Alpharetta Restaurant News – December 2014

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

I’ve never had this many new restaurant stories hit my radar in just a week’s span. It’s been crazy and also difficult to wait until Friday to bring it all to the blog. But here goes.

cropped-Enzas_Pizza_Logo_WHT1Anna and Eddie Siino have opened a pizza joint. These names should ring a bell because they are the founders of BB’s Bagels. That’s right, BB’s is in the pizza business. This week they quietly opened Vincenza’s Pizzeria across McFarland Parkway from their legendary bagel shop.

It was hard for me to get in touch with Anna this week for comment. But during lunch yesterday I asked her, “Why a pizza restaurant?”

“Because I didn’t like any of the pizza around here,” she replied as she moved on to help another customer. Um, alright. And here I was thinking we had plenty of terrific options for New York-style pies in the Alpharetta area. But who am I to question someone who already makes a nationally recognized New York-style product?

The Siino’s pizza joint is in the former Dottie’s Delight location next to the seedy massage parlor. It’s not exactly fancy digs, but neither is BB’s. Right now the menu is just pizza by the slice but that will change. Expect big, foldy, saucy and greasy slices with quality meats. I also spied Sicilian by the slice. And since I know someone will ask, their initial inspection is a 100.

pharrBig story number two is Cafe at Pharr. The growing sandwich chain out of Buckhead is coming to Alpharetta and will open in the former Pig-n-Chik location at 3050 Windward Plaza. Word from their PR folks is that their recent expansion into Dunwoody has been very successful and has bolstered their confidence to move further into the suburbs. Their menu and concept is very similar to the popular Chicken Salad Chick and should go over well here. But they’ll face the enormous headwind of this terrible location that isn’t visible from the road at all and is tough to get to. But maybe they will steal customers from Jason’s Deli.

Over at Avalon, we expect Antico will open near Christmas. We’re also hearing that Oak Steakhouse will open a sister restaurant at the development. It will be an Italian concept called Colletta and will open in February.

More than two years ago the Florida-based chain Burger 21 prematurely announced new locations in our area. Since then they opened one store near the Mall of Georgia and that’s it. But this month we’re hearing more credible rumors that a Johns Creek location is in the works but an address has not been revealed. The franchisee is Alpharetta resident Chris Bastecki who owns several Jimmy Johns stores.

We reported last month that growler store pioneer Crafty Draught closed their original south Forsyth location. Looks like their Alpharetta store is all tapped out too. That leaves us only one growler store in the Alpharetta city limits.

And thanks to several blog readers for bringing Breadtime to my attention. The owners of this quaint little German restaurant announced recently on Facebook that they have sold the business. Apparently this happened some time ago.

Also changing hands is the Italian eatery Dal Cuore in Johns Creek. They’d been listed for sale with a restaurant broker for several months. The new restaurant will be called Mari’s Cucina and Social House.

And speaking of selling restaurants, Fresh Mexicano Grill on the Forsyth side of McGinnis Ferry was sold and will become Sushi Ming Japanese Kitchen.

And while we’re in south Forsyth, we’ll go rapid fire on the changes up there…

Laguna Mexican Grill will open in the Midway community on Highway 9 in the former BluBay/BW Tavern/Mulligans/Buffalo’s space. They’ve got locations in downtown Cumming and Hoschton. Osaka Steak and Sushi at 3630 Peachtree Parkway has become Enzo Sushi. On Old Atlanta Road Cooley’s Pizza will become Quest Pizza. And Keso Mexican Grill has closed on Highway 9 near Bethelview and will soon be Marco’s Pizza. Got all that? There’ll be a quiz later.

Opening since last month is Piece of Cake on North Point near Chicken Salad Chick. The peri peri chain restaurant Boneheads is now open on Windward near Sri Krishna Vilas. And Another Broken Egg‘s location at Johns Creek Walk opens Monday December 15th.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Made Kitchen and Cocktails – Spanish tapas joint from the Sedgwicks. Should be open any day now.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – Little place on McFarland.
JD’s Sports Pub & Pizza – Replacing TPS Pizza on Peachtree Parkway in Forsyth.
Tom and Chee – You’ll have to wait until after the new year to get your grilled cheese and soup on.
Nothing Bundt Cakes - Laying down the bundt at The Collection at Forsyth.
Smallcakes - You’re killing me smalls. Another cake joint at 4055 Old Milton Parkway.
Cook-Out – Cheap fast food burgers coming to Haynes Bridge. Buildout hasn’t started yet.

What’s the best new Alpharetta-area restaurant of 2014?

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

This article is becoming a December tradition here on Roots and certainly one of my personal favorites. It’s a time to look back at all the new restaurants we’ve talked about and pick a favorite. Next week I’ll write about my favorite but I always open the conversation up to my readers first.

In 2012 we honored Breadtime with this distinction and gave Grand Champion BBQ a runner-up nod. Last year it was Campania and Hop Alley. For 2014, rather than list every new restaurant I’m going to narrow the field down to some finalists. Please leave me a comment with your favorite and why you think they need to win. And if I’ve unfairly left someone off the list then by all means let me know.

The finalists, in no particular order, are:

850°F Barpizza in Crabapple made a big splash this year when they became the second Neapolitan-style pizzeria in our area. They also stole hired away chef Stefano Rea from competitor and 2013 winner Campania. That alone should make them a finalist this year.

crust logoIt’s an understatement to say there’s good pizza in this area. That’s what makes Crust Pasta & Pizzeria stand out to me. They entered this crowded market in 2014 and easily vaulted to the top of most best pizza lists. Their Crust Special pizza, with sausage, peppers, onions and mushrooms is amazing. And their transformation of this former boring pizza shop is stunning, fitting right in with the growing downtown Alpharetta restaurant scene. Their packed parking lot also proves that Alpharetta restaurant patrons have endorsed Crust.

Down the street is South Main Kitchen. The exploding downtown restaurant scene continued this year with the opening of this restaurant by a former Salt Factory alum. And I love that they are right across the street as well. South Main’s buildout was stunning and creative, and the food ain’t that bad either. A finalist nod here is certainly in order.

You’d have to throw something in from Avalon, however management did these restaurants a huge disservice by forcing a shotgun start on October 30th. By and large these joints were woefully unprepared and not afforded the chance to work out kinks at soft openings. Egregious service and execution problems were the result. That’s too bad because there are some gems here. I’d nominate The El Felix for this article even though I’ve only been once. Their grub stood out to me, but the prices are through the roof. We’ll open the floor for other nominations from Avalon, perhaps Bocado Burger?

We found some delicious new spots on the Alpharetta side of Johns Creek in 2014. Maverick’s Cantina has potential. You’ve got to pick around the menu a bit to find the good eats, but their fried chicken tacos really shined.

The intersection of Douglas and Jones Bridge Roads is turning into a foodie mecca. In 2014 we saw the opening of Cafe 101. Their steamed dumplings are amazing and certainly unique for this area. If you’ve not been, please go. And I’m going to nominate the little taco shack across the street. El Trompo Mexican Taqueria brought a taste of authentic street tacos to the heart of the affluent burbs. Can a cheap taco shack be mentioned in the same breath as all the outstanding and beautiful restaurants above? Indeed they can. But are they worthy of winning it all? Humm.

What is your pick for the best new Alpharetta-area restaurant of 2014? Let me know in the comments.

Forging business relationships at Avalon – DC Aiken

Back in July I wrote about Councilman DC Aiken and a preferred mortgage lender relationship he forged with a past residential zoning applicant. And just like before, an alert blog reader has brought to my attention another similar relationship. This time it’s at Avalon.

Sharp-DC Aiken

Photo from atlantarealestateforum.com

Like previously with Sharp Residential, Councilman Aiken is the preferred mortgage lender at the landmark Avalon project. Those interested in purchasing a home or townhome at Avalon will find Councilman Aiken listed individually on the sales agreement. He’s the only mortgage broker listed, the only preferred lender.

However Aiken’s relationship at Avalon differs markedly from Sharp. First and most obvious is size and scale. Avalon is a $600 million project with enormous visibility and impact. But more importantly, Aiken’s relationship existed prior to the Avalon Phase 2 vote in October and future votes related to the project. At Sharp he came in well after the matter was before Council. He also pledged to recuse from any future Sharp decisions.

But Aiken didn’t recuse himself from Avalon’s Phase 2 vote nor does he plan to recuse from discussions and votes related to the convention center. Why?

His relationship is with Avalon homebuilder Monte Hewett. According to Aiken, that extra “degree of Kevin Bacon” between himself and North American Properties separate him from any conflict. However his name appears on Avalon-branded documents and websites. Additionally he felt he didn’t need to recuse from the Phase 2 vote in October because it didn’t include for-sale residential components.

Aiken consulted the city’s attorney prior to his Phase 2 vote and felt he was in the clear. But the decision to recuse is very subjective. The City’s ethics code calls for officials to avoid the appearance of impropriety. In the past other councilmen have recused for less significant matters in the opinion of this blogger.

Remember that Avalon will continue to have business before Alpharetta’s council in the months and years ahead. The proposed public-private partnership for a convention center is being discussed behind closed doors at this very time. Other future changes are certainly possible at Avalon and conditional use permits may be required for outparcel development.

It’s my opinion that Councilman Aiken should recuse from current and future Avalon discussions and decisions so along as he continues to do business at the development. Additionally I believe Councilman Chris Owens should also recuse for reasons I wrote about involving his wife’s employer’s multimillion dollar contract at Avalon. It all begs the question… which councilmen are not doing business at Avalon?

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature an article from Mike Christensen.

Winter is upon is here in the South. And by winter I mean lows in the 30‘s and highs in the 50‘s, normally. I’ve lived in Atlanta for 40 years and can count on one hand the number of severe winters I’ve seen. Snow drifts and mittens are not why we are all in the great state of Georgia. We love to be outside, hiking on the Greenway, catching some rays on Lake Lanier, and cruising with the top down. We also love to eat outside.

A lot of restaurants in Alpharetta have some sort of alfresco space. No matter how small the patio or how terrible the views, folks flock to these outdoor spaces to take advantage of the 7-8 months of favorable weather.

But what happens in the winter? Most places put portable heaters outside or slap up plastic sheets to keep the cold at bay. Those are both fine, but I was looking for more. I drew back on my college days of bonfires in the field. That’s what I wanted. Fire. Primitive; it speaks to our deepest natures. Are there any restaurants in Alpharetta that would have such a feature? I found two, and oddly, both of them have the fire inside.

The Village Tavern on Haynes Bridge has a huge fireplace in the middle of the dining room. It’s impressive and certainly hot, but only the tables immediately around it can benefit from its warmth. The other is 5 Seasons Brewing on Old Milton Parkway. The mountain chalet feel of the building is echoed with the tall round fire pit near the bar. More show than go, it is a very cool place to hang out with your friends and have an in-house brewed beer.

You could say, why would any restaurant spend money making an outdoor fire feature considering the relatively short amount of time it’s cold here? I say why not? Restaurants are a year round business. Would you rather go to a place and eat outside next to the buzz of a rented space heater, or feast on a meal next to a roaring, crackling fire? Having the fire just makes the food better. Heck, I’d go hang out at a doughnut shop if I could suck down my glazed goodness fireside.

Avalon is on the right track. They have two areas of outdoor fire. There’s the “Living Room” with a fire pit and an outdoor fireplace near the skating rink. They aren’t involved with a restaurant, but you are encouraged to enjoy your open container by the fire.

It’s time we take advantage the worst time of the year called winter. I would love to see more outdoor fire features in Alpharetta’s eateries. Those places would get my cold hard cash.

Alpharetta rolls out Rately

The City of Alpharetta has partnered with local technology firm Digital Scientists to promote a new location-aware mobile application. Called Rately, the Android and iPhone app will offer shoppers rewards programs.

rately logoWe’ve seen apps like this come and go over the years. The idea certainly isn’t new. And technology like this isn’t new from even Alpharetta-based companies. Back in 2011 NCR (formerly Radiant Systems) rolled out a similar app that leveraged that company’s existing presence in the cash registers of restaurants. It didn’t gain acceptance in the marketplace. The challenge has always been either with flaky GPS locations or having a process that requires restaurant staff to check you in.

Rately stands a chance to make it here for a few reasons. First, they are using a bluetooth-based location technology to check users into a business based on proximity to a sensor. This should be more reliable that GPS however users will have to enable bluetooth on their phones at all times.

Second, Rately already has wide retail participation from the very get go. By partnering with the city and its tight-knit business coalition, they have a huge local adoption rate. Nearly every downtown retailer and restaurant is already on board in addition to several along Windward Parkway and at Avalon.

Another draw with Rately is it’s anonymous. Every other app wants to maintain profiles, collect data and build dossiers on your shopping and dining habits. Not Rately. No login is required and it isn’t spamming your Facebook friends.

This program is very new and way too early to review. However the biggest drawback I see is the lack of serious rewards from the Alpharetta restaurants and merchants participating. For example, South Main Kitchen is offering a paltry 10% off your bill after ten visits. Others are doing buy one get one free deals after several visits. That’s about it. Restaurants are going to have to sweeten the deal a good bit before consumers install apps. But we’ll see.

Do you think Rately will gain widespread use in Alpharetta? You can download it at iTunes and the Google Play store.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – November 2014

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

North Carolina-based fast food burger chain Cook-Out may open an Alpharetta location. The restaurant has filed plans with the city to open at 11475 Haynes Bridge Road in the former Backyard Burger location. This location has stood vacant for about six years but is perfect for Cook-Out as it will require little in the way of renovation and is already equipped with a drive-thru lane.

CookOutRestaurantMy blogging friend Eli Zandman has chronicled Cook-Out’s metro Atlanta expansion in a series of articles. Their choice to open in Alpharetta frankly came as a surprise to me. The restaurant competes at the low end and often targets college markets. And this particular location puts them directly adjacent to The Varsity who certainly would be a competitor. I’ve tried Cook-Out once on a recent visit to North Carolina and found it to be pretty good for fast-food.

And while we’re talking burgers, Tower Burger opened yesterday.

We’re hearing reports of another new downtown Alpharetta restaurant, although this one will be a tad up Main Street. The name will be Creative Studio Cafe. Details have not yet emerged on the concept but hopefully I’ll know more by this time next month. We’re hearing they may be a gallery and restaurant combination. Look for them at 160 North Main Street a little past the Methodist Church.

beer with frameLocal growler store pioneer Crafty Draught has closed their original south Forsyth location. Their Old Milton store in Alpharetta is still around. While Forsyth County was the first municipality in this area to permit growler stores, they refused to adapt their laws like Alpharetta and Johns Creek. This made it difficult or impossible for stores to offer perks like samples and flights of beer. As a result, every small growler store in the south part of the county is now gone. Way to be business friendly there Forsyth County. Or perhaps the growler business is going flat. It’s probably a little of both.

Taking their place will be Growler Works. That’ll be the name of a new growler store in the Medlock Bridge Shopping Center in Johns Creek. Look for them directly behind Egg Harbor Cafe.

2B Whole Gluten Free Bakery opened at the end of October in downtown Alpharetta. Looks like this was an actual relocation from Kennesaw, not a second location for these ladies. They’re at 42 Milton Avenue and also at the Alpharetta Farmers Market. Also opening since last month is Eggs Up Grill in the Publix shopping center in Crabapple.

And finally, Ruth’s Chris Steak House will open on November 24th after a speedy buildout. And according to a press release they’ll forgo the ribbon-cutting in favor of ceremoniously cutting into their first steak. Cute.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Coffee and crepe shop opening in Johns Creek.
Boneheads – Grilled fish and peri peri restaurant coming to Windward near Sri Krishna Vilas. Should be open by the end of the year.
Anabelle’s Table – Their lease in south Forsyth fell through. Removing after this month until they reannounce an opening.
Made Kitchen and Cocktails – New Sedgwick concept in downtown Alpharetta. Expect a December opening.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – Slow buildout on McFarland Parkway.
JD’s Sports Pub & Pizza – Replacing TPS Pizza on Peachtree Parkway in Forsyth.
Tom and Chee – Grilled cheese shop to open near Chicken Salad Chick on North Point.
Piece of Cake – Bakery and cake joint also opening near Chicken Salad Chick.
Nothing Bundt Cakes - More cakes. This time at The Collection at Forsyth.
Smallcakes - And more cakes, cupcakes that is. 4055 Old Milton Parkway. Let them eat cake.
Another Broken Egg - Another location, this time in Johns Creek Walk.

Goldbergs vs BB’s – Tale of the tape

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

Most of the restaurant talk this week has revolved around Avalon of course. Everyone is abuzz about things like poutine with duck fat fries, burgers at Bocado and $20 taco plates from Ford Fry. Somewhere lost in the conversation is Goldbergs. We’ve got another water boiled bagel joint in town. That means a BB’s comparison is in order.

BBs vs Goldbergs

BB’s on left, Goldbergs on right. Notice residue from unwrapped everything bagel.

I hatched up this plan with a coworker. Known to most as simply “Murph”, the Jersey native will be perfect to join me in this project. Here’s what we did. One morning this week I hit Goldbergs while he went to BB’s on McFarland. We both ordered exactly the same thing – a plain bagel, an everything and some regular and vegetable cream cheeses. We spread out our bagel loot in a breakroom at the office along with a camera and ruler. After measuring, photographing and comparing receipts we set out to eating. Here’s what we found.

At five inches wide by about three and a half, these carbohydrate grenades measure in at exactly the same size. But on physical appearance, BB’s has it. Their regular bagel is golden brown compared to pale white from Goldbergs. The everything looked better as well. There’s simply more everything on the BB’s everything as it’s completely covered. But while Goldbergs lacks some toppings, their mixture contains caraway seeds. Even a few of these little guys changes the flavor of the bagel in a big way. Perhaps it’s personal preference but I didn’t care for them at all. The caraway was enough of a turnoff to keep me away from Goldberg’s everything in the future.

But let’s talk about texture. It only took one bite of the Goldberg bagel to tell it wasn’t there. The bagel lacked that chewy exterior which is a signature feature of water boiled bagels. It bordered on being a little doughy and undercooked. Thinking that perhaps I got the runt of the litter that day, I returned later in the week to try a Goldberg plain again. It was a little better but that chew simply isn’t there.

Bagel aftermath

The bagel battle aftermath

It’s possible that Goldbergs needs time. Many restaurants at Avalon are not firing on all cylinders at this point. BB’s has had years now to perfect their process. This week’s bagel from them was worlds better than that from Goldbergs but not the best I can remember from their shop.

We’ll call the cream cheese battle a draw, at least for the plain variety. They were indistinguishable to me. Murph gave BB’s the nod for the veggie cream cheese.

Oddly enough our order was more expensive at BB’s, $6.61 versus $5.68 for the same thing at Goldbergs. The cream cheese is very expensive at BB’s and you get less of it compared to Goldbergs. But it’s interesting that BB’s costs more considering the rent at Avalon is probably ten times what it is on nasty McFarland Parkway.

And speaking of nasty… Goldbergs is certainly cleaner. Many continue to be turned off by BB’s and their long history of below par health inspection grades.

It’s a little easier to get in and out of BB’s. Avalon isn’t exactly where you want to go for a quick to-go meal. The place is designed to draw you in and keep you there to linger. If you happen to be there for something else in the morning then Goldbergs is a good choice. But it’s hard to grab bagels from here and take back to your office elsewhere.

And finally, service was pretty good at both joints. They remembered my name on my second visit to Goldbergs. However, BB’s remembered to individually wrap our everything bagel. Attention to detail is important.

So at the end of it all, bagels from fancy digs at Avalon cannot unseat BB’s from their bagel throne.

Tower Burger – Alpharetta Highway

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature an article from Mike Christensen.

Got you, didn’t I?  You thought that that mysterious burger place on Alpharetta Highway was finally open?

tower burger signHere at Roots, when a new restaurant starts a build out, we take notice and update our readers on the progress until the new place opens.  Then we visit a few times and we post a review.  That’s how it normally works but not with Tower Burger.

The old Sonic sat empty and run down for a long time.  Honestly, a lot of that section of Alpharetta/Roswell looked pretty sad.  The building stayed there, neglected until… wait! Signs of life appeared.  Everything was torn down except the main building.  Then, nothing.  Tumble weeds rolled through the parking lot.

Eventually we learned that a burger joint called Tower Burger was coming to that location.  Ok, another burger place, fine.  No big news.  The build out started, and stopped, and started, and stopped.  This continued for the next two years.

I was able to scope out some conceptual drawings online.  The place looked promising, with its second story deck serving beer and wine.  Anyone who drives Highway 9 daily has thrown at least a passing glance at the building as it now sits.  It looks done.  The sign is up, the landscaping done and parking lot paved.  So what’s the deal?

I’ve peeked in the windows and circled the building.  The last time I was there there were still unpacked boxes inside and no chairs and tables to be seen.  I can tell you this, the place is small.  In fact it’s tiny.  The downstairs patio couldn’t hold more than one or two tables comfortably.  It’s a cool looking place, but the function seems to be lacking.  And of course the second story deck will have a stunning view of J. Christopher’s.  If you crane your neck you might catch a glimpse of the Ferrari place up the street.  Granted, all these observations are just from my view in the parking lot.

I will be able to form more fair opinions once Tower Burger opens.  When will that be?  It’s anyone’s guess.  The mystery still remains.  Tower Burger has no social media presence, no website, no nothing.  It took an Indiana Jones-type effort to even get a name of someone who might be related somehow to the project.  Attempts to contact that person have been met with bupkis.  So keep your eyes peeled folks.  If nary a whiff of meat cooking escapes from that place, our readers will be the first to know.  After all, the most asked question from our readers is “Why do you hate Avalon?”.  But the second most asked question is, “What’s up with Tower Burger?”  You guys are in the dark as much as we are.  The one question I have is, when Tower Burger eventually does open, will anyone care?

Reflections on Avalon’s opening

Avalon opens today. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you already knew that.

Avalon logoFrom the point of view of my writing interests, Avalon is in my sweet spot. It combines nearly every theme I ever wanted to blog about, from restaurants to politics to affluence, all into one neat little project. I couldn’t have asked for better writing material.

We here at Roots provided what I believe (and hope) has been the best, most comprehensive coverage of this enormous project. From the time the property went under contract to this opening week and beyond, we’ve written about it all. We’ve gone well beyond printing press releases and the stories spoonfed to editors from PR departments. We’ve tried to dive deep into the issues and discussions of this complicated and multifaceted development.

Comprehensive I believe our coverage has been. Impartial? Certainly not as this is an opinion blog after all. Many parts of the process have turned me off, in particular the back-room deal making and politicking. The sausage making analogy was one I used last year and it still holds true.

And then there’s Mark Toro. The guy is a character and at times has a snarky attitude on social media. “El Toro” was a name I once called him, a moniker he probably relished in a narcissistic kind of way.

But I’ll say this about Mark Toro… he’s delivered on what he promised.

Prospect Park

Photo credit: ajc.com

It’s this kept promise that’s resonated with political and community leaders alike in Alpharetta. Even the apartment opponents I know respect Mr. Toro for what he’s put together. After all, the memories of Prospect Park, Stan Thomas, an incomplete Westside Parkway, the mud pit and broken parking deck are not forgotten in this town. Toro’s kept promise resonates loud in Alpharetta right now, so much so that some on Alpharetta’s council were willing to go against their own past campaign promises and approve more apartments on Monday night.

The first few weeks at Avalon may tick some people off. The crowds will be relentless, traffic will suck, parking will be a mess and service kinks will have to be worked out. But in the end, Alpharetta will treasure Avalon. It is a beautiful development with outstanding restaurants and activities run by people who know what they are doing.

The  process that got us here was downright ugly at times. Hopefully we here at Roots chronicled it well. But at the end of it all, we’ve got a gem. Congrats Avalon on the opening. Welcome to Alpharetta.

Diwali and Alpharetta’s diverse Indian restaurant scene

Yesterday was Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. It’s a huge holiday for those from the subcontinent. It ought to be a bigger deal in the Alpharetta area. The Indian population here is surging as the IT industry again picks up steam. Indians are an important part of our economy and community today. Why there are not public events and recognition for Diwali is beyond me.

What does make sense is the surge of Indian restaurants in town. They’re too numerous to count. The smaller ones often change hands from time to time, trading chefs and shifting focus from one style of Indian cuisine to another. It’s tough to keep up with and quite frankly, I don’t know that I’m qualified to review the food.

skvThat’s a difficult admission to make considering that I’ve been to India. I was in Mumbai for three months in 1998 shortly after graduating from college. I was intimidated and terrified by the food. It didn’t help that my colleagues strongly discouraged me from being adventurous with their food lest I experience the finest gastrointestinal distress south Asia could offer. I heeded the advice and survived on vegetarian pizzas from a Dominos franchise out there (although I did partake of a few amazing home cooked meals).

My culinary experience there, or lack thereof, isn’t serving me well today as someone who lives amid these wonderful choices of Indian restaurants. Take for example my visit this week at Sri Krishna Vilas‘ newer location on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth. There’s no buffet here but rather a fast-casual feel. The vegetarian-only menu is on the board but no descriptions are available for guys like me. I selected something that ended with “chana” which I knew involved chick peas. I asked the man about “puri” and was told simply that it was round. So with that tiny bit of information I ordered the puri with chana and hoped for the best.

What I got was amazing. Puri is a deep fried bread, served hot and golden brown and puffed up like a fresh baked pita. Oh yeah, puri’s round too. It was amazing and went well as a dip into the spicy curried chick peas. I’d later learn, thanks to my google skills, that puri is a snack or breakfast food. Thankfully I ordered another familiar item, samosas. Again they were delicious.

Sri Krishna Vilas is worthy of your visit and popular. I drive by on weekends and the place looks like a Nissan Leaf sales lot. Clearly they have a following.

You’ll not go wrong at the various Indian buffets around town. Try a spoonful of just about everything and go back for seconds of what you like. Madras Chettinaad is the granddaddy of them all on Old Milton Parkway. My coworkers still call it Minerva, the name of the restaurant from a few years ago. It’s easier to pronounce. Whatever you call it, their selection can’t be matched. Sri Krishna Vilas‘ Windward location is probably your best bet on on that street although I occasionally like Abhiruchi Indian Cuisine down the road. Their selection is limited but decent. I like that they’re not afraid to dial up the spice level in their food. Grab an extra napkin to dab the sweat off your brow. And again, their unpronounceable name completes the experience.

But if you try only one joint mentioned in this column today, make it Myzenes Indian Coastal Cuisine on Peachtree Parkway in extreme south Forsyth. These guys prove that Indian food in our humble burb is diverse. They offer cuisine from the coastal city of Goa which was heavily influenced by the Portuguese. You’ll see it in the menu when things like chorizo make an appearance. Sausage at an Indian joint? And seafood? Certainly not something you see everyday. The owners are very friendly and will guide you through their menu. They’re even willing to describe the food in more detail than just the geometric shape. This non-desi likes that.

So get out there are try some Indian joints this weekend. Let me know your favorites. And wish your Indian friends a happy Diwali!

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