that night it became more than just a drug store. It was transformed into a shelter for anyone who needed it. Folks were sleeping in the aisles and wherever there was room. They had supplied coffee and doughnuts for free. The shelves were stocked and employees were friendly. CVS was truly a life-saver for those of us who worked a 25 hour shift before we could make it home.

I know that there were others that were not as lucky and did not have the wonderful folks at ColdBrews and CVS to help make it though. Please feel free to share your stories of any Roswell or Alpharetta restaurants or businesses that helped you out during the 2014 Snowmageddon.

Is a deal in the works for the Cobalt Center?

Alpharetta may be close to landing a massive corporate relocation deal that could bring hundreds of high-paying technology jobs. Recent activity suggests the location would be the Cobalt Center, a vacant corporate campus just off Windward on Westside Parkway and Cumming Street.

Cobalt.picBuilt in 2001, Cobalt is home to two six-story buildings totaling nearly 400,000 square feet with a connected atrium. Nortel Networks and Cingular Wireless once called this place home. In 2006 Cingular became AT&T Wireless however their name remains on some of the property’s signage to this day. About three years ago AT&T Wireless consolidated offices in Atlanta, leaving the Cobalt Center completely vacant. It’s since remained the largest vacant space in the city.

The facility was then purchased by Chicago-based investment firm M & J Wilkow for $20.1 million. Their specialty is recruiting large corporate tenants. Past successes include a relocation deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield in Chicago for a similar property. The Cobalt Center is their only venture in the southeast.

Wilkow’s investment almost paid off last year with General Motors. Cobalt Center was narrowly edged out by UPS’s former digs in Roswell.

Unfortunately there’s no prize for second place in the corporate relocation game. The loss of GM was a bitter pill for Alpharetta to swallow, especially considering that the business went to neighboring Roswell. Since then Alpharetta has doubled down on the economic incentives for Cobalt. Last year the site was granted an opportunity zone designation. This means a future tenant could gain tax benefits of up to $3,500 per job created for five years. The lack of this incentive was a major contributor to losing the GM deal.

Recently a flurry of activity at City Hall suggests that interest may again be brewing at the site. This evening Alpharetta’s Development Authority will meet to approve a bond inducement application. The request is for an undisclosed corporate relocation project of an existing office building on Windward.

And at almost the same time today Alpharetta’s Planning Commission will meet to consider a master plan change for the Cobalt property. The city’s website, known for providing supporting documents for such agenda items, is unusually lacking this time. But the requested change calls for adding a four-story parking deck to the Cobalt Center and a new entry point along Cumming Street.

And in perhaps one last-ditch effort to sweeten a deal, Alpharetta’s Council on Monday approved a small corporate relocation incentive. The program would waive permit and inspection fees for large tenant buildouts at facilities like the Cobalt Center.

A deal at the Cobalt Center would be the economic story of the year for Alpharetta, a serious shot of adrenaline for this area. Keep your fingers crossed.

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