Making sausage at Avalon

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

Avalon logoWe’ve talked a lot about Avalon over the past two years. This is the 21st article I’ve tagged on this blog as being related to the mixed-use development. Hopefully I’ve brought you a lot of the back story of the development.

We talked about the project’s zoning and the showdown over apartments. We mention campaign contributions from North American Properties. Then I took Progress Partners to task for supporting the zoning.

Then there was the apartment swap and Alpharetta’s Ellman tract. And most recently we talked about the lucrative and controversial tax abatements North American Properties quietly received.

And the back story of this development probably isn’t over. Alpharetta is considering partnering with Avalon to build a convention center on the site. If the city decides to move forward with this then we’ll debate the use of public bond funds in this development and how appropriate that may or may not be.

And then there’s the talk about the restaurants and retailers at Avalon (This is my Friday column after all). I stopped keeping up with the changes a few months ago. It was difficult to tell who was in at Avalon, who was out and who was merely being kicked around in conversation.

Hopefully I’ve brought my readers a narrative of what it takes behind the scenes to put together a huge project like this. And I’ll admit that through it all my opinion of Avalon soured. A lot of this process was ugly.

But in the end, the product that’s likely to emerge will be a great one. Avalon’s restaurant list right now is amazing. Three in particular stand out.

First is spin-off concept restaurant Bocado Burger Bar. The Howell Mill restaurant makes a burger that tops many lists as one of the best in Atlanta. A burger-only concept from these guys should considerably raise the bar over the mediocre options we have in Alpharetta.

Second is a yet-to-be-named Mexican concept from Ford Fry. The celebrated chef and restauranteur will be making his first OTP venture here at Avalon.

And finally there’s Antico Pizza Napoletana. Never has a restaurant received as much hype as this one when it first opened in Midtown. Antico will be interesting to watch. They’ll be a formidable challenger to Campania Pizzeria Napoletana on Main Street (who recently made the cover of Atlanta Magazine).

Last week blogger Eli Zandman wrote about Antico’s expansion strategy. It’ll be hard for them to recreate the vibe of their Midtown location. There’s a certain backalley, hidden gem aspect to Antico that I don’t think can be replicated at Avalon. But their pizza knocks everyone’s socks off so who knows.

The rest of Avalon’s restaurant lineup isn’t too shabby either. All in all, North American Properties has done a superb job assembling this collection.

It takes a lot to get a project like Avalon going. It can be ugly. And we don’t know what other incentives NAP had to make to get these tenants to sign on the dotted line. Will they even be there on opening day? How about a year later? Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, knowing that Prospect Park failed at about this point in the process. Then again, I’ll believe it next year when the grease of a Bocado burger is running down my chin.

This Avalon thing hasn’t been pretty, but it’ll be great.

Doug DeRito vs Donald Mitchell

Doug DeRito ran a weak campaign for mayor. He hemmed and hawed about running, finally throwing his hat in pretty late. And as we all know, he finished third in a three way race.

But his 2011 run for mayor interrupted his third term on Council. This is an important detail as it paves the way for his campaign this year.

Alpharetta’s term limit rules restrict Councilmen from serving more than three consecutive terms in a single post. By running for mayor in 2011, DeRito reset the clock on his term limits. He’s free to run for his old job now, and could serve three more terms in the seat if voters will allow him. So perhaps rolling the dice for the Mayor’s job was a calculated strategy on his part, knowing he’d have a decent opportunity to fall back into the Post 1 seat.

Is this something Donald Mitchell might make a campaign issue out of? While DeRito isn’t violating the term limit rules, an argument could be made that he’s not following the spirit of the law.

Mitchell BRAA similar argument was made in 2010 when Jim Paine defeated John Monson for David Belle Isle’s vacant Council seat. Paine switched posts to skirt the term limit rules. Monson certainly made it a campaign issue then, but the voters didn’t seem to mind.

But this is just one of many issues that could surface in this campaign. Of course there’s Mitchell’s reality show appearance, a story you heard first on this blog. Or there is the controversy from 2010 involving DeRito, the Alpharetta CVB and the high school. This campaign could get nasty real quick.

But if discussion heads back toward the issues (and hopefully it will), things should trend DeRito’s way. He’s a policy wonk and loves the inner workings of municipal government. Mitchell is still getting his hands around the issues currently before Council. In a debate format, DeRito will eat Mitchell’s lunch.

But Mitchell is a terrific retail campaigner. He’s got a charming and friendly demeanor (his reality show character notwithstanding). If he knocks on enough doors this fall, Mitchell’s got a shot at this thing.

How do you think this campaign will play out? Will character be a driving issue? Or will issues separate the candidates?

Grilling and Gridiron Tailgate Party

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 Jeanette Dummer.

grilling gridironThere are few social events in American culture that are more fun than going to a tailgate party, especially here in the South.  Every Saturday afternoon beginning in early September, thousands of the college football faithful park near their beloved stadiums and unlock the tailgates to their vehicles to engage in the seasonal rite that is grilling, drinking beer, and discussing the day’s game matchup. While tailgating is, in and of itself, a fun and worthwhile pursuit, how much better would it be if the grilling and beer drinking was for a charitable cause?

On Saturday, September 7, downtown Alpharetta will be the site of the city’s inaugural Grilling and Gridiron Tailgate event, hosted by and benefiting The Lionheart School. Different groups from the community as well as restaurants will be setting up tailgating displays and grills along Old Roswell Street to create mouthwatering dishes. Lionheart parents will be manning a ticket booth to sell bracelets that will allow participants to sample all food while a giant LED screen broadcasts the UGA vs. South Carolina game.

For those who want to sample the best beer that South Carolina and Georgia have to offer, a combined grilling & beer tasting bracelet can be purchased (beer tasting presented by Blind Murphy Craft Beer Market). For those folks who don’t care so much for the game, but love to browse local arts and crafts, students from the LionheARTisans program will be hosting a booth featuring items for sale. All participants will be eligible to vote on who will be named Alpharetta’s Grilling Champion.

Think of it as Food Truck Alley in a football atmosphere with a local philanthropic purpose; how very Alpharetta!

Click here for event details from the city of Alpharetta’s website

Click here to learn more about The Lionheart School

TICKET INFORMATION (click here to purchase tickets online):

$15 for Grilling tasting only bracelet
$25 for Grilling tasting and Beer tasting bracelet
$250 for a reserved table near the screen with eight (8) Grilling and Beer Tasting bracelets

EVENT TIMELINE:

12:00 – 3:00   Move in and set up for booths, grills, and screen
2:00 – 3:30    Grilling
3:00                Tailgate judging, entertainment begins
3:00                Sale of bracelets for grill tasting and beer tasting starts, grill tasting starts
4:30                Game starts
5:00                Grill tasting and beer tasting ends

Halftime Awards Ceremony:

Grillmaster of Alpharetta – Best in Show
Best Beef
Best Chicken
Best Tailgate
Best of the Rest

Jekyll Brewery Tour

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.

I first reported on Jekyll Brewing, Alpharetta’s first brewery, back in February concerning their Kickstarter campaign.  They reached the goal (and then some) and got to work building out and brewing beer.

Jekyll TastingSince then Jekyll’s brews have spread throughout the community and can be found in several growler stores and restaurants.  The brewery has opened recently to the public for tours.  I strapped on my beer bib and headed down for my first taste of Jekyll goodness.

Like many of the Atlanta brewery tours, you pay a fee ($12 in this case) and get a glass along with several tickets that can be redeemed for tastes.  The type of glassware that you get will rotate.

I headed to the bar with my mason jar emblazoned with the Jekyll Brewing logo clutched in my hands.  One ticket gets you a small pour of whatever you want.  Two tickets gets you a large pour.  I used several tickets trying small amounts of different products and reserved two tickets for the one I liked the best.

Jekyll has come out of the gate with three offerings – Hop Dang Diggity, an American IPA, Big Creek Kolsch and Cooter Brown, an American brown ale.

I’m not an IPA drinker but I found the Hop Dang Diggity very pleasant with more fruit and less bitter.

My favorite was the kolsch, named for nearby Big Creek.  It was very light and refreshing, a perfect summer beer.

The Cooter Brown was my least favorite.  Darker with a huge overtone of chocolate, it just didn’t sit well with me.  Now, if you’re from the south and are of a certain age, the name Cooter conjures up images of the General Lee jumping police cars. But I was told that the name comes from the legend of Cooter Brown.  He was a man who didn’t want to fight in the Civil War, so he stayed drunk the whole war.  Not sure how many folks would get that reference.

Everyone hangs out in the front space until the tours happen.  They don’t have set tour times, they just happen when there’s enough folks that want to go on one.  The tours are brief as the brewery is small.  Stops along the tour include the offices, the keg storage area, the empty room that will soon become a laboratory of sorts, and the brewery itself.  A word of advice; do not dress warmly.  It is approximately 1,293 degrees back in the brewery thanks to the giant supernova open flame used to boil the batches.  It’s all very cool.

The space in the front is a little sparse at the moment, but Jekyll has plans to add sofas, video games and TV’s to go along with the free play pinball and life-size Jenga game.  They want folks to come by after work or on the weekends, have a beer and hang out.

The brewery, located off Windward on Marconi Drive, is open Tuesday through Friday from 5-9 PM and Saturdays 1-9 PM.  No visitors under 21 are allowed so leave the kids at home.  They’re also available for corporate or group functions like Christmas parties or birthdays.

I highly recommend checking out Jekyll Brewing, taking the tour, tasting some great local beer and saying hi to owner Mike and brew master Josh.  It’s really great to be able to visit and watch their dream develop right before your eyes.  Maybe it’s the beer talking, but we should all take a page from their book and make our own dreams happen.

Problems at Patch taking root locally

AOL’s problems with Patch are, unfortunately, starting to take root locally.

Patch CerealAOL, by some estimates, has invested over $300 million in their hyper-local news venture. But from the company’s very founding critics argued the business model was flawed. They were right. Last week the company announced layoffs and the closure or consolidation of hundreds of their local editions.

On Friday both the Roswell and Alpharetta/Milton editions showed new editors on the masthead. The name Anthony Duignan-Cabrera now displays in that spot, apparently replacing Christine Foster and Bob Pepalis. The user profiles of Foster and Pepalis are no longer on Patch.

Duignan-Cabrera is Patch’s Vice President and Editorial Director out of their main New York office. His name also appears as the editor of the Loganville-Grayson Patch and nearly thirty other Patches across the country.

The company hasn’t announced changes to local editions but my bet is on consolidation. Rumors online indicate that some editors were given severance incentives to stay on through October. Perhaps this is when readers will notice big changes.

You can certainly blame higher-ups at AOL for Patch’s demise. But that blame shouldn’t be pointed at the local editors. They were all professional, college-educated journalists. Most had deep resumes reporting local news. They also worked insanely long hours to bring you the news.

Bob Pepalis worked for years at the Appen Newspapers prior to joining Patch. In discussing events with him offline I found his knowledge to be vast. He had a solid grasp of deep, complicated stories and the factors that moved them. And it showed in his reporting. He was fair and thorough.

I appreciated the conversation on the Alpharetta Patch. The discussions were lively and insightful. They were also a very healthy thing for the community. You’re not likely to see this anymore on Patch and that’s a shame.

So we’ll continue to observe the slow, spiraling collapse of AOL’s Patch over the coming months. We can poke fun at their executives. What were they thinkin’? But in the end citizens are likely to lose a good source of very local news and conversation. That’s never a good thing.

Peach Pundit BBQ Tour comes to Alpharetta

What’s Peach Pundit? It’s just a blog. No it’s a an outstanding blog, perhaps Georgia’s premier political blog. I’m a regular reader and you should be too.

peach pundit logoWhat’s the BBQ Tour? It’s the blog’s road tour where they get out and meet readers. They pick a barbecue restaurant in each of Georgia’s Congressional districts to host an event. Monday it’s the 6th District’s turn. Alpharetta’s Smokejack BBQ has been picked for the location.

The event is fairly informal. Show up, grab a table and order your meal. The only confirmed speaker will be Congressman Tom Price. The rest of the time is reserved for informal chats among the participants. Expect a few campaigning politicians to be in attendance as we’re on the eve of municipal election season. Or you can introduce yourself to Peach Pundit’s all-star lineup of bloggers. It’s the kind of event I love. You can’t go wrong combining politics and barbecue!

Here’s the 411:

What: Peach Pundit BBQ Tour – 6th Congressional District
Where: Smokejack BBQ, Downtown Alpharetta
When: Monday August 19th, 6:30 – 8:00pm

More information can be found here.

Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin and Town Hall Roswell Dining Out

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

We don’t post events often on this blog. But if there’s something unique about the event or we have commentary to offer then by all means we’ll promote. This month two upcoming foodie events in Roswell are worth your attention.

Crankin-logo1-300x225The first is Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’. This is a homemade ice cream festival that offers unlimited tastings for only six bucks. There’s some outstanding ice cream to be enjoyed. It all benefits The Drake House, a charity that offers transitional housing to homeless women and their families. Last year in this article I wrote in more detail about this terrific charity. If you’re not familiar with their work then I encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more.

The event will be held on Sunday August 25th from 2:00 – 4:00 at the Roswell Square. I’d get there right at 2:00 if I were you. More information can be found at www.missmarysicecream.org.

Next is an event put on by Roswell Next called Town Hall Roswell – Dining Out. The event will feature a panel discussion hosted by several of Roswell’s celebrated restauranteurs. Among those speaking will be Ryan Pernice (Table & Main), Hicham Anzari (Salt Factory, Little Alley Steak and Opulent) and Rich Clark (Hugo’s Oyster Bar and C&S Seafood). These guys helped shape the face of OTP dining so bring your best questions!

It takes place on Thursday August 22nd from 7:00 – 9:00 at the Roswell Historic Cottage. Cost is $15 for non-members or bring a food donation. Look for more details on the event’s webpage or RSVP on Facebook.

Compromise reached on Rucker Road mosque

The City of Alpharetta and the Islamic Center of North Fulton have reached a compromise in their three year battle. This story was first reported by WSB-TV’s Mike Petchenik but thus far has not been covered by local media.

ICNF 2013 front elevationThe ICNF operates a small mosque on Rucker Road in Alpharetta. In the Spring of 2010 they petitioned the city to expand their facility. Local opposition was immense, overflowing public meetings. Neighbors claimed that ICNF broke a promise made years earlier to not expand. Alpharetta’s Council unanimously rejected the mosque’s request.

ICNF sued the city, going straight to federal district court. This court ruled in favor of the city in a summary judgement. The case was then appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Department of Justice took an interest in the case, as did the Jewish Anti-Defamation League who sided with the ICNF.

Arguments were heard in February and the two sides were sent to mediation this Spring. A compromise appears to have been reached from that mediation. The result comes in the form of a second request from the ICNF sent to Alpharetta’s Community Development Department. This proposal calls for a facility smaller than the one sought in 2010. It will measure in at 7,900 square feet (down from 15,000 square feet) and would contain their mosque and community hall. The buildings will feature brick construction rather than the more modern look of the 2010 plan.

Where do we go from here? Alpharetta’s Planning Commission will hold a rare executive session this week, presumably to discuss this matter. It will then be voted on by this group followed by City Council.

Will there again be local opposition? In his story Mike Petchenik interviewed a neighbor who seemed fine with the compromise. It’ll be interesting to see if others feel the same way. One would think that Alpharetta’s Council wouldn’t agree to this without a strong feeling that the community was behind it. Keep in mind that this case will hit the Council’s calendar at the same time election season begins. The last thing incumbent Councilmen want is a controversy to boil over at election time.

What’s this blogger’s take? I sided with the mosque back in 2010, something that put me in a huge minority here in Alpharetta. My personal feeling is that land use plans should bend over backwards to accommodate houses of worship. They’re vital to any community.

That being said, I’m excited to see both sides work together towards this compromise. It is a good plan that allows the mosque to serve their congregation while also minimizing impact to the surrounding area. I hope we can put this ugly controversy behind us.

MARTA’s Connect 400 survey is paltry, irresponsible

Today MARTA’s board will hear findings from the Connect 400 initiative. The study will present what they call the “Locally Preferred Alternative” for transit along the GA-400 corridor.

MARTA trainThe recommendation is for heavy rail. They want it built up the GA-400 right of way to Windward Parkway at an estimated capital cost of $2.6 billion.

I really wish I could be at the meeting today. No, I don’t want to speak out against heavy rail. I just want to see if these guys can make this suggestion and keep a straight face.

The study is making this recommendation after hearing from only 136 respondents. Somehow this miniscule sample size is enough to determine a local preference.

Let’s look at a few other recent public surveys to put this into perspective. Over 500 residents responded to the Highway 9 LCI study in Alpharetta and Milton. Approximately 400 responded to the survey for the Envision Main Street project.

Making changes to a few miles of Main Street is slightly less involved than bringing heavy rail to Windward. It’s probably on the magnitude of one one-thousandth the size actually. Yet Alpharetta managed to get more than double the number of respondents to their little study.

It’s laughable. MARTA representatives are willing to claim their have found the preference of north Fulton by talking to 136 people? Or was the decision preordained?

The study will hold only one additional public meeting before asking MARTA’s board for final approval. I’ll bet you a fist full of MARTA tokens that this meeting is scheduled during a weekday when typical working stiffs can’t come. Maybe it’ll be in the friendly confines of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. That’s where the only Connect 400 meeting in Alpharetta was held.

I’ve not seen an independent, scientific poll on heavy rail preferences in north Fulton. My guess is that support for the project would be pretty evenly split. It’s a polarizing issue. It’s also an important one. That’s why it’s irresponsible to present such a poorly executed study like Connect 400. MARTA’s board should reject the study and insist on a deeper and more exhaustive survey.

And regardless of your opinion of heavy rail in north Fulton, be sure to ask your local city and county officials what they think. Municipal elections are coming. Candidates squirm when asked about MARTA heavy rail. It’s fun to watch.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – August 2013

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

firefly3070 Windward Plaza Suite P is a beautiful location for a restaurant. It’s also cursed. Five restaurants have opened and failed here. Most recently was Firefly who’s buildout cost over half a million dollars. They lasted only a few months.

Restaurant broker The Shumacher Group reports they have sold the restaurant. The buyer is Jim Prince. There’s no word yet on what his concept will be. Prince was behind the former Fratelli di Napoli on North Point Parkway.

All-you-can-eat buffet AJ’s Country Cooking opened about a week ago on Haynes Bridge Road. Expect a decent sized buffet for only eight bucks. Unfortunately canned veggies dominate the offerings.

An opening is expected any day now at The Corner Burger Shop in the Midway community of south Forsyth. They’re in the former Construct-a-Burger space on Post Road right next to the little league baseball diamond. We’re told the owner was the former general manager at Dreamland BBQ in Roswell.

And we’re anxious to learn more about Collet French Pastry. A business by this name is building in a storefront next to the Sabri Guven jewelry store on Old Milton Parkway. Think a French bakery would work in Alpharetta? Oui.

Update: A late addition from our man on the street (Mike). Replacing MAC Meals on South Main Street will be Aunty’s Authentic Indian Restaurant. And Pollo Tropical says they will be opening their Alpahretta location on August 16th.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Salt Factory – Hopefully opening in February August.
Rosati’s Pizza – Chicago-style pizza joint converting the former Buckhead Pizza space across from The Avenue Forsyth The Collection at Forsyth.
Mama’s Pizza – Their reopening has been delayed a bit. Look for them any day now in new digs on North Point.
Philly Factory – Franchise cheesesteak joint planning an opening on Old Milton next to Dunkin Donuts.
Cafe Caribe – Cuban/Caribbean restaurant coming to Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth.
Tower Burger – Slowly converting the old Sonic building on South Main Street.
Great Harvest Bread – Sammich chain coming to Windward next to Mambo’s Cafe.
Main Street Kitchen – Coming to the old 52 Bistro space on North Main Street.
Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe – Alabama-based chain coming soon to Windward Parkway.
Casa Del Sol Mexican Bar and Grill – Mexican joint in Forsyth near 141 and highway 9.
7 Tequilas Cantina – Mexican restaurant replacing Smokejack in Forsyth’s Midway community.
Jose’s Mexican Grill – New concept from the folks that brought you Rio Nuevo. North Point and Webb Bridge.
Hurricane Grill – Wing joint coming to Johns Creek, Medlock Bridge and State Bridge.
Dunkin Donuts – Building two new Forsyth locations; McFarland at Hwy 9 and Peachtree Parkway near Dutch Monkey Doughnuts.
First Watch – Breakfast concept building at Northpoint and Old Milton.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical, Zoe’s – Starting to look like real restaurants now.

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