Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – November 2012

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

It hasn’t been a tremendously busy month for restaurant news. There are a few joints and thankfully no closures to report. But if last year is any indication, I expect to see a handful of places close at the end of the year.

Campania Pizzeria – We’re slowly starting to learn more details of this place coming soon to the vacant stripmall at 800 North Main Street in Alpharetta. They will be a Neapolitan-style pizza joint, a genre we don’t see a lot of in these parts. Look for a February 2013 opening. Stay tuned to Foodie Friday for more details.

Next week is Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. So maybe it’s no coincidence that I have two new Indian joints to report. Is Alpharetta saturated with Indian cuisine? Perhaps not as I don’t report on many closures.

The first is Mayuri Indian Restaurant which will open in the old Pizza Hut/Woody’s BBQ space near North Point Mall. Mayuri is a Hindi word for a female peacock (a peahen I guess). Buildout is starting now.

Nilgiris Bakery and Cafe is now open on GA141 near Brookwood in south Forsyth. Look for Indian food and sweets. They are across the street from Target in a tough spot to see from the road.

A small restaurant called Sushi Mania is planning to open in Johns Creek. They will be in the Camden Village shopping center near the original Marlow’s Tavern on Old Alabama near Jones Bridge.

And don’t forget that tomorrow is Alpharetta’s newest foodie event, Vintage Corks and Gourmet Trucks. The fun starts at 1:00 pm in downtown Alpharetta. For more information see the article I wrote three weeks ago or hit the city’s website here.

Now Open

Sally’s Gluten Free Bakery opened on October 25th. Look for them on Kimball Bridge a bit south of Old Milton. Tap on Main opened doors a few weeks ago in downtown Alpharetta. I’d call it a soft opening really. Check them out in the old Coffee Pot location. Expect a decent selection of craft beer (but not like at a growler store) and some smallish-yet-manly sandwiches.

And I’m pleased as punch to report that Grand Champion BBQ has finally opened in Crabapple after an excruciatingly-long delay. You can expect to find Q made with amazing attention to detail that’s almost competition caliber. The space is a little small though. They’re in the old Elements Coffee location.

And finally, Bite is set to reopen in a matter of days. They temporarily closed their much-hyped Alpharetta restaurant while construction crews knocked down a wall and expanded into the adjacent space. It’ll be interesting to see what these guys can do with a full bar offering. In the meantime, drool over this picture of their lobster roll.

Retail News

Not a lot to report in this space. A cell phone repair shop called Bob Knows Phones has opened on Haynes Bridge near the new Walmart Neighborhood Market. This might be a cheaper alternative for hipsters seeking to repair their expensive Apple products. And a new salon called Studio NV is planning an opening on Windward near the new Mambo’s Cafe. More on Mambo’s in a minute.

Restaurants Coming Soon

OVR Coffee Cafe – A vegan bakery and coffee shop in south Forsyth’s Vickery Village. Look for them in the old Mommy Francis space.
Mambo’s Cafe – Construction is coming along in their new space on Windward. Can’t wait for these guys to reopen.
Tower Burgers - They are looking at the old Sonic building on South Main Street but there is still no sign of life here.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical – A trifecta of new restaurants to be built on Haynes Bridge near the mall entrance. I expect Pollo Tropical to be the first of the three to emerge.
BurgerFI – Fast-casual burger concept coming to Windward next to FedEx.

Do Presidential elections matter in Alpharetta?

Do Presidential elections matter here in the affluent burbs? They probably don’t deserve the effort or attention we give them. Before you label me a cynic or sore Republican loser, hear me out.

Georgia continues to be a solidly red state. The poll numbers during this election never doubted this fact, placing our state in the “solid Romney” column all along. Our sixteen electoral votes were practically counted before anyone mashed a finger to a voting screen. Yet voters turned out in huge numbers.

The presidential election is a circus that goes on forever. Most of what you hear from candidates is carefully screened and put before focus groups. It lacks substance. And as the campaign looms, the talk of the election changes from issues to the race itself. We watch poll numbers and campaign strategy. In the waning weeks no one is bantering issues or ideas. It ends up feeling like more of a popularity contest, like I’m voting for American Idol or something.

Contrast this with local elections. Thankfully they are far shorter in their duration and usually over in one cycle. In most cases candidates lack the funds to conduct a lot of polls or focus groups. Topics actually include issues – real issues that effect your everyday life. In fact I’d argue that local elections are probably more important to what truly matters to you than any national election.

Don’t get me wrong, the presidential election is important. Washington will always take a larger hunk of your wallet than city hall. But it’s the decisions at school board meetings, county commission meetings and among city councilmen that can have an enormous impact on YOU! How?

Your school board decides how your children will be educated. They redistrict neighborhoods, pick your child’s curriculum or oversee your charter schools.

The alphabet soup of transportation agencies (ARC, GRTA, STRA, GDOT, etc) make decisions (usually frightfully bad ones) that effect your commute. How much time do you spend in traffic, away from your family? Barack Obama isn’t likely to improve or worsen your commute.

City Hall directs land use planning. Their decisions have a tremendous impact on your quality of life, the amenities offered in your area and property values. Yet changes to this process attract relatively little attention when compared to the hoopla surrounding Obama’s reelection. It’s a shame really.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should skip the presidential elections. I was among the 80.7% of Forsyth County voters who picked Mitt Romney on Tuesday. But if you’re seeking a place to direct all this leftover political energy, try looking a little closer to home. You might think Barack Obama will run this country into the ground, but local politicians have the potential to wreck your property values, schools or drive to work. Pay attention!

Photo Credit: The Suss-Man Mike (creative commons)

Mac Meal – South Main Street

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.

Mac Meal is one of the newest international restaurants to make an appearance in Alpharetta.  I was driving down Hwy 9 and noticed the large red sign in the Northfall business complex but had no idea what Mac Meal was. A search online revealed very little information other than they served Mediterranean food. It warranted a visit to see what Mac Meal was all about.

Mac Meal opened a little over five months ago. The owners moved to the US about a year ago from Persia. The Alpharetta location is actually the third location. The other two are in Australia and are run by the owners three children.

The place was clean and neat.  It looked like they recycled some of the decor from Quiznos, the former tenant. The smell of the gyro meat was intoxicating. The menu is typical Greek/Middle Eastern, but it is a little small. There are only twelve main items. Items range from gyros to falafel to hamburgers to salads. There was talk of eventually adding a smoker to make kabobs. There is also a breakfast menu posted on the wall with several types of omelets and eggs to choose from. I found the breakfast menu a little odd since they don’t open until 10:00 AM.

The owners were very nice and conversational while my food was being prepared. They seemed very eager to make a good impression. I ordered a gyro with fries for me and a Mediterranean salad for my wife. The salad was prepared from scratch as I ordered it, and it was huge! Lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, onions, carrots and tomatoes all went into my to go container. I opted to add gyro meat for $2.00 more. The container could barely be closed once they were done. My wife loved it. The only complaint was the lack of tzatziki sauce. It would have been $1.50 extra. The gyro meat was sliced off of the vertical rotisserie and then placed on the flat top for a little extra sizzle.

My gyro was also made from scratch while I waited. It was also gigantic, overflowing with meat, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and smothered with tzatziki sauce. It was nearly 9 inches long. Although the fries were frozen, they were well cooked and weren’t bad. My son loved them. The gyro meat was super tasty, juicy and tender. The tzatziki sauce was a little on the bland side for my tastes.

The prices were very reasonable. I got out of there for less than twenty bucks. The gyro was $5.99 and the endless salad was $6.99. We were completely stuffed afterwards.

Mac Meal on Urbanspoon

Mac Meal doesn’t have an internet or social media presence, which will hurt in this day and age. There’s no way to find an online menu or even a phone number. I took a menu as I was leaving and noted that there is a web site listed on the back. I went to it and it doesn’t exist. The place was empty at 5:30 PM but I was told that lunch is a busier time. The food was excellent but relying on word of mouth will take time. I look forward to many more delicious meals.

Alpharetta – Suburban Wasteland?

Alpharetta is a suburban wasteland, full of strip malls, disconnected communities and traffic. The “suburban experiment” this country engaged in has failed.

From time to time I hear urbanists spout things like this. Certainly what we recognize as modern suburbia will dwindle and die out, right? Eventually no one will want to live here.

Or better yet, urbanists will follow this fill-in-the-blank model with their logic. “If Alpharetta doesn’t ______, then ______ will happen.” You can fill in the blanks with just about anything. How about – If Alpharetta doesn’t adopt the tenants of new urbanism then young people won’t move here and employers will leave. Or how about – If we don’t pass T-SPLOST, employers won’t relocate here.

If Alpharetta is truly a suburban wasteland, why is this city such an amazing place to live? Why do people and companies keep coming here? Just look at the news in the last few weeks.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that Alpharetta’s Windward Parkway is on a short list of possible locations for General Motors’ new 1,500 employee IT innovation center. GM, being from Detroit, certainly knows what a wasteland looks like. Alpharetta is no wasteland.

Or how about Gwinnett Tech choosing Alpharetta over every other city in north Fulton? Certainly the strong workforce here was a factor. The Georgia Department of Labor reported last week that Alpharetta’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.3%, the lowest in Georgia. Wastelands have large swaths of struggling, unemployed citizens. Alpharetta doesn’t.

The real estate market here is doing surprisingly well given the national economy. We’re starting to see new development of single family home neighborhoods again. Realtor Bob Strader declared on his blog last week that we’re in a seller’s market! People can’t sell homes in wastelands.

Reports of Alpharetta’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. It boggles the mind to think that politicians, policy makers, city staff or others would dare tinker with the recipe that brought Alpharetta such sweet success.

This community is thriving. Job prospects in Alpharetta are good, quality of life fantastic and school system exceptional. This is a great place to live, work or raise a family – by any measure. I challenge you to find news today that suggests otherwise.

Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB (creative commons)

Would you eat at this joint?

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

Would you eat a meal at this joint if had the following inspection report?

Date mark all food items taken out of original packaging. No consistent date marking procedure.
Observed several food containers not properly labeled/ cooked vegetables/ tater tot casserole.
Observed failure to label repackaged food items.
Workers handling food must have hair restraints.
Using open drink cups in food prep area. Do not eat or drink in food prep area.
Worker seen handling ready to eat food with bare hands when glove or utensil use is required.
Observed personal items stored with, or next to, food items; designate specific area.

That’s certainly a below-par score. Are you going to be praying to the porcelain god after eating at this place? Is it worth rolling the dice?

What if I told you this isn’t a restaurant but rather my kitchen. That’s right, I attempted to score myself using the same standards as published by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The tater tot casserole was a dead giveaway, wasn’t it?

So would you still eat here? Master chef I’m not, but I make a pretty mean shrimp gumbo. You’d be missing out!

Maybe it isn’t a fair comparison. We should hold restaurants to very high standards of food safety. For example, I’m thankful restaurant workers are required to use gloves when handling food. But some of the recent changes to Georgia’s inspection process have dinged reputable restaurants that never posed a danger to food safety.

I’m thinking primarily of food labeling rules. I know that my wife made the tater tot casserole two nights ago. It’s still safe to eat (and still delicious). A small mom and pop restaurant with limited kitchen staff is likely to know when food hit their fridge as well.

But not labeling and dating repackaged grub could ding a restaurant a half letter grade or more. And if the inspector spies a bartender sticking a lemon in a beer with his bare hands then all of a sudden your stellar restaurant is looking at a low-B grade.

So what’s a food safety conscience gastronome to do? Relying on score alone doesn’t cut it for me – although repeat offenders get little sympathy. Temperature holding violations are my most serious concern. And insect/rodent infestation is downright nasty.

What are your warning flags are for restaurant inspections? Do you go by score alone? And where might I purchase a hairnet?

On tragedy and not blogging

One thing I’ve learned from blogging is that sometimes you shouldn’t. The decision not to write about something can be more important than writing itself. That’s the case this week.

In a matter of just a few days two tragedies hit this community resulting in the loss of life. Both were senseless. It would be easy to write something angry and bitter. No doubt some of those involved were careless or acted irresponsibly.

And there’s probably a blog post or two in here about living in an affluent suburb and what comes with that.

But now’s not the time. At the end of the day two lives were taken much too soon. People are grieving. Let them grieve.

Instead spend an extra bit of time with those you love. Step away from the hustle and bustle of suburban life for a moment. Be reminded and refocused on what’s important in life.

Vintage Corks and Gourmet Trucks

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

Alpharetta used to have a culinary edge over Roswell. It was small – and brief – and now gone. But for a time Alpharetta was welcoming trendy food trucks to town before Roswell.

About a year and a half ago a handful of food trucks started testing the waters in Alpharetta. They’d hitch up at the farmer’s market, an occasional office park for lunch or at Harry’s. And best of all, they were driving past Roswell to get here! Alpharetta foodies rejoiced.

But recently things have slowed. Roswell passed a food truck ordinance and their monthly Alive After Five event is drawing trucks in larger numbers. Alpharetta looks to even the score with November’s food truck and wine event – Vintage Corks and Gourmet Trucks.

The event will feature $3 food tasting from the trucks and $3 half wine glass offerings from Sip Wine and Vino 100. The food truck roundup will be:

Hail Caesar – Offering salads and sandwiches made with local ingredients.
Happy Belly Curbside Kitchen – Also featuring fresh ingredients and prodigious use of big green eggs.
The Blaxican – Mexican/soul food fusion. Think you’d ever find something like this in a suburban restaurant?
Wow Food Truck – Featuring arepas – griddled corn cakes from Venezuela stuffed with savory meats.
Yum Yum Cupcake – Fancy cupcakes.

The city of Alpharetta’s staff do a tremendous job pulling off events like this. I hope it becomes a regular feature downtown. Here’s the 411…

What: Vintage Corks and Gourmet Trucks
When: Saturday, November 10, 2012 1:00 PM
Where: Downtown Alpharetta, across from city hall

Domestic violence claims victim in Alpharetta

The juxtaposition of these two headlines really jumped out today. Knowing the staff at the Appen Newspapers, I’m sure it was not an accident. The same day the paper writes a story about domestic violence awareness a woman dies of wounds suffered in a domestic violence incident. The online cover of the newspaper was ironic, chilling and poignant at the same time.

We’re fortunate that murders are extremely rare in this community but they do happen. What’s less rare, unfortunately, is domestic violence. Charities like Family Haven in Forsyth County play such a vital role and should be supported.

Please join me in offering thoughts and prayers for this family. I hope justice is served.

The Crescent Resources apartment double standard in Milton

The apartments at Avalon will be first class. Apartment developer AMLI wanted to put upscale apartments on Westside Parkway. Additionally, AMLI’s new Mansell Road community features granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and LEED certified buildings.

Nearly every new, planned or renovated apartment community in this area is being developed and promoted as upscale. AMLI wanted so much to prove this fact that they twice invited this blogger on a tour of their newest community.

So why then is apartment developer Crescent Resources saying the City of Milton “denied the opportunity to have an appropriate, affordable residence” in the city? They accuse the city of violating the Georgia Fair Housing Act.

View Crescent Resources apartments in a larger map

Over the summer Crescent asked to build apartments on a tract of land along Deerfield Parkway. The city of Milton narrowly turned down the request. Last week Crescent sued Milton in Fulton County court.

Mike Petchenik with WSBtv ran a story on this in a 4:00 newscast. The AJC did a big spread on the story this past Saturday but it isn’t available online. Local north Fulton media has not covered this story at all. Disappointing. But back to the apartments…

Is Crescent Resources trying to have it both ways with their apartments? Certainly no developer in their right mind would approach a city in this area with the intention of building lower-end apartments. And Milton certainly wouldn’t want to put them here, in an area awash with apartments and condos. The beleaguered Manning Oaks school district definitely doesn’t need the addition of these apartments (a controversial topic covered in this blog last year).

Or perhaps Crescent is playing to their audience. Their lawsuit was filed in a Fulton County court in Atlanta. Perhaps the affordable housing argument will play better there. Either way, this is laughable.

This parcel of land is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago Crescent wanted the land zoned for a special needs school. That zoning passed over some opposition. And a portion of the land is zoned for a data center that Global Payments was eying. Both would be better uses for the property. Additionally, the recently-completed Highway 9 LCI study identified this property as having an activity center with road connectivity to the Fry’s shopping center along Highway 9.

The AJC article thought this would be Milton’s first big test of their land use plans. The real question is – does Milton have the courage to fight this and the willingness to spend money to do so? They rolled over when the Bethany Bend gas station sued over a denied zoning. And is their zoning code strong enough to defend a much more serious challenge?

Were this to happen in Alpharetta there would be no question – the city would fight. After all, Alpharetta is willing to go toe-to-toe with the US Justice Department to deny some people of faith their request to expand. It’s an interesting contrast.

Prediction – the cash-strapped new city will not want to spend the money fighting this case. They will quickly cave under the pressure. This will embolden developers to bring more apartments to the city, especially considering the lockdown on apartments next door in Alpharetta.

Milton has little remaining land in their business and commercial corridor. They cannot accord for it to be developed residential (as Alpharetta is doing along GA-400). The young city should reexamine their code so as to give their council protection in cases like this apartment denial.

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – October 2012

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

We’re nearing the end of a busy season of new restaurant openings. Expect a few more before year’s end followed by several closures in December and January. Just a hunch.

Ford Fry – Avalon

The NAP PR machine had this story everywhere so it’s old news by now. Celebrated Atlanta chef Ford Fry will have a yet-to-be-determined concept restaurant in Avalon. With this announcement NAP makes good on a promise to bring Alpharetta a high-end, chef-driven restaurant.

Also announced was Cru Food and Wine Bar. Alpharetta will be their first location in the southeast. And you had to figure an Atlanta-based burger joint would come to Avalon. I secretly hoped it would be Farm Burger. Turns out it will be Yeah! Burger. By the time they open Alpharetta will be smothered with burger concepts.

Marlow’s Tavern and Ted’s Montana Grill were also announced. These chains are already at several of Cousins’ Avenue properties.

Coffee Pot – Closed

Another independent coffee shop has closed – well sorta. The owners of downtown Alpharetta’s little coffee shop on Main Street have decided to change concepts. They will now open as…

Tap on Main

They’re no doubt taking advantage of Alpharetta’s liberalized new rules on beer and open containers in downtown. They’re not quite open at this point but when they do you can expect cured meats and a good selection of craft beer on tap. Their best source of information right now is on Facebook. And speaking of beer…

Cherry Street Brewing Co-operative – Vickery Village

Aldo Nahed with the Forsyth Herald again gets the beer scoop on this story. And give Forsyth County credit for being the most progressive with their beer laws. They were first to allow growlers and now may be the first to allow breweries.

The guys at Cheery Street want to brew their own beer and distribute to growler stores across metro Atlanta. There’s certainly a market for this as most local growler stores stock Atlanta favorites like Red Hare. I expect the county to eventually allow this. When they do, watch for an opening next to Tanner’s in Vickery Village.

Sally’s Gluten Free Bakery

This Sandy Springs-based bakery will open a second location in Alpharetta this fall. Expect a menu of cakes, breads, cookies and cupcakes all made without that pesky protein composite. Look for them in the Kimball Commons Shopping Center on Kimball Bridge just south of Old Milton.

Erwood’s – Closed

This concept from local real estate developer Rob Forest has closed. According to Forest, the rent at this Crabapple location was just too high. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try another restaurant now that he has a few attempts under his belt.

Yelp OTP Community Manager

The popular online review community Yelp has hired (but not yet named) an OTP Atlanta community manager. This splits the responsibilities of Atlanta’s current CM, Kathleen M. The community manager is responsible for managing the reviewers on Yelp which includes planning cool events for the group. As a former active Yelper, I think this is great news and shows that the website considers the northern burbs worthy of attention. If you’re not active on Yelp, now might be a good time to join.

Other Restaurant News

Bite is expanding their popular Alpharetta restaurant and may close for a few weeks to allow for construction. Also remodeling is Ray’s Killer Creek on Mansell Road.

The bagel eating contest at BB’s on MacFarland is this Thursday at 2:00pm. The odd hours will most certainly make the event lightly attended. The winner, in addition to extreme indigestion, will get a free bagel everyday for a year.

Toscana Trattoria opened October 1st on GA-141 just north of McGinnis Ferry. This is a second concept from the owners of Never Enough Thyme. Tapas joint Noche opened their first north Fulton location on October 3rd in Johns Creek near the Country Club of the South. Mac Meals, a Mediterranean restaurant, quietly opened a few months ago on South Main in Alpharetta.

Another Broken Egg opened on October 8th on Old Milton Parkway where Cuzi Fresh used to be. Haiku Sushi and Steak opened about two weeks ago in Yamato’s old space on North Point. This may be the first time I’ve mentioned them without writing haiku poetry. Blog readers are rejoicing.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Grand Champion BBQ – You know the drill.
OVR Coffee Cafe – A vegan bakery and coffee shop in south Forsyth’s Vickery Village. Look for them in November in the old Mommy Francis space.
Mambo’s Cafe – They have begun construction in their new Windward digs near Lowes.
Tower Burgers - Building in the old Sonic location on South Main Street in Alpharetta.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical – A trifecta of new restaurants to be built on Haynes Bridge near the mall entrance.
BurgerFI – Fast-casual burger concept coming to Windward next to FedEx.
Campania - To-be-determined restaurant concept coming to North Main Street in Alpharetta.

Retail Coming Soon

Walmart -A third Forsyth County location is being planned on GA-141 and Mathis Airport Parkway near Target.
Regal Theaters - Moving from North Point Parkway to the new Avalon project.
AMC Theaters – Coming to Parisian’s old space at North Point Mall in late 2013.

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