Blogs in Alpharetta

One of the reasons I started blogging was because of the lack of decent blog content in Alpharetta. I suppose all the relos here are too busy to write about their rootless lives. But nevertheless, there are a few terrific blogs in this area. Here are the ones I like. I’ll also add them to my newly created blogroll.

Live in Alpharetta – Bob Strader

Hands down the best blog in Alpharetta. Yeah, Bob is a realtor. You might expect his blog entries to look like… “I just listed this fabulous four bedroom house with wall-to-wall carpet and central air conditioning…” Unlike a lot of professionals who have a blog, his isn’t a shameless shill for his business. You can tell he puts time and effort into coming up with useful and timely content. Yeah some of it is about real estate in general, but in this market I appreciate his perspective.

Every marketing book out these days will tell you to create a blog about your business. This blog is a case study on how to do that the right way. Kudos Bob.

Northside Food

One of the better food blogs that is specific to this area. She reviews a lot of restaurants, especially in the Roswell area. I really should eat out down that way more often. She’s also got some great content on local farmer’s markets and stuff like that.

Atlanta With Kid Travel Blog

The mom behind this blog is Amy. She occupies the fabric covered box adjacent to mine in cubicle land. She also encouraged me to start my blog, so I’m grateful. Her blog has some great ideas for things to do with the kids here in the northern burbs. She’s got some terrific suggestions, many of which are free or inexpensive.

Stuff Christians Like – Jon Acuff

Okay, this isn’t exactly a blog about Alpharetta. But the author of this blog lives here and attends North Point Community Church. Reading his blog gives me a lot of insight into life in an evangelical mega church. Jon is a funny and gifted writer. His stuff about metrosexual worship leaders cracks me up.

Live Apartment Fire – Doug Richards

I don’t think my wife likes watching the evening news with me. Why? Because I’m always making fun of how poorly produced and ridiculously stupid local news reporting can be. Thankfully I’m not alone in my scorn. Doug Richards is a 20 year veteran of Atlanta television reporting. His blog pokes fun at this business, from the inside! Very funny stuff.

View from the Cop – Steve Rose

Okay, this is part of the AJC. Can you really call it a blog? I suppose so. Steve Rose works for the Sandy Springs police department. I never get tired of reading about stupid criminals, especially when they are in my neck of the woods.

Authentic Restaurants in Alpharetta?

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

This is a tough topic to write about. It is also risky. I’m not an expert on all manner of authentic cuisine. So as a blogger, I run the risk of getting angry comments such as…

“You don’t know the first thing about authentic Elbonian cuisine. I’ve been to Elbonia. I’m one sixteenth Elbonian on my maternal grandmother’s side. Cafe a la Body Odor is NOT authentic, I assure you! I’m never reading your blog again.”

It has been my experience that you’ll find truly authentic cuisine near a community of ex-pats of some sort. Thus you find amazingly authentic Asian food in Chamblee along Buford Highway or Korean in Duluth. Don’t expect to find grub like this in Alpharetta, right? You might be surprised. Here is my take on the most authentic restaurants in Alpharetta. In some cases, a restaurant might be the only place in town with such a menu. I’ll take what I can get. And please comment if you think I’ve missed something or am totally off base.

Chinese

I hate to break it to you, but General Tso’s Chicken is not authentic. I know, I was crushed when I learned too. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff. So where do you go in the burbs for the real deal? Try Asia House on Jones Bridge in Johns Creek. They offer the only dim sum around here. I’ve yet to go, so I can’t offer an opinion.

Indian

Is there an Indian community in Alpharetta? Absolutely! This area is flooded with good Indian restaurants. Most all have pretty good lunch buffets at a reasonable price. I don’t really have a favorite though. I’d suggest a few:

Madras Chettinaad on Old Milton. Old timers will remember this place as Minerva. They have completely remodeled the place and it is beautiful inside. South Indian cuisine is their specialty. Easily the biggest variety in town.

Sri Krishna Vilas on Windward. Another beautiful restaurant with a good buffet. To me, this place feels the most authentic.

Sai Murali on Windward. Formally known as Dosa House, formally known as Andy’s. This is a little hole in the wall Indian joint. The variety is sparse, but I like their meat dishes here best.

Cuban

I’ve written about how thin the selection is for this. By far the best option is Mambo’s Cafe on Haynes Bridge. Love this place. Watch out for the green sauce that comes with the bread. Yikes!

Caribbean

Forget Bahama Breeze. If you haven’t been to Caribbean Fiesta on Haynes Bridge and Old Milton, you’re missing out. This is a strip mall delight. I’ve tried the jerk chicken and pork. Love the stuff. The portions are generous and the prices reasonable. Maybe next time I’ll get up the nerve to try ox tail. Get there early for lunch and watch out for the limited parking.

New York Style Pizza

Verra-Zanno in Johns Creek. Hands down my favorite. Delicious bread, slightly singed crust, premium ingredients. I love this place. Brooklyn Joe’s in Milton is a distant second. People get passionate about their favorite pizzerias. Don’t want to start a pizza holy war, so I’ll just leave it with these suggestions.

Italian

I’m not prepared to say that any of the restaurants near Alpharetta offer authentic Italian cuisine. I have a few favorites, including Casa Nuova in South Forsyth. Authentic? Probably not.

I’m going to cut if off here. Alpharetta also has a few Thai restaurants, some Irish/English pubs, Greek/Mediterranean and that sort of thing. I’m not about to call any of these authentic. If you disagree, by all means let me know!

Restaurant Inspection Scores and BB’s Bagels

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

(Allow me the opportunity to rant on the topic of health scores today. I am also going to make an example out of BB’s Bagels. It is a perfect case study.)

They are hard to miss. Those single page inspection reports that are supposed to be posted in a conspicuous place near the entrance of a restaurant. Do you pay attention to them? Many times I don’t… unless they are unusually low.

The inspection scores you see in restaurants are based on a bunch of guidelines set forth by the state of Georgia. I’m not here to argue the nuisances of the rules themselves. I’m sure they are not foolproof. They are, however, geared towards preventing food-borne illness, something I don’t care to come in contact with.

The reviews themselves are conducted at the county level, and most county health departments post these scores on their own websites. This is problem number one. As a blogger who sometimes writes about food, I’d like to have the ability to search for restaurants who have recently received lower scores. This is next to impossible for a couple of reasons.

Take Forsyth County for example. Their health department will post an alphabetical listing of every restaurant. So if you want to know how the Subway sandwich shop near you scored on their most recent inspection, it is easy. If you want to find the lowest score in the county, you’re manually downloading hundreds of PDF files. Not exactly my idea of fun blog research.

Fulton County is a little better… sort of. If you’re feeling like a masochist you can download the 328 page PDF file of every restaurant in this giant county. Sounds like a gold mine of information, right? Not really. Their latest version of this only goes as recent as October 2009, four months old. On the flip side, they show several past reviews of each restaurant. But their list only shows the number and letter grade, not the full inspection report.

The second reason why it is hard for me to blog about health inspections is because of the follow-up inspection. Restaurants that receive a low grade are allowed to correct the problem and receive a follow-up inspection. This is good in a way because a restaurant has the opportunity to fix problems immediately. The bad part of this is that the follow-up review is often nearly perfect and evidence of the poor review practically disappears.

Let me give an example… BB’s Bagels on McFarland Parkway in Forsyth County. Before I begin, let me say that I absolutely love BB’s. I eat there more often than I care to admit. If you go to the Forsyth County health department webpage and look up their recent review, you’ll find this:

An 89 – B rating by itself is decent I suppose. But look carefully. This is a follow-up inspection. The previous rating was 44 – U! What happened? I have no clue. Forsyth County doesn’t give me the chance to download the original inspection report, much less see the reasoning behind it. I’m willing to bet that this follow-up inspection was conducted just a few days after the first inspection. That 44 rating was on their wall for a very short period of time.

BB’s concerns me in some respects. I know at one point last year they sported a C rating in the 70′s. Again, I don’t know the reasoning why as those reports are no longer online. But it is cases like this that I’d like to chronicle as a food blogger. Here is a restaurant that has had more than one below average health inspection.

I believe the intent of the inspection process is to be transparent. The reports are posted in conspicuous places in the restaurants. They are posted online… sort of. But to be truly valuable, county health departments should provide historical reports online. Those reports should be searchable on name, location, date and score.

In an ideal world, I would publish a periodic list of restaurants with lower scores. I would provide links to pertinent inspection reports and let my readers make their own judgments. I would not go into the how or why or inject my opinion. Let the facts speak for themselves. Unfortunately those facts are not readily available to the public. Your favorite restaurant might have a systemic food safety problem that is hiding behind a stellar follow-up report and a lousy county website. Bon appetite!

Alpharetta Jobs March 2010

Around the middle of each month I survey the websites of Alpharetta’s largest employers.

I found a slight bump in the number of jobs posted this month. ADP, LexisNexis and E-Trade all added jobs since this time in February. McKesson continues to be an outlier. If I were looking for a technology job in Alpharetta right now, I’d be knocking on the door at Marconi Drive!

Alpharetta Jobs March 2010

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 105
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 54
ADP 50
E-Trade 21
Equifax 13
HP 8
Radiant 8
Infor 6
Verizon 5
AT&T 5
UPS 4
Alcatel-Lucent 3
Phillips 2
Oracle 2
Hansgrohe 1
IBM 0
Total 287

I added Phillips to this list after their announcement last month. Also added Alcatel-Lucent, who I somehow left off the previous two months. If there are any large employers in Alpharetta that I’ve forgotten, please let me know!

Big Creek Greenway – Forsyth

I lead what some would call a “sedentary lifestyle”. My days usually involve sitting in a fabric covered box looking at a computer, followed by unwinding on the couch watching the tube. But you might be surprised that I’ve actually explored both greenways. Yes indeed it is true. I’ve walked literally hundreds of feet on the greenway before turning back to the parking lot. So I’m sure that qualifies me to write about it, right?

Or maybe not. Please take what I have to say with a grain of salt. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

Forsyth County now has a greenway! It is a lot like Alpharetta’s version. It follows the same creek. It is about the same width. There are lots of trees and nature and stuff. A mere trace of rain will make it flood. There are mosquitoes. And both make me huff and puff. I need more of this (the huffing and puffing part).

Here are some differences I noted between the two. The Forsyth side seems to have more raised wood deck surfaces that Alpharetta. It seems that the creek is more spread out here and not confined so much to its banks. That isn’t a huge deal unless you are in roller blades. We went with our neighbors a few weeks ago and they seemed to struggle a bit with this.

Forsyth’s greenway also has more road crossings. By this I mean the greenway doesn’t follow the creek under road bridges, you have to cross the street yourself. Alpharett’a trail does this at Kimball Bridge road but no where else as far as I know. Might want to keep this in mind if you have young kids.

Forsyth’s trail is still in its early phases and will be longer than Alpharetta’s upon completion. The next phase is still in the planning stages and may not follow the creek. The trail will probably head north towards Sawnee Mountain, which would create a bit of a climb. That’s something not seen elsewhere on the trails.

Alpharetta seems to have better facilities at the trailheads. I’ve yet to see decent parking lots or bathrooms on the Forsyth side. Hopefully that is in the works.

Will the trails ever connect? Everyone says they eventually will. I think the tough part is on Alpharetta’s side. They have longer to go to reach the county line. They would also have to cross a portion of Windward’s golf course (or go around it). I’m not sure how that would work.

www.bigcreekgreenway.com is a cool website/blog with information on both segments of the trail. It’s one stop shopping for maps and such without having to bounce between Alpharetta and Forsyth’s websites.

Cheeky Taqueria at Avenue Forsyth

Thanks for finding my blog, Roots in Alpharetta. If you’re interested in food and dining in and around Alpharetta, check out my weekly feature called Foodie Friday.

Contrived

Adjective – obviously planned, artificial

That’s our word of the day, and it was the first word I thought of after setting foot inside Cheeky. Taquerias are popping up everywhere, and most are not true taco shacks. To Cheeky’s credit, they are going for that taco shack feel. But you don’t take a brand spanking new strip mall space and pretend it is a shack. Ask anyone who’s been to Jim and Nicks if they thought it truly felt like a down home barbecue place. All the folksy pictures and faux farm implements on the wall don’t change the fact that you’re in a STRIP MALL! So the fake garage doors at Cheeky were not fooling me, nor were the menus printed on wood.

My other first impression was that management was over-training the staff. They opened on Monday. I was there on Tuesday. Two employees asked me if this was my first visit. Duh! If you’ve been to Chepes Mexican, it is kinda like that. The employees are almost too friendly, to the point of smothering you with their helpfulness.

But even with these annoyances, I kinda liked Cheeky’s. For lunch I tried the trio of tacos. They use fresh ingredients and combine them in creative ways. I found my tacos to be a good mix of spice, heat and sweetness from things like pineapple salsa. They also had contrasting textures. The sliced pork in one taco was soft, delicate and flavorful. The shrimp tacos were pretty good, but could use a few more of the critters. The crab croquette tacos (a signature item) were just fair, I wasn’t impressed. The beans (both refried and charro) left a lot to be desired.

I really liked Cheeky’s bar. They feature tables with self-serve beer taps. You’ll also find TVs in the bar that measure how much beer of each brand has been served that night. If you are competitive in nature, this might be dangerous. But it is a concept I’ve yet to see in the northern burbs. Their margaritas also looked pretty good.

All in all, I think Cheeky might be a winner. They are in a prime location at the Avenue, right across from Barnes and Noble. It is certainly not like your run-of-the-mill ubiquitous Mexican restaurant, pushing entrees called “Speedy Gonzales”. Is it in the same league as Pure Taqueria or CANS Taqueria? No way, Jose.
Cheeky Taqueria on Urbanspoon

New/Closed Restaurants – March 2010

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

Easy come, easy go. Here’s this month’s list of new joints and places that didn’t make the cut.

New – Smokejack on Post Road

This is the second location of the downtown Alpharetta boutique barbecue joint. They are in a new development WAY up Post Road. I’m talking past the Vickery development. If you live up this way, enjoy! Otherwise not worth the drive.

Closed – Frontera on Windward

Kinda surprised these guys didn’t make it. Competitive space I guess. But their location near AT&T should have brought them enough foot traffic at lunch. I guess not.

New – 52 Bistro in Alpharetta

Well, not open yet. This is the rumored name of a new restaurant to occupy the old Slice Cafe on Main Street. I know next to nothing about them, other than that they have applied for a liquor license. Cute space though.

Closed – Hangry’s near Avenue Forsyth

Second time this place has closed. I predicted that some of the Peachtree Parkway burger joints would be folding. Didn’t think it would happen this soon. Who’s next to close? Red Robin?

New – Cheeky Taqueria at Avenue Forsyth

Fancified taco shack at the Avenue across from Barnes and Noble. This is the second location of a chain started in Suwanee.

Closed – Chip’s Southern Cooking on Old Milton

I wasn’t impressed with this place. But we need more country cooking places. Kinda sad to see them go.

Closed – Teriyaki Express on Main St and Windward

Not a surprise.

Getting Your Just Desserts

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

In last week’s food article, one of my readers mentioned this topic. Alpharetta’s food scene is lacking in dessert-only options. Down in Atlanta there are numerous choices available. I’m talking about somewhere to go late on a Saturday night to grab a cup of coffee, maybe a cocktail and some over-the-top dessert to share with your sweetheart.

This is a very relevant topic for my blog’s theme too. Here’s the scenario… You’re the rootless relo family. You have no one around that will baby sit your kids for a long Saturday night so you and the spouse can have an upscale dinner. Sure, you can hire a sitter for this, but that will add 40 or 50 bucks to the cost of your romantic evening. Ah but what about the in-laws? They come to visit a few times a year and stay overnight. You’d feel bad ditching them for dinner (even though they would probably let you). The alternative is to sneak out after the kid’s bedtime for a romantic dessert for two. But where to go? Here are my suggestions.

The Melting Pot – Roswell

Fondue restaurants are way past their prime. But I’m not suggesting Melting Pot for dinner. I’m suggesting you make a dessert-only reservation. The quality of the food and chocolate really isn’t all that great. What I enjoy is the seating arrangement. You can snuggle up next to your sweetheart and feed each other sweets dipped in molten chocolate goo. Sexy!

Cafe Intermezzo – Dunwoody

A bit of a drive down from Alpharetta, but it might be worth it. The coffee here is terrific. The dessert selection is vast but the service is lacking. It was hard for me to get a decent overview of their offerings. It is also as loud as a rock concert. On the night we went it was more like a nightclub filled with 20-somethings. These suburbanites were way out of their element!

Other Choices

I don’t really know of many other options. There are a lot of terrific bakeries in town, but that doesn’t really fit my topic. And some of these bakeries (Alpine Bakery in Milton for example) make the cakes and pies you might order at a restaurant.

At times we’ve just picked a random upscale restaurant that has a dessert menu. Go sit in the bar area, order a cocktail and ask for that dessert menu. Some suggestions here might include Cabernet, Milton’s, Vinny’s, Sage Woodfire Tavern, Killer Creek or Stoney River. Again, you might just be paying a premium for an Alpine Bakery cake on a fancy piece of china. But you’ll at least get the experience of being in a somewhat swank restaurant with your spouse. I’ll take what I can get!

The Dentist Relo Scam

I went to the dentist this week for a filling. That in and of itself isn’t worth blogging about. My dentist and I have been watching an old silver filling for a while, knowing that one day it would need to be replaced. Yesterday was the day.

But I got to thinking while I was getting my cheek jabbed with a needle… I started going to this dentist several years ago. On my first visit, he could have suggested removing this older filling right away. He could have insisted on expensive gum treatment for my near-chronic gingivitis. He didn’t. He worked with me to get these problems fixed over time.

Many other dentists in the northern burbs are not like this. I believe there is a concerted effort by some less-scrupulous dentists to take advantage of relos. Want an example? Check out some of these reviews of dentists around town. Here is the scenario I’m talking about… You’re a young office worker who’s been moving around a lot. Reloville calls and you land in Alpharetta. Your crazy job and moving might have kept you from regular dental visits. Wanting to change that, you find a dentist accepting new patients and book an appointment for a cleaning. Everything is going fine until the end. The dentist says four or five teeth need fillings or maybe a crown. On top of that, he suggests that you need expensive gum debridement that isn’t covered by insurance. You’re looking at maxing out your insurance for the year and upwards of a grand out of pocket.

This happened to me after going to a larger practice down near Roswell. Something didn’t feel right so I got a second opinion. This second dentist wanted to do only one filling.

So what gives? I’m no expert in dentistry, but I think this stuff is very subjective. Maybe my tin foil hat is on a little too tight today, but I think some dentists here take advantage of relos. They have no interest in keeping you as a long-term client. Why should they? You’re gonna be moved to another suburb in a few years anyway. So they do what they can to bilk you and your insurance for as much as they can for a year or two. Old silver filling? Yeah, that’s gotta come out now. Bad gums? Yeah those need a deep cleaning. Expensive toothbrushes? Yeah you should buy them from us.

My best advice is to get second and third opinions. This can be a pain in the ass since you’ll have to purchase a copy of your X-rays. Most insurance plans only pay for one a year. Paying for copies tells an office they are about to lose you as a customer. They might not be tremendously helpful when you ask, but you are entitled to them. Get your copy and run! Start shopping around pronto.

The best way to beat the relo dentist scam cycle is to establish a longterm relationship with a dentist. I like smaller practices with only one or two dentists. Ask for referrals from any non-relos you might know. Also ask those who give you the referral if they’ve been patients for a while.

When will this novocaine wear off?

Mission Statements

I’ve got a quiz for you today. Can you guess who’s mission statement this is?

Consistently create encore experiences that enrich lives one person at a time.

No, it isn’t my blog’s mission statement because I don’t have one. I’m not a fan of mission statements, especially overly vague statements like the one above. If you can’t figure out what my blog is all about after reading an article or two, then I’ve failed. Likewise, if you can’t figure out a restaurant’s mission after eating there, no mission statement is going to help.

So who’s mission statement is this? It could be for anyone. “Encore experiences” makes me think of the symphony, but that’s not it. “Enrich lives”? That’s a pretty bold statement for a business to make. But this statement could apply to anyone, from an art gallery to a prostitute, and everyone in between.

Zaxby’s

Yeah, the chicken place. Don’t get me wrong, I kinda like Zaxby’s. They are an above average fast food joint. But this mission statement is absurd. They must be proud of it because it is often printed on my receipt. But give me a break! Are chicken fingers enriching my life? Do they make me a better human being? I get some calories, protein,  carbs (and a lot of fat) while eating here. They give me some energy I suppose. Enriching? Encore experiences? Hardly.

The unfortunate reality is that several man-weeks of work were probably wasted at Zaxby’s corporate HQ coming up with this statement. They probably sat in a conference room with a large whiteboard, writing down words. Some got scratched off and some got moved to the “parking lot” to wither and die. Break out teams were formed to explore concepts like “one person at a time.” When it was done, they probably labored over the word “consistently”, wondering if it was powerful enough to begin the statement. These wordsmiths took it all very seriously. The leader of the group (probably a young kid with an MBA) I’m sure got a good performance review the following year. The next year, when the economy went sour, he was the first on the layoff chopping block. All the wordsmithing in the world isn’t gonna sell more chicken fingers.

I cringe every time I read this at Zaxby’s. Why? Because in the past I’ve been in that group laboring to produce nonsense like this. I know how fruitless an endeavor it can be, yet I know how seriously bosses can take it. And I know how overly vague statements like this actually distract from the true mission of an organization. In Zaxby’s case, their true mission is simple… SELL FREAKING CHICKEN!

Perhaps they read the mission statement to each new hire. Maybe some pimply-faced high school will be inspired by it, prompting her to create an encore experience while taking my order. Who am I kidding. This mission statement is indescribably bad!

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