Alpharetta Restaurant News – February 2015

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

Figo Pasta closed signArrivederci Figo Pasta. The fast-casual Italian eatery on North Point closed their doors for good about two weeks ago, leaving this goodbye in the window. On social media the company blamed the poor location for their demise but word is that the chain is suffering. Or perhaps it’s the general concept. Mirko Pasta, a very similar competitor, recently closed in Johns Creek. We knew this one was coming as the business had been listed for sale with a restaurant broker. We suspected Figo might go as well, but we didn’t expect them both to go at almost the same time.

Replacing Mirko in Johns Creek is an Indian restaurant called Mirchi Virchi. They opened on Monday. Also in Johns Creek look for Brooklyn Cantina to open on Jones Bridge Road in the former 12 Slices location.

Someone has leased the former pretzel store space on Highway 9 in Milton near Target. We’re told the name will be Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen but at this point don’t know much more about the concept. There are several other Thai restaurants in the west Windward area so we’ll see how they fare. And we’re also hearing a fast food restaurant may build across the street in front of Aldi, but the scoop belongs to Eli Zandman so I’ll let him report on it.

And speaking of scoops, the folks over at Scoop OTP got one on me. They reported this week that Roswell’s Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar will open a new location in downtown Alpharetta. Look for them at 42 Milton Avenue near the 2B Whole bakery. Of course Salt Factory paved the way with expansion from Roswell a few years ago. Roswell’s Nine Street Kitchen considered coming to downtown Alpharetta but pulled the plug on their plans. What other Roswell eateries could be next?

Several previously-reported restaurants have opened since last month. Tom+Chee opened two weeks ago on North Point near Chicken Salad Chick.  Vito’s Pizza-Rant has opened on Old Milton Parkway. They are the third pizza concept to open here since Mama’s left about a year and a half ago. Laguna Mexican Grill has opened in south Forsyth where BW Tavern once lived. And Smallcakes, a franchise cupcake joint, has now opened at 4055 Old Milton Parkway.

Our coming soon list has been updated. A number of these projects are stalling or otherwise progressing slowly.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. Perhaps their buildout has stalled.
Cook-Out – Their buildout has started on Haynes Bridge.
Cafe at Pharr – Their opening appears to be far out. Slow progress on Windward.
Ricco’s Italian & Tapas -  A promising new concept to open on Highway 9 in Milton from a former Zola alum.

Jeff Fuqua seeks to build mixed use next to Avalon

Avalon’s success is starting to attract additional development to Old Milton Parkway. Two new zoning applicants hope to bring new retail and mixed use projects to property adjacent to the mammoth development. And documents obtained from the city suggest that notable Atlanta real estate developer Jeff Fuqua is behind one of them.

Thompson St DevFuqua has assembled parcels totaling 21 acres just west of Avalon. Bounded by Old Milton Parkway, Westside Parkway and Thompson Street, the project would be a mix of retail, restaurants, townhomes, detached homes and a small office component.

It’s far too early to speculate on what businesses might open here but the developer hinted at an organic grocer, sit-down and fast casual restaurants, coffee shop with drive thru, bank, wine store and medical offices. The site plan calls for all retail to face Old Milton and Westside Parkways with parking behind. Office space will be above retail on the side closest to Avalon.

74 townhomes are sandwiched in the middle and measure in at 2200 to 3800 square feet each. Behind the townhomes will be 24 detached homes facing out to Thompson Street. The homes will be on tiny lots yet will be as large as 3800 square feet. John Wieland Homes appears to be the residential builder.

A small pocket park is included with the development but will be across Thompson Street to the north and almost noncontiguous from the project. They also plan to build a wide sidewalk along Thompson Street with the hopes of conforming to the city’s idea of a greenway connecting downtown to Avalon.

It’ll be interesting to see how those on Thompson Street react to the proposed development. Many of the owners are small-time real estate speculators content to rent out their old, dilapidated homes waiting for their day to cash in. That day seems to have arrived. But this portion of town is a thorn between two roses (downtown and Avalon) and many in the city want it made over.

Others on Thompson Street have a history of being a raucous bunch when it comes to changes. Nevertheless, the residential component of this plan is rather dense compared to the surroundings. There’s certainly a beef to be made here.

But they might have a hard time negotiating with Jeff Fuqua. He’s got a reputation of being controversial and difficult to work with, be it with neighbors or city leaders. Creative Loafing devoted a cover story to him a few years ago that’s worth a read. Many folks inside-the-perimeter criticize his projects for being too suburban, too big-boxy and lacking density. It’s doubtful he’ll meet this criticism in Alpharetta, especially with this project.

But Fuqua’s arrival in Alpharetta is significant. The man has over eight million square feet of retail development to tout on his resume yet he’s only worked one project in our neck of the woods. Deerfield Place on Highway 9 in Milton was his work, home to Target and Kohl’s. And he’s certainly no stranger to this area. He and his wife own or used to own Collecting Gaits, a prestigious horse farm in Milton.

A separate zoning applicant before the city this month seeks to build new retail across Old Milton Parkway from Avalon. A total of 26,000 square feet of retail would be split between three buildings next to Racetrac. Demolished would be a small home and the old shopping center that once housed Shirley Furniture.

It’s also hard to speculate on tenants in this development. A drive-thru restaurant may occupy part of the eastern-most building. Perhaps Starbucks might find a cozy new home here or in the Fuqua project. They seem to like this type of drive-thru configuration on a stripmall endcap and will do something similar on Windward in an updated Penn Hodge project. Given that Starbucks doesn’t have a presence at Avalon itself, this might be a logical choice.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House – Haynes Bridge

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

It’s great to finally see two of the largest empty spaces in Alpharetta become occupied. The most recent is the former Rainwater location on Haynes Bridge Road. My wife and I got married here in November of 2007. It closed soon after. The fact that it was a huge space, high priced food and an awkward location combined for Rainwater’s demise. It’s a shame.

Ruths Chris logo smallAlpharetta needed a high-end fine dining establishment, a place where new business owners can take clients, eat expensive meat and toast with high dollar wines and spirits. A real Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity kind of place, unabashed 1% all the way. It’s kind of funny to say that since Rainwater was the cheapest place in the whole area to host a wedding, by far.

Anyway, years passed and I longed for something, anything to open in that space if for no other reason than to get back inside where I got married. Chill Restaurant and Lounge opened and we had hope. Then it closed in a month.

Recently word came that national steakhouse chain Ruth’s Chris was moving its Sandy Spring location to that space. My wife and I took out a loan and went last weekend to finally revisit the place we exchanged vows.

Ruth’s Chris undertook an extensive remodel to bring the place back from the Chill decor that was dominated by turquoise. It looks nice now, a lot like Rainwater used to be. The beautiful wrought iron doors are gone, as are the ultra-cool teardrop lights over the bar. The layout hasn’t changed either. The space consists of a large central room that houses the hostess stand, staircase, wine lockers and five separate dining rooms. Several rooms have fireplaces and all have high-end decor and seating. Each room seems like its own restaurant. Ruth’s Chris doesn’t seem that big when you’re housed in a dining room.

One the rooms is very unique and would be perfect for rehearsal dinners. It has one long table and the walls are lined with brick with very pricy wines on display. It also holds the entrance to the wine cellar housing hundreds of bottles of wine.

Upstairs hasn’t changed a lot at this point either. We were told that events have and will be held upstairs.  We were also told that the Governor Deal and Mayor Belle Isle were there recently to give speeches. I am very glad to see that future couples will be able to be married there.

The food or course was outstanding and insanely expensive. The menus are presented in both normal fashion and on an iPad. I wish it was either/or not both. The table got crowded.

The service was impeccable. The waiter had one of those little crumb scrapers to clean the table cloth. I love that. The steaks came out sizzling of course, but most importantly, perfectly cooked. The 1800 degree broiler does a good job. But for an average price of $40 a steak, I could get several from Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company, cook them at home and be just as happy. Sides are extra of course. Two people with drinks (local beers from Jekyll and Monday Night are available), steaks and sides can run upwards to $200. Ouch.

Ruth’s Chris has and always will cater to the 1% and those with expense accounts. The place is nice and will definitely impress clients and friends. We went at 6:00 PM on a Saturday and it was packed. Time will tell if the name recognition of Ruth’s Chris will keep this steakhouse in the game.

All Milton students found to be above the mean

A recent classroom study finds that all students at Milton High School are significantly above the mean. The project was conducted as part of a semester-long classroom assignment in the school’s Advanced Placement Statistics class.

Milton High School“Fulton County Schools was gracious to provide us test result data from all standardized tests taken at Milton going back several years,” said teacher Kent Dorfman. “Of course any personally identifiable information was removed prior to the data arriving in our lab.”

The students analyzed test scores using material learned in class and leveraged specialized computer software.  Each and every student was compared to the Milton student population as a whole. The results were astounding. Every Milton High School student was found to be above the mean. A high standard deviation was also observed.

“We went into the study pretty much knowing everyone was super smart at Milton,” remarked AP Stats student Katie Wong. “Like, the results just proved what we already knew.”

After graduating this spring Wong plans to study applied mathematics at the University of South Carolina. She included the assignment in her application essay and believes it played a big part in her acceptance to the college.

Dorfman hopes to make the study a yearly project in his AP Statistics class. He says the project helps to drive home course curriculum with real-world numbers the students live and understand.

“It reinforces our preconceived notions, a concept that’s very important in the science of statistics,” he explained. “Even if these students don’t become mathematicians, these are valuable skills that will serve them well in their professional lives.”

Photo Credit: Steven V

A downtown wish list

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

After grabbing lunch and a beer at Hop Alley recently, I took a stroll across the street to the new Alpharetta City Center. It was my first time to get an up close and personal look at what downtown will look like. It was great. I loved the large grassy area, the tree lined streets, the grand city hall, the abundance of sidewalks, and the massive in ground fountain.

downtown overlayI visited a similar development in Virginia last year. They also had a large fountain where kids could get in and get wet. It was a huge it! I don’t expect anything less down here when the temps hit 90.

As I stood in the middle of it all, my attention was drawn to the real estate on either side of the main lawn/gathering place. While we are still a ways off from spending our money here, I can’t help but envision what I would like to see there.

Retail? Meh, don’t care. Some boutique or art store or whatever. I’m talking about what downtown would NEED. Like a good sandwich shop/deli. Like a New York-style corned beef on rye handmade meatballs thousand types of sandwiches kind of place.

If the beer laws change (if) I’d love to see Jekyll Brewing have a presence downtown. I know they’ve talked about it.

I would love to see a cool little ice cream shop with old fashioned deserts and sodas. Like Scoops but better.

Most of the places could have patio dining with live music and gas lamps. Can you imagine how great it could be? I can.

The city has a chance to do something really great downtown, a chance to set Alpharetta apart from every other town in the northern arc. I hope that they think about the citizens and not about who will give them the most money or who is partnered with who. I know some of the city council members read this blog. Comment and tell them what you want to see downtown and how you envision Alpharetta’s future.

Cheap eats in Alpharetta

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

Meet James, a co-worker of mine who eats out for lunch everyday. Sounds familiar. We ought to have a lot in common yet seldom do our restaurant paths cross. But James, along with his cadre of old timers who eat together everyday, are rather set in their ways. They’re also very frugal.

One day I challenged James to break out of his routine of Subway and Speedy with beans. He returned my challenge with one of his own. Find restaurants that are close to our Windward office, offer something delicious and will cost $8 or less including drink and tip.

So James, without further adieu, here’s your list.

Pizza by the slice – Alpharetta is completely covered up in New York-style pizza. Your cheapest way to enjoy is ordering by the slice at lunch. Most joints will do two slices with toppings and a drink for around seven bucks. Top picks in this category include Verra-Zanno Pizzeria in Johns Creek along with their sister restaurant Joe’s New York Pizzeria on Mansell Road. Mama’s Pizza on North Point and Brooklyn Joe’s off Windward are also fine choices and a little closer to most cubicle dwellers.

El Trompo signAuthentic Mexican – Give Speedy Gonzalez the adios. He’s certainly cheap but you can do far better for the same pesos. Mr. Taco and our beloved El Trompo Mexican Taqueria are where you need to be. Mix and match some a la carte tacos and wash it down with a Mexican coke.  It easily fits within our $8 budget.

Mediterranean – Two words: gyro wraps. They are delicious, very filling and well within our budget in most instances. I like Grecian Gyro in Johns Creek Walk, Cafe Efendi on Main Street and Seven Seas Cafe Devore Road. And if you’re willing to approach the $10 mark, nothing beats the chicken shawarma wrap at Jerusalem Bakery on Old Milton.

Chinese – It’s certainly cheap at lunch, but it takes a lot to impress me in this category. Head down to Johns Creek for the good stuff. Liu Fu will serve the Chinese food your accustomed to for $8 at lunch. Or better yet, establish yourself as a Chinese food epicure and order the Szechwan-style hot boiled fish. It breaks our budget at $10 but is well worth it. You’ll need extra napkins to dab the sweat off your brow.

For quality Thai food at very reasonable prices hit Satay House on Alpharetta’s South Main Street. Some lunch options are priced as low as $6.25. How do they do it?

X-tudoAnd finally, for my off-the-wall budget lunch pick, head over to Old Milton’s  Coisas de Brasil and order the X-tudo. For a measly six bucks your sammich comes with hamburger, a fried egg, mozzarella cheese, ham, lettuce, tomato, corn and peas. It’s the most bizarre lunch item in Alpharetta, but it’s cheap!

Not every good restaurant in Alpharetta has to be fine dining. Guys like my friend James are never going to shell out $18 for a plate of tacos at The El Felix. You don’t have to either. Hopefully this list gives the budget-conscious gastronome a decent place to begin. If you’ve got ideas for delicious cheap eats, I’d love to hear them!

Alpharetta Restaurant News – January 2015

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

Ricco's coming soon signThe restaurant server community is abuzz about one of their own hanging out his shingle. Ricco’s Italian & Tapas will open on Highway 9 in Milton in the original Zola Bistro space. The restaurant’s namesake is a popular former server at Zola. Following that restaurant’s sale and relocation down the street, Ricco worked at Campania before quitting recently to work on this gig.

We like Ricco’s chances in this space. Word is that he already has a loyal clientele from his Zola days ready to follow him. They will certainly be familiar with the location and should provide Ricco’s the necessary tailwind to make it in this space.

Simply Pizza on Old Milton has been sold after a short time in business. The latest concept de jour will be called Vito’s Pizza-Rant and will be run by partners who relocated from Florida. The menu will be familiar with pizza and pasta but they’ll also offer gluten-free and vegan options as well. As for the name… the hyphen suggests this is a play on the word “restaurant” but perhaps a rant about pizza could arranged.

Milton’s Kabab & Wraps closed for a short time. They’ve made a small renovation, rebranded the place as Pepper’s Indian Cuisine and have already reopened for business.

Antico Pizza Napoletana finally opened this week at Avalon and the Italian concept Colletta has announced a February 6th opening. This should complete the initial restaurant lineup at the development.

We’re hearing word that a small shopping center and restaurant may be in the works across Old Milton from Avalon. Additional retail in this area should complement Avalon which, while very unique and popular, is currently a retail island unto itself.

200px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgAnd in other shopping center news… plans are also in the works for a remodel of the former Tilted Kilt restaurant building on Windward Parkway. The plan calls for a conversion of the space into a three-tenant shopping center with better road visibility from Windward. Update: We’ve been able to confirm that Starbucks will move from their location in the adjacent shopping center into this former Tilted Kilt space. Their new digs will feature a drive-thru and patio.

My blogger friend Eli Zandman reported that stir-fry joint Real Chow Baby abruptly closed their Howell Mill Road location in Atlanta in late December. The sign on the door indicated that they are moving to Alpharetta however we’ve seen nothing to suggest that hard plans are in the works. We’ll keep them in our rumor bin until something something more substantial materializes.

Eli also sniffed out the to-be location of Burger 21 in Johns Creek. Last month in this column we suggested that they were closer to announcing something. Turns out they will be in a new shopping center called Johns Creek Promenade on Peachtree Parkway just a little above Johns Creek Walk. Construction on this large shopping center is just starting so the burgers won’t be flipping for some time.

Opening since last month is JD’s Sports Pub & Pizza in south Forsyth. And Nothing Bundt Cakes has opened their latest location at The Collection at Forsyth.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – Little place on McFarland.
Tom and Chee – Grilled cheese and soup joint that should open in February on North Point.
Smallcakes - Another cake joint at 4055 Old Milton Parkway.
Cook-Out – Still no signs of life on Haynes Bridge. This location may take a while to open.
Cafe at Pharr – Another slow buildout for this sandwich chain coming to Windward.
Laguna Mexican Grill – Speedy Gonzalez coming to south Forsyth.

iFLY Indoor Skydiving makes the jump into Alpharetta

Indoor skydiving may descend into Alpharetta.

Austin, Texas-based iFLY Indoor Skydiving has filed plans with the city to build a new entertainment facility near Mansell Road and GA-400. If approved the facility would replace the empty restaurant building that was previously home to Champps Americana.

iFLYiFLY designs, manufactures, sells and operates wind tunnel systems for indoor skydiving. The company operates 34 facilities around the world and has rapid expansion plans this year.

iFLY offers guests the chance to experience the thrill of freefall without the risk of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Following a brief training session, fliers are outfitted in a jumpsuit, helmet and goggles before entering the wind tunnel with their certified instructor. First-time flyers float on the column of air and learn basic flying skills like moving forward and back and turning. With additional training, flyers can progress to group flying and advanced aerial gymnastic maneuvers to further enjoy the sport of indoor skydiving.

The facility will target multiple demographics including corporate team building events and families seeking unique entertainment options. Children as young as three years old can participate. Other iFLY locations offer STEM educational programs, something that could certainly grow wings in technology-centric Alpharetta.

iFLY’s proposed location would complement a soaring array of unique entertainment options along Alpharetta’s Mansell Road corridor. TopGolf targets a similar corporate clientele. The Alpharetta Family Skate Center/The Cooler is next door as is Main Event with bowling and laser tag.

The project continues another trend of demolishing and re-purposing restaurants along nearby North Point Parkway. Champps Americana closed about three years and the space mothballed. But at over 10,000 square feet, the building is almost unmarketable as a restaurant thanks to today’s smaller style of eatery. It will meet the same wrecking ball fate that befell TGI Friday’s a few months ago. Bahama Breeze’s former digs are not far behind and will be replaced with a furniture store.

But iFLY can’t take off right away. They will have to go through the paces of a rezoning in order to change a master plan. But from a 30,000 foot view it doesn’t seem likely they will face much headwind. Alpharetta shouldn’t pop the chute on the opportunity to host one of Georgia’s first indoor skydiving facilities. However the city may want to push back on building ascetics as some iFLY locations tend to resemble NASA buildings.

Do you think iFLY will make a big landing in Alpharetta? Are there any other skydiving metaphors we missed in this article? Leave a comment!

What changes to Georgia’s beer laws might mean to Alpharetta

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

Imagine for a minute that you and I went into business together. We had perfected a recipe for lemonade. So good was our product that we were convinced we could make millions.

We’d build a modest lemonade factory in Alpharetta and judiciously source our ingredients. We cooked up batches and sold them by the bottle to restaurants and shops. Hard work was put into distribution plans and marketing. Pretty soon business was taking off! And before long our loyal customers wanted to see the terrific operation we’d put together.

Jekyll TastingSo we started offering tours of our lemonade factory. At the end of the tour we would sell customers cases of our fabulous drink to bring home.

You know where this is going. The story is all well and good until you substitute beer for lemonade. It’s still a beverage and still crafted in small batches right here in Alpharetta. The only difference is that you can’t sell a single bottle of beer at your point of manufacture thanks to Georgia’s stupid, prohibition-era beer distribution laws.

Places like Jekyll Brewing get around the rule by offering small samples for free with the purchase a tour or perhaps a glass mug. But they can’t sell you the very product the make. And they can’t sell you a pint of the beer to drink on the premises either.

That is the crux of the problem Georgia’s craft beer industry is trying to tackle. Last year a bill was introduced in the Georgia General Assembly to make a modest change. It didn’t go far, stymied by a powerful beer distributor lobby in Atlanta.

This year the craft beer industry has regrouped and redoubled their effort. More money is being thrown into a PR, lobbying and social media effort. Branded as a way to increase jobs in Georgia, the proposed change would allow the sale of beer by the package at breweries and brew pubs. And you’d also be able to buy pints at the brewery as well.

How would this change the beer landscape in Alpharetta? Realistically it wouldn’t add a ton of jobs but certainly a few. Brewpubs like Hop Alley and 5 Seasons North could pour you a growler to take home. Perhaps they would need to make a little more beer or hire an additional person to fill those portly glass bottles.

Jekyll Brewing could do a lot with this. These guys have done amazing work in a short amount of time, expanding their product state-wide. They could get real creative if given the option to sell product in their shop.

And while breweries probably won’t see huge volumes of sales in their shops, they would however be selling at retail price. The margins of this business are through the roof compared to the puny prices they receive from distributors. It may be the financial shot in the arm that many breweries need to take things to the next level. Next comes new capital investment or new breweries entering the market. That indeed creates jobs, and better beer too.

So if my fictional lemonade factory can sell product, why not Jekyll Brewing? If anything these changes just make things fair. It’s hard to find fault with that.

For more information on the attempt to modernize Georgia’s beer laws, visit gabeerjobs.com and sign their petition.

Cumming creates vibrant downtown with jail, municipal buildings

The enthusiasm is palpable in Cumming ahead of the county’s massive new 177,000 square foot jail right in the middle of historic downtown. Together with a new courthouse, the $100 million project promises to revitalize the city center into a vibrant, unique and welcoming space that will be the envy of north Georgia.

Forsyth Jail renderingsThe Cumming-Forsyth Chamber along with city and county officials recently led a media walk-through of the project. From the jail to the 150,000 square foot courthouse and huge parking decks, the project transforms downtown Cumming into a criminal justice and municipal mecca. Nearly every block of the small city is consumed.

“We studied what places like Suwanee, Woodstock and Alpharetta have done with their downtowns,” said Chamber President James McCoy. “Ours promises to be different. We’re justifiably proud of what Cumming has become. And the millennials will love it!”

“Of course the jail is the big draw,” said Forsyth Commission Chairman Pete Amos. “It’s huge! We could have built it outside of town but why? I love it right here for everyone to admire. It’s our masterpiece.”

Amos says the jail will draw people from all over. They’ll come primarily to visit incarcerated relatives. Complementary businesses will pop up. Bail bondsmen and car impound lots are just a few the city hopes to welcome.

“And when they’re out of the clink perhaps they’ll stick around for lunch,” chuckled Amos.

The new buildings complement what’s already downtown, namely the county administration building and Cumming City Hall. Commissioner Brian Tam notes an uptick in the number of disgruntled constituents making the trip to Cumming from south Forsyth.

“Our runaway growth and refusal to deny even a single zoning request creates tremendous demand for visitors to downtown Cumming,” said Tam. “They come to speak out at meetings but it’s all for naught. They usually stick around to drown their sorrows in a beer.”

Rounding out the attractions downtown is a political dinosaur exhibit at Cumming City Hall. Visitors can get a glimpse of ancient specimens still living in their native habitat. Impropriety, impeachment proceedings and even forcible removal of video bloggers are part of the act showcasing good-old-boy politics at its finest.

But Cumming’s crown jewel is still the mammoth jail. Built on a grand scale it’s certain to handle Forsyth’s burgeoning crime problem well into the future. Chamber officials, anticipating heightened interest, plan to start guided jail tours right away.

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