Campania Pizzeria – Alpharetta

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

Several years ago a pizzeria opened in a cramped space near Georgia Tech. Tiny little Antico was quickly lauded by food bloggers and critics alike. The buzz was intense, vaulting their Neapolitan-style pizzas to the top of every best-of list in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, back in suburbia, we ate our New York-style pies, blissfully unaware of the changing hipster ITP pizza scene. To many in Alpharetta, “Neapolitan-style” meant getting chocolate and strawberry ice cream in one carton.

But last week’s opening of Campania Pizzeria may prove to be a paradigm shift for suburban pizza. Owners Stewart Muller and Jennifer Simmons, who also own this stripmall, have brought Alpharetta its very first true Neapolitan-style pizzeria.

Campania’s pizza toes the line on this tradition. The ingredients are few, remarkably simple and carefully sourced from Italy. From the delicately-soft double zero flour to San Marzano tomatoes to buffalo mozzarella, everything is by-the-book authentic.

The star at Campania is their oven. Imported from Italy it sits proudly on display in the dining room, emboldened with the restaurant’s name spelled in black tile. It’s fueled with a mix of oak and cherry logs. Temperatures inside reach a scorching 1000 degrees. Pizzas sit on a slab of volcanic rock cut from Mount Vesuvius.

It takes only about 90 seconds for the pizza to cook. Next the pie is slowly lifted inside the oven. Flames from the burning oak roll across the top of the oven, kissing the top of the pizza and charring the crust. A mere two seconds later the pizza is rescued from the inferno, cut and delivered to your table for immediate consumption.

Tartufo with Margherita DOC

Which pizza should you order? The Margherita DOC is traditional, with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil and olive oil. The San Marzanos are a little sweet, the crust pillow-soft yet charred and the cheese slightly smokey. I prefer the Margherita without the buffalo mozzarella which can soften the bottom of the pizza due to higher water content. Purists may scoff, but it’ll also save you a few bucks.

Campania’s marinara pizza is amazingly simple yet surprisingly powerful with flavor. Without cheese the flavor of the tomato really shines. The pizza is topped with pungent sliced garlic and oregano.

By far the best pizza on Campania’s menu is the Tartufo. This white pizza has mozzarella and fontina cheeses, mushrooms, pancetta, sliced garlic and is topped with truffle oil and rosemary. There’s so much going on with this pizza – from pungent flavors, the aroma of the truffle oil, texture of the bread to the delightfully-salty pancetta. Amazing.

Pizzaiolo Stefano Rea is the talent at the oven. He spends as much time in the dining room glad-handing patrons as he does in the kitchen. Rea’s passion for his craft is genuine and he’ll chew your ear off talking Neapolitan pizzas. He’s past gigs include Sandy Spring’s Cibo e Beve and a brief stint at Erwood’s in Crabapple.

What’s Rea got up his sleeve next? How about black pizza dough infused with squid ink? It’s basically a black pizza topped with seafood galore. It’s, if anything, perhaps the most bizarre and intriguing menu item in Alpharetta.

Only two questions remain about Campania. First – is it as good as Atlanta’s Antico? Local foodies have been quietly beating a path to Campania’s door to get that question answered. Their pizzas are a tad smaller than Antico’s but very close to their taste and quality. The ambiance at Campania is far more comfortable and the staff much more friendly.

Campania Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

And second – will suburbanites embrace an authentic Neapolitan pizza? Remember, it isn’t burned, it’s charred. You can’t buy it by the slice. This isn’t Mellow Mushroom and it isn’t exactly kid-friendly. Once we get past these notions I believe Campania can be a game changer. Hopefully we’re seeing the start of a budding new restaurant scene along Alpharetta’s Main Street!

Photo Credit: Mike Murphy

Taste of Alpharetta 2013 – A Preview

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

It’ll be an intimate little gathering. Imagine me, you, a few of our favorite restaurants and tens of thousands of our closest friends. In a nutshell that’s Taste of Alpharetta. And for the second year the event will be crammed into a few blocks of downtown Alpharetta. Get there early before it gets to be elbow-to-elbow.

To me Taste of Alpharetta is a chance to kick the tires of several new restaurants. For a few bucks I can sample their menu without the commitment of an entire meal.

Unfortunately there are not as many newly opened restaurants at this year’s event. Here are a few that I suggest trying.

Fresh Lettuce – This sandwich and salad joint recently opened in the far reaches of Johns Creek on Holcomb Bridge Road. They’ve managed to generate some serious buzz in a short time. Fresh’s sandwich menu lends itself well to an event like this. I’ll make a bee-line to their booth hoping for a hot panini.

Noche Johns Creek – Also lending itself well to such an event is a tapas menu. Johns Creek has the fourth location of this popular Atlanta restaurant. Expect Spanish cuisine. I’m not sure what they plan to make but a cool ceviche would be delightful on a warm Spring evening.

Breakfast/Brunch – Fancified breakfast/brunch restaurants are trending in the ‘burbs and two are coming to Taste of Alpharetta. Another Broken Egg from Old Milton Parkway might be worth a ticket or two. Johns Creek’s Egg Harbor Cafe will also be there.

Tassa Caribbean – Want something completely different? Try the Trinidadian cuisine from Tassa. They quietly opened a buffet restaurant on Old Milton Parkway. If they make it, try the roti. It’s unleavened bread with savory fillings.

There are a handful of perennial favorites at Taste of Alpharetta. Milton’s Cuisine is always popular and shouldn’t be missed. Bite is urber-trendy and cranking out some adventurous grub. And don’t be afraid to try Madras Chettinaad. There’s never a line at this delicious Indian restaurant’s booth. That’s a shame.

And there are dozens more restaurants to sample. The complete list can be found at the city’s website. Also check out the event’s new social media presence. They are on twitter @TasteAlpharetta and on Facebook.

What: Taste of Alpharetta
Where: Downtown Alpharetta
When: Thursday May 9th, 5-10pm
Cost: Free to get in, food samples range from $1-3

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – April 2013

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

It’s been a busy month of restaurant tracking. Some highly-anticipated restaurants are nearly open, trends continue and an oldie closes. Let’s get right into it.

The name of Boga’s replacement will be Fish House Seafood Kitchen. This will be their second location, the original being in Gwinnett County between the Mall of Georgia and Dacula. The Alpharetta/Milton location will be more upscale than the original and will feature Cajun-style seafood. The owners share a past with Pappadeaux’s founders so perhaps comparisons can begin there. They will have a daily seafood buffet for $12.95 and a Sunday brunch.

Branchwater will be the name of a new restaurant in Vickery by Todd Hogan. You can read more details about Branchwater in this post I wrote last week. This is the most significant restaurant news to hit Forsyth County in a very long time.

The craft beer business continues unabated in this area. Draft Beer Market will open on Jones Bridge Road near Rosa Mia. They will be less than a mile and a half from Crafty Draught’s second location on Old Milton.

Forsyth County is close to allowing samples at growler stores, but there’s a catch – samples must be in a different room. The attempt here is to level the playing field between Alpharetta’s stores and Forsyth. So why burden them with extra construction? I don’t get it.

The Avenue Forsyth has been sold. The new owners are re-branding, calling the outdoor shopping center “The Collection at Forsyth“. The brand will be officially unveiled tomorrow. Aldo Nahed has a great article on this. My favorite quote is… “Our goal is to become a five star collection of dining, shopping and services.” Sounds remarkably similar to what the Avalon developers say. I hope The Collection can improve on their restaurant offerings. While they are all crowded, nothing really stands out as unique to me.

Breakfast chain First Watch announced they will build a new restaurant from the ground up at Old Milton and North Point Parkways. This puts them a short distance from competitor Another Broken Egg. Also in the construction business is Mediterranean sandwich joint Zoe’s Kitchen. These guys slipped under the radar a bit. They will share Corner Bakery’s new building near the mall.

Now OpenGino’s NY Pizza is now open in Johns Creek Walk. They replaced Essex Bagels. The highly-anticipated Campania Pizzeria will open Monday at 800 North Main Street in Alpharetta. Expect a Neapolitan-style pizzeria. And Dickey’s BBQ has opened on Windward Parkway.

Closed – North Point’s Extreme Pita is a goner. There are plenty of alternatives elsewhere. Robin Hood Tavern in Vickery Village closed to make way for Branchwater. A little up the street was Smokejack’s Midway location. It’s now closed. While Smokejack’s franchising attempts are not going well, I hear rumors that competitor ‘Cue may be close to announcing a third location.

And finally, long-time Alpharetta restaurant Dockery’s Cafe has closed. Out with the old and in with the new. This building is being demolished to make way for the city center project. Dockery’s will not reopen.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical, Zoe’s – The trees are clear-cut and things are moving along.
BurgerFI – I’m told they will open in May on Windward near FedEx.
Salt Factory – Still building out in Tifosi’s old space on South Main Street.
Main Street Kitchen – From the folks behind Roswell’s Nine Street Kitchen. They will be at 52 North Main.
Chill Restaurant and Lounge – The folks behind Rainwater’s replacement are being very tight lipped about their concept. I’ve reached out to them through a third party and they refuse to talk about plans. Boo!
Hop Alley Brew Pub – Brew pub coming to downtown Alpharetta.
Kitchen of Atlanta – Coming to Johns Creek Walk.
Rio Balsas Taqueria - Nearly open Mexican joint on 141 in south Forsyth/Johns Creek.
Casa Del Sol Mexican Bar and Grill – Another Mexican joint in Forsyth near 141 and highway 9.

Thanks to Mike Christensen for his help with this article. An extra pair of eyes on the street always helps!

Alpharetta restaurant trends – First Watch giveaway

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

I have three $20 gift cards to First Watch to give away today. You have to participate in the discussion to be eligible to win. Details at the end of this article.

Recently I had lunch with someone in the restaurant leasing business. She asked me what restaurant trends were dying off in Alpharetta and which ones still has gas left in the tank. Thought it would be cool to turn this question over to my blog readers.

What trends are you excited about in the Alpharetta-area restaurant scene? I’ll throw out a few to kick off the discussion.

Breakfast – The market for upscale breakfast/brunch is booming! First Watch opened in Johns Creek a few months ago. Later this year they will open a new restaurant on Old Milton Parkway. It’ll be pretty close to competitor Another Broken Egg. Also in Johns Creek is Egg Harbor Cafe. Are these upscale breakfast joints bringing something new to your first meal of the day? They seem to stay pretty crowded.

Main Street Alpharetta – There’s a lot in the pipeline for Main Street and I’m pretty excited about it. Salt Factory and Main Street Cafe are moving up from Roswell’s Canton Street. Hop Alley Brew Pub is being built out. And up the street will be Campania Pizzeria.

Burgers – Still cloggin’ up our arteries. Burger FI is coming to Windward. Burger 21 is a maybe. And Tower Burger is still in the works for south Main Street. Will any of these guys bring us a burger we don’t already have? And is Windward saturated with burger joints? I think so. Who will be the first to close? Smashburger with their well-documented service problems? Five Guys? Scratch?

Craft Beer – Growler stores are hot. I know of two more opening in the east Alpharetta/Johns Creek area. On top of this we’ll have a handful of brew pubs and one brewery. How will growler stores distinguish themselves from each other? Price? Location? Variety? Bible studies?

Frozen Yogurt – Is it dead yet? A few have died off but many survive. Do people still eat this stuff? Is there a market for a new, full-service ice cream parlor?

Doughnuts – This business is going gangbusters in south Forsyth. Why not in Alpharetta? Why doesn’t someone open a hand-crafted doughnut shop on Windward or North Point?

So pick a trend and leave a comment! Are these here to stay or are we over-saturated? What else does this area need?

Here’s the fine print on the First Watch giveaway… First, I’m getting nothing in return for this offer. I have three gift cards valued at $20 each to give out. I’ll pick three comments using a random number generator to be the winners. Winners will be picked Sunday afternoon. Please leave a real e-mail address with your comment. It’s not displayed on my blog, only to me and I’ll keep it private. These are physical gift cards so I’ll have to snail mail them to winners or otherwise work out a way to meet up.

Branchwater from Todd Hogan to open at Forsyth’s Vickery Village

Acclaimed local chef Todd Hogan is planning to open a new restaurant in Forsyth County’s Vickery Village.

The concept, called Branchwater, will be at 5820 South Vickery Circle. This location was most recently the home of Dunwoody Restaurant Group’s Robin Hood Tavern. Expect an opening in late May.

Hogan drew inspiration for the name from the small streams used by whiskey distillers in the American south. As such don’t be surprised to see an extensive bourbon offering at Branchwater’s bar. The kitchen will serve steak and seafood and will only keep dinner hours.

Hogan, a Cherokee County resident, chose Vickery in part to be closer to home. He also wanted to give back to his local community by offering residents a fine dining experience without having to drive into town.

Hogan’s resume is deep. He’s a graduate of Johnson & Wales in Charleston and has cooked at the James Beard house in New York City. He owned the Indigo restaurant in Roswell and consulted on concepts including Slate Table and Tap and Farm Burger in Dunwoody. His most recent restaurant gig was executive chef at Vinings Inn.

The Vickery development’s residential, retail and restaurant business all struggled through the recession. The addition of Branchwater and craft beer brewers Cherry Street Co-Op may be the shot in the arm this area needs.


Falling for an April Fools’ Joke – The Hudspeth Report

You’ll find no April Fools’ joke on this blog today. It’s too bad the Donald Mitchell story didn’t break today though.

But two years ago April 1st fell on a Friday. I slipped a little joke into my monthly restaurant news column on that day. It was pretty obvious. I reported that a restaurant called Roadkill Grill would open on North Main Street in the old One Star Ranch building. Embellishing further I added that the restaurant’s tagline would be “you kill it, we grill it”. Thankfully none of my readers bit on the joke.

But a leading Atlanta restaurant trade publication did! As a matter of fact they continue to list the restaurant two years later.

The Hudspeth Report publishes a monthly newsletter on the restaurant industry in Atlanta. They’ve been around for 25 years. They also should know better! They reported on my little April Fools restaurant in their “scoop” section the very next month. And for the past 24 months they’ve continued to list Roadkill Grill in their coming soon list.

I quietly kept this amusing little tidbit to myself until today.

Scooping news of any kind is tough. There are so many sources to track. Often others beat you to a story. Sometimes ITP bloggers like Eli Zandman or Caleb Spivak scoop me. Other times it might be a twitter follower or someone with the Appen newspapers. I always cite published sources if they scoop me. It’s just courtesy.

Unfortunately the guys at Hudspeth Report don’t cite published sources, even when asked to do so.

So there’s no joke from Roots today, just this little nana nana boo boo. Cheers.

Easter Sunday Brunch in Alpharetta

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

We always go to Grandma’s house after church on Easter. And in our family,  Easter supper is akin to Thanksgiving lite. It’s a pretty big feast.

But I recognize that some folks like to eat out on this occasion. There are a handful of local restaurants that do Sunday brunch week in and week out. We’ll go over a few of them. And then there’s Alpharetta’s fine dining establishments and their opulent Easter spreads.

Upscale Breakfast – This segment of the restaurant world has taken off as of late. J Christopher’s was the only player in town for many years. Not any more. Check out Another Broken Egg on Old Milton Parkway. Or in Johns Creek try Egg Harbor Cafe and First Watch.

Pappadeaux – This small chain of Cajun/Creole restaurants is underrated in my opinion. They do a Sunday brunch for $22 per person which is similar to their lunch buffet. For Easter they may kick it up a notch.

Fine Dining – Talk about pulling out all the stops. Alpharetta’s fine dining restaurants go to extremes for Easter brunch.

At the top of the list is Cabernet Steakhouse on Windward. Their Easter brunch buffet includes prime rib, lobster tail and leg of lamb, not to mention traditional breakfast items. It’s also $50 per person.

Milton’s Cuisine will do a braised lamb ragout on their Easter spread. The rest of their buffet is southern comfort food including favorites like fried chicken and shrimp and grits. It’s $32 per person.

Ray’s on the Creek (formerly Killer Creek) will do Easter brunch for $30. It’s also buffet style. And don’t forget the Sedgwick family of restaurants. Vinny’s will have lunch and dinner specials on Easter but no buffet.

Potential consequences of Donald Mitchell’s reality show gig

I didn’t editorialize much in my original story on Donald Mitchell’s reality show appearance. It was my intention to get the story out there and see where it went. And oh my did it take off.

But I did editorialize in a few interviews this week. My opinion was that Mitchell acted inappropriately. The way he portrayed himself was crude and his actions were demeaning towards women. He tarnished the reputation of Alpharetta.

What many have missed in this discussion is the television program itself. We watched the youtube clips showing Mitchell and that was it. If you get a chance, watch episode #9 which aired March 17th. It will change your mind. I considered posting some quotes from this episode but didn’t want to drag my blog down to this level.

“But Lee, it’s just acting!”

Yeah, I get it. But remember that he is portraying himself in this program. He’s also perhaps the most vulgar and over-the-top character on the entire show. That’s saying something!

I understand that downtown business owners are supporting Mitchell through this. They are his constituency and he does a lot for them. But allow me to frame this discussion differently…

The Cobalt Center

There are rumors that a large company may be close to inking a deal for this site. This is a 400,000 square foot corporate campus and data center that sits empty. Close to a thousand high-paying IT jobs are at stake. Landing a deal would be a huge win for Alpharetta.

Alpharetta is hunting whales here. These are multi-national, Fortune 500 firms. Companies like this don’t like to deal with uncertainty. Controversy is something they run from. They expect the utmost in professionalism and character. They are looking to relocate to a community of the highest caliber.

Donald Mitchell is jeopardizing deals like this by participating in Big Rich Atlanta.

Right now a Chamber of Commerce leader in Dallas or Charlotte is whispering into the ear of a corporate executive. He’s saying, “You don’t want to relocate to Alpharetta. Their leaders get on reality TV shows and demean women. You don’t want to be associated with a community like this!”

So while Donald Mitchell continues not to see anything wrong with his actions, the rest of Council lays awake at night thinking about the scenario above.

Before doing anything in public Councilmen should ask themselves, “Does this reflect a positive image of Alpharetta?” It sounds cliche but nonetheless very true. The consequences are huge.

Donald Mitchell can’t be a City Councilman and a trashy reality TV star at the same time. He should pick one and resign from the other.

Donald Mitchell, on a trashy reality show?

Alpharetta Councilman Donald Mitchell is a reality television star.

Mitchell has appeared on multiple episodes of Big Rich Atlanta, a reality TV show on the Style Network. The show follows a group of wealthy women and their daughters who do whatever it takes to be at the top of the local social scene. If you’re thinking Real Housewives or Jersey Shore then you’re probably not too far off-base.

I’ve not watched the show but episode guides are online in addition to a few clips. It seems that Mitchell made his way onto the show as the interior decorator and friend of one of the stars. He bristles and overreacts when another designer threatens to steal one of his clients. And in typical reality show fashion, the drama boils over.

One episode guide talks of a drunk Donald using derogatory language towards women in the show. His antics earn him a drink to the face.

In the clip above we again see an inebriated Donald Mitchell at costume party dressed as a cowboy. He manages to crawl under a woman’s dress. Those on the show call it awkward and inappropriate.

Another scene was filmed at Sis and Moon’s in downtown Alpharetta. In it Mitchell’s friend scolds him for calling another woman a name for the female anatomy.

As is typical for a show like this, fans on social media sites either love or hate Mitchell. Some call for him to have a bigger presence in the show.

So it comes as a bit of a shock that Donald Mitchell would place himself in the middle of a nationally-broadcast and trashy reality TV show, with all the drama, drinking and embarrassing situations that go with it. How will his new-found stardom play in Alpharetta?

It’s likely to be a boon for his interior decorating business. Talk about exposure!

How will constituents view his antics? A sitting member of Alpharetta’s City Council is drunk on television with his head up a woman’s dress. Is this unbecoming of an elected official or good-natured fun?

And how will Alpharetta’s business community view this? They are very careful to protect the city’s image and reputation, particularly when it comes to business recruitment. This kind of exposure can’t be good for that.

Let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’m setting my DVR to record Style Network on Sunday at 9:00.

Old Milton Parkway – Alpharetta’s International Corridor

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

Old Milton Parkway, from North Point east to Kimball Bridge Road. This two mile stretch of road has an interesting international character. Over the years a unique collection of restaurants have opened. Most offer cuisine unavailable in Alpharetta or the surrounding area.

Today let’s explore this stretch of road, seeking out a few stripmall gems you might have otherwise overlooked.

Our first stop is Coisas do Brasil (4055 Old Milton Pkwy). This little shop offers Brazilian expatriates a number of grocery items and services. They also have a lunch counter serving up the most bizarre sandwich in town.

Let me introduce you to the X-Tudo. The name comes from Portuguese slang meaning “cheese everything”. It’s typically a cheap snack bar item in Brazil. Alpharetta’s version is no different.

The sandwich starts off innocently enough like a burger. To the hamburger patty they add ham, a fried egg, mozzarella cheese and a sausage link split lengthwise. Somewhere in there is lettuce and tomato. And for good measure, a generous helping of peas and corn are crammed into the nooks and crannies. It’s a sight to behold. Complement it with a random selection of a Brazilian potato chips and you’re good to go.

A few doors down is Coisas’ sister restaurant Ipanema Brazilian Steakhouse (4055 Old Milton Pkwy). I’ve heard this place described as a poor man’s Fogo de Chao. They offer Churrasco-style meats in a very casual and affordable setting. The all-you-can-eat meat orgy will cost you only $12 during the lunch hour. At that price this place gets pretty crowded. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as good as their more fancy competitors. But as of this moment, it is the only Churrascaria in town.

No mention of Old Milton grub is complete without Jerusalem Bakery (4150 Old Milton Pkwy). For lunch try their chicken shawarma sandwich. It starts with a fresh pita, baked on the premises. Next comes chicken cut to order from a rotating spit. It’s juicy with a bit of singe. Throw on some lettuce, tomato, onions, red cabbage and a few pickled veggies. Don’t pass up the garlic, tahini and hot sauces. Wrap it all up and give it a quick warm up on the grill. What you’ll find is an explosion of Middle-eastern flavors and textures. The veggies are crisp, the pickles tart, the tahini creamy and the pita fresh. And at only eight bucks including a side and drink, Jerusalem Barkery’s chicken shawarma is one of Alpharetta’s best lunch values.

Indian restaurants are ubiquitous in Alpharetta. But Madras Chettinaad (4305 State Bridge Road) stands out in a crowded field. They are by far Alpharetta’s largest and most beautifully decorated Indian joint. Their lunch buffet is enormous and is a bargain at only ten bucks.

I like Madras’ vegetarian selections best. Try the bean poriyal. It’s a sauteed assortment of green beans, peas and lentils. They don’t hold back on the spice here either. I went back for seconds – and thirds.

Caribbean food dominates at the other end of Old Milton. Caribbean Fiesta (4000 North Point Pkwy) serves up Jamaican food in a cafeteria setting. I usually stick with the jerk chicken. Ask them to spoon some sauce over your beans and rice. It’s terrific. Braised ox tails are also available but the price scares me away.

Trinidadian cuisine can be found as Tassa Caribbean Buffet (4005 Old Milton Pkwy). This is a spinoff of Marietta’s Tassa Roti Shop. Their buffet is a little small but offers good variety. Try some of their curries and chutneys.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr Taco (4000 North Point Pkwy). The salsa bar is popular here. But when ordering you should stick to the authentic, Mexican specialties side of the menu. Be adventurous and order the lengua tacos. It’s beef tongue.

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