Four Fat Cows Ice Cream Parlor – Main Street

We all scream for ice cream. In the blazing, humid dog days of summer in the South, nothing hits the spot quite like a cold, creamy bowl of ice cream. Alpharetta has had a lack of ice cream sources. We’ve got cakes, cupcakes and French pastries but the only place to get ice cream was Dairy Queen or Brusters. Frankly, that’s sad. We deserve better.

Four Fat Cows logoThat’s what owner Robyn Rowles thought when a small house on North Main Street became available.  The Oregon native and owner of Tin Roof Kitchen really had no ice cream experience save for making an occasional batch at home. That sounds scary but what she lacks in experience she makes up for with passion, drive and dream.

Robyn opened Tin Roof Kitchen last year. A mecca for gluten free diners, it has become a success. The main reason for the gluten free menu is Robyn and two of her four kids have Celiac Disease. Helping people with Celiac Disease or food allergies have a place where they have a wide range of safe food options is extremely important to Robyn. Much of this effort is carried over to Four Fat Cows. Gluten free cones are available and coconut milk-based ice creams are there for those with dairy problems.

The space has a quaint, small town feel. The ice cream takes center stage of course but there are toys, puzzles, games, balls, stuffed animals, soaps and bath products, snacks and Georgia sourced jams, jellies and honey to occupy you while you consume your frozen treat. The idea is to have people just hang out and have fun not just grab and go. There’s something special when neighbors get together while the kids play, all hopped up on sugar. It reminded me of a time long gone. It’s great to see it in Alpharetta. But browsing is pretty much all I did as the prices are steep on some of the items.

Look as hard as you can, but you will find no ice cream machines in house. While Four Fat Cows uses their own recipes, they leave the heavy churning to Greenwood’s Ice Cream on Peachtree Industrial. They supply ice cream to many of Atlanta’s finest restaurants. Four Fat Cows uses a higher fat content and lower sugar content, which gives the ice cream a fuller, creamier, thicker mouth feel. There’s not a lot of air, so the ice cream tends to stick around longer to let you absorb the flavor.

And speaking of flavors, there’s a ton to choose from. My personal favorite was the key lime pie. Chunks of crust along with an extra blast of lime tartness made my mouth happy. I’ve had the chocolate overload and the peanut butter cup. Both were winners. Next on my list will be the bourbon butter pecan. Just saying the name makes me drool. Sizes range from the baby cup, perfect for kiddies, all the way to the pint sized behemoth. Not sure even I could handle a whole pint of this goodness.

It’s ok to look past the ice cream, though. Four Fat Cows also has sundaes, shakes, floats, Counter Culture Coffee, Italian sodas, phosphates and lemonades. Baked goods are also in the works. They are currently open 3-9 PM Monday through Friday, and 11 AM to 9 PM Saturday and Sunday, but Robyn says that expanded Summer hours are not far away. Don’t look for them to slow down when Winter comes. Robyn has plans to shift the menu a bit to add soups and hot and sipping chocolates.

Four Fat Cows is a welcome addition to Alpharetta’s growing restaurant scene. The ice cream is outstanding, the atmosphere welcoming and the service has been top notch every time I’ve visited. You will most likely run into Robyn’s oldest son Brenden behind the counter. He’s got the staff whipped into shape. No slouching or texting employees here. And in case you were wondering, the four cows in the logo are yes, Robyn’s children. Yet none of them are fat. In fact, one of them is in fine shape. Must be cutting back on the ice cream. Check out Four Fat Cows this summer for the finest ice cream in Alpharetta.

Four Fat Cows is located at 64 North Main Street next to Mittie’s Tea Room.

Musings on City Center, openness and growing dichotomies

On Monday night Alpharetta’s city council approved the rezoning of city center in a vote that roughly fell along “party lines.” It was the usual establishment politicians against a small faction of homeowner-friendly councilmen. I regret not writing much about this process as it unfolded. My time has been pressed recently. But here are some random thoughts on the subject.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Woodstock be praised. Alpharetta covets what they have done and has sough in many ways to emulate it. Alpharetta’s council has done everything from touring downtown Woodstock multiple times to poaching staff from that city’s planning department. Now Alpharetta is creating a sweetheart deal for Woodstock’s developer.

There are still questionable issues with the selection process in this deal, almost all of which took place in secret. Alpharetta’s become adept at leveraging bidding and procurement processes to hide important decisions. Send out a request for qualifications, ask your favorite developer to bid on it and the rest of the process stays safely behind closed doors and away from the prying eyes of the public and citizen journalists. Make sure you never have a quorum of council members involved and don’t form official committees so open meeting laws don’t apply. Deny open records requests and stand firm knowing that those requesting don’t have the financial means to challenge it in court. You can even take votes in private, something which admittedly happened with city center.

MidCity’s development of downtown will be subsidized by the Alpharetta taxpayer. They openly admitted in the zoning meeting that these developments are among the most expensive to build and potentially least profitable to operate. It doesn’t help that the buildings will be built on shifting sand, both literally and figuratively. The soil under these apartments isn’t ideal for four story buildings. It makes the real estate less valuable to a builder, something the city will have to adjust for. The developer will also get the added bonus of using the municipal parking deck for their apartment residents.

In the end, I suspect we’ll find out that MidCity will purchase the property for a song. What that price will be is anyone’s guess because, as above, the city hasn’t been forthcoming with details on the negotiations.

Then there’s the whole city center plan versus what was presented to the voters. I spoke in detail with Mayor Belle Isle about this issue last week. In his mind the bond referendum was about municipal buildings, namely the city hall and parking deck. It wasn’t about the city center development plan at all. His comments show a growing dichotomy between those on council and the public who were pitched and sold a far less intense downtown than what is being built. Alpharetta voters can be justifiably upset about this.

Then there are apartments. They are becoming a necessary evil if you are to build mixed use projects like this due to financing constraints. It’s caused Alpharetta to abandon their CLUP’s suggested apartment to house ratio. This council has now approved about 700 apartments. And the precedent is already set. Peridot, the extremely dense project on Haynes Bridge Road, is now asking for apartments at their development. Then again, in a few years the lending market will again shift and someone will break these apartments up and sell as condos.

In the end, I think Alpharetta could have done a lot better downtown and they certainly could have been more open with the process. But it’s clear this is the project the city’s leaders want. Damn the torpedoes it’s full speed ahead on downtown.

Downtown restaurant growth, reaching critical mass or saturation?

“Downtown starts with a restaurant scene.”

That’s what Mayor David Belle Isle told me this week when I sat down to interview him one morning over coffee at Mugs on Milton. Downtown was on my mind, as it is for many. Next week I hope to write more on his comments regarding the City Center project. But a lot of downtown hinges on restaurants. It also dovetails nicely into this Friday column.

We’ve watched with pleasure the growth of Alpharetta’s downtown restaurant scene over the years. But the rapid growth is starting to concern me. By my count there are 18 restaurants within the business district of downtown. The proposed City Center project from MidCity Partners would add eight restaurants. The Alpharetta Lofts project has two restaurants, one with an announced tenant of Chow Baby. A project adjacent to that includes two restaurant locations.

So if you’re keeping score at home, that’s 18 open now plus 12 proposed in new projects for a total of 30 restaurants. If you want to keep going we can speculate on a few other restaurant conversion projects. I’ve heard rumors that the Kell Building, former home to the Blind Murphy growler store, could see a restaurant conversion. There are a number of old homes along Roswell and Old Roswell Streets that could be candidates too.

Mayor Belle Isle is keep score as well. He’s touting that downtown has grown from two to twelve restaurants during his tenure as mayor. It’s been more than that on both ends of the measure. But is it too much too fast?

The amount of restaurant space relative to retail, office or residential in downtown far exceeds that of Avalon or any other similar project. Is it sustainable? Is there a saturation point of restaurants downtown such that exceeding it results in vacancies? And do these vacancies happen in front of city hall or on the town green?

To Mayor Belle Isle it’s all about reaching a critical mass, and we’re not there yet by his estimation. His goal is to make downtown the destination. Rather than leave your home with one particular restaurant in mind, he wants you to drive to downtown then have the “honey, where do you want to eat” conversation.

He also envisions multiple concepts from the same restauranteurs, something that’s started with the Sedgwicks with Pure Taqueria and Made Kitchen and Cocktails. Perhaps F&H could add a second concept to complement Salt Factory.

“We’ve been a catalyst for a lot of it,” Belle Isle said when I asked him how involved the city has been recruiting restaurants. “First there was the promise of downtown that’s not yet here. Then special events got people introduced to downtown. Next, Foodtruck Alley got people in the habit of going downtown. It’s proven to restaurants there is demand and that we can do this. These restaurants have come because there is demand.”

But the city’s been more involved than the mayor will admit. Economic development staff have been knocking on restaurant doors in Roswell for a few years now, selling the vision and encouraging expansion our way. And city grant money exists for development downtown. There are city incentive dollars for everything from building improvements to facade changes, awnings and even street furniture. It’s only available downtown.

But it’s been a nice ride thus far and Mayor Belle Isle can be justifiably proud of the restaurant scene in downtown today. But the question I pose is this – when do we reach that critical mass for restaurants downtown? Are we there now? Have we crossed it? Will City Center push us past that saturation point where it all becomes unsustainable? Or are Alpharetta gastronomes hungry enough to keep this restaurant train chugging down the tracks for years to come?

Alpharetta Restaurant News – May 2015

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

Chow BabyYou’ve got to be a brick-and-mortar restaurant to have a booth at Taste of Alpharetta, or at least have a location in the works. That’s been a requirement from the get go for Alpharetta’s festival and it was why I pointed out Chow Baby last week. They’ve been on our radar since December when they abruptly closed their midtown Atlanta location with a hint of reopening in Alpharetta. Since that time it’s been crickets.

Turns out Chow Baby planted their Taste of Alpharetta booth squarely in front of where they will eventually open – The Alpharetta Lofts on Canton Street. If you’re not familiar with the project, it is a building of condos over retail that will be loved by millennials parents of millennials. Last night the restaurant was talking up a possible August opening. That date seems aggressive as I’d put it later in the Fall.

Also at Taste last night was Four Fat Cows, a new ice cream parlor that’s already open at the corner of Main and Church Streets in downtown. A new ice cream parlor is a welcomed addition in this waning phase of the fro-yo movement, but I’m still holding out for someone to open a craft ice cream concept in Alpharetta.

After a little less than a year in business, Sip Wine & Tapas abruptly closed their location at The Collection in Forsyth County. Their original store in Crabapple has been closed for renovations for some time now. We had high hopes for Sip in Forsyth, especially at this location. But it’s safe to declare this spot as Forsyth’s most cursed restaurant building. Future restauranteurs should open here at their own risk.

MondoLogo-01Opening since last month is Mondo Pizza Kitchen on Highway 9 in Milton. Much like where Sip was located, this space hasn’t proven to be golden. But Mondo’s has a shot here with an upscale Italian concept lead by chef Greg DeMichiel. You’ll recognize this name as he’s been on reality television. He’s also worked at… wait for it… Sip Wine and Tapas!

The Bowl – Updated American Cuisine is set to open in about two weeks in the former Wok & Chopsticks location on Old Milton Parkway. It appears to be an Asian family peddling this concept with a menu that includes grub like beef stroganoff.

Buildout has started for LottaFrutta at Avalon. Look for their fresh fruit cups this summer. And if they are like their counterparts nearby, this fruit will cost a lotta moolah.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen - Opening very soon in Milton near Target.
Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.
Starbucks – Tiny new free-standing location coming to Haynes Bridge near the mall.
Bawarchi Biryani Point Indian Cuisine – Replacing Mayuri in the old Pizza Hut near the mall.
CamiCakes – Another cupcake joint, North Point near REI.
Mugs on Milton – Second location for this indy coffee joint to open in Crabapple, former Scoops location.
The Farmhouse – Extremely slow progress on this coffee shop in Johns Creek.
Cafe at Pharr – Also slow but steady progress on their new location off Windward.
Varasano’s Pizzeria - Coming to the back entrance of North Point Mall.
Salsarita’s Fresh CantinaComing to the former Uncle Madio’s space on Windward. Buildout has not started.

Taste of Alpharetta 2015 – a preview

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

POSTCARD-FRONT-2-6x9-Taste-of-Alpharetta-New-2015Wow, this one sneaked up on us. Amid everything going on right now, Taste of Alpharetta quietly showed up on the calendar. It’s next week!

Shame on you if you don’t know of this event. It’s basically you and about 40,000 of your closest friends all piled into charming downtown Alpharetta to taste little vittles from scores of restaurants. Each year I do a preview article, even though last year I didn’t go. And I probably won’t go this year either.

Why? It’s mainly because I’ve tried just about every restaurant on this list. Chances are you have too. Scoping out new joints is our schtick here. Plus I have a family commitment that night anyway.

There’s always a handful of new restaurants looking to make a splash at Taste of Alpharetta. Here are a few I personally would spend a few tickets on as well as a list of glaring absences.

Mondo’s Pizza Kitchen – They are about to open any day now on Highway 9 in Milton. Here’s your early chance to get the inside story on their menu. I’ve heard this place may have promise.

Real Chow Baby – Did a double take seeing this name on the list. They closed their flagship restaurant in Atlanta several months ago with a promise to open here in Alpharetta. But as of now we’ve seen no evidence that a restaurant is in the works, unless they are outside of Alpharetta proper. Go try their stir fry and ask when and where they will be. And someone send me a tweet with the answer please!

Four Fat Cows Ice Cream – Graze on over to these guys for dessert. They are soon to open on Main Street near Mittie’s Tea Room. I’m excited to try a new ice cream joint in town and have high expectations on the quality of the product. Hope they can deliver. Again, someone send me the scoop!

Oak Steakhouse and Colletta – Wow, they will let the great unwashed at the food festival try their eats without a corporate AMEX? Here’s your chance! Goldbergs and Kona are the only other Avalon restaurants at Taste. Disappointed that El Felix isn’t there. And no-shows from Bantam + Biddy, Antico, Bocado and the others?

Also missing this year are the darlings of downtown – Salt Factory and South Main Kitchen. Perhaps they will do something curbside at their restaurants? Between these guys and the Avalon absence, there are some noticeable gaps in the lineup this year.

That’s pretty much all that stands out this year. Milton’s is always there and worthy of your tickets. Others I’d try include Ceviche, Bite and Noche from Johns Creek.

My only other advice is to get there very early, perhaps before the official 5:00 start. The place is elbow-to-elbow by 7.

Taste of Alpharetta is on Thursday May 7th starting at 5:00pm in downtown Alpharetta.

Julie Hogg’s Alpharetta Post

She’s back!

Longtime Alpharetta blog readers will remember Julie Hogg from her days writing for the Alpharetta Patch. She’s returned and has started a new blog called Alpharetta Post. You owe her blog a read, especially if you’re reading this from 2 Park Plaza.

I appreciate Julie’s perspective, even when we disagree. But recently we have not disagreed at all. Her City Council beat is top notch and is sure to ruffle feathers. It also helps that she’s a good writer, far better than this guy.

I don’t promote other blogs all that often, mainly because the newer writers that have emerged recently don’t offer original and compelling content. Julie’s certainly does that and much more. Bookmark her alpharettapost.com website or subscribe to her RSS feed.

The chain restaurant rumor mill

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

I wrote not long ago about locally-run eateries that are good replacements for chain restaurants. Let’s turn that article on its head and talk about chain joints. And to make things more difficult, let’s get predictive. Which chains or franchise restaurants may soon open new locations in the Alpharetta area?

I’ll preface the article by saying that my restaurant crystal ball has proven to be rather cloudy over the years. Rarely do my predictions come to fruition so take these ideas with a grain of salt, or perhaps file them away in the rumor bin.

FirebirdsWe’ll start off at the higher end. Charlotte-based Firebirds Wood Fired Grill serves hand-cut steaks, chicken, seafood and ribs cooked over wood-burning grills. They operate 36 locations throughout the southeast but none in Georgia at this time. I’ve heard rumors they are eying Alpharetta, in particular the new Atwater development across the street from Avalon. No definitive plans are in the works though so we’ll keep it at that. But it could be interesting to see how they fare against the restaurants in Avalon itself.

Expect a few more franchise sandwich chains to appear in town before too long. I’ve got my eye on two in particular. First is Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop. Last year the Las Vegas-based chain announced a franchise agreement that would bring stores to our area. Since then only a Duluth location has opened but Alpharetta is promised.

And in the same genre, Penn Station East Coast Subs could arrive. This month they announced a franchise deal with potential stores in Alpharetta, Cumming, Roswell and Johns Creek. They already have Atlanta-area stores in Suwanee and Druid Hills. Their made-to-order deli sandwiches probably won’t get too many foodies excited, but their website touts a good Philly cheesesteak, a sammich lacking in this area.

The burger craze is far from burning out and new fast-casual chains could still make an appearance in Alpharetta. While west Windward is thick with burgers, downtown Alpharetta is ripe for a concept. I also think Old Milton Parkway’s east end could support one and possible another near the mall. As for who might make an appearance? Florida-based Burger 21 announced Alpharetta plans years ago but got caught flat footed. Eventually they finalized plans to open at Johns Creek Promenade, a new shopping center coming out of the ground now along Peachtree Parkway. I’m also watching Texas-based Grub Burger Bar, Grindhouse Killer Burgers and Zinburger. All three have ITP locations and could consider making the jump north.

And finally we get to fast food. Watch out for Del Taco. I’ve heard credible rumors that they are eying a location in Milton along Highway 9 near Target or Aldi. And chicken fryer Bojangles doesn’t have a presence in our area even though they are slowly growing their exposure to the Atlanta market. I’ve seen their name penciled in for a few spots around town but none have materialized.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – April 2015

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

A new burrito joint may soon be rolling into town. Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina has plans to open at 5215 Windward Parkway in the former Uncle Maddio’s space. Started in Charlotte in 2000, the fast-casual Mexican concept is rapidly expanding through franchising. Currently they are in 19 states but curiously not in Georgia. That’s about to change.

salsaritas logoThe company at one time had a location in Savannah but closed it in 2013. This year they plan to test that Savannah market again with a new store. Their Windward location will be the first in metro Atlanta but they promise several more.

The location is an interesting pick and has proven to be unsuccessful to a few chains. Mini burger purveyor Krystal tried a test concept called K-Cafe here a few years ago. And of course there’s Uncle Maddio’s and their slow death spiral. A source very close to this piece of real estate once suggested to me that Your Pie was interested in the space but that didn’t come to fruition.

Then there’s the competitors. Chipotle, Qdoba and Moe’s have all had a long presence on Windward Parkway. How will Salsarita’s compare?

Avalon recently announced on social media that Chick-fil-A will open at the mixed use development. There were rumors of this years ago when Avalon was first zoned. However another Chick-fil-A operator once told me he didn’t think it would happen due to the real estate being too expensive. So the announcement came as a bit of a surprise to me, albeit a welcomed one. Avalon needs a cheaper food alternative.

That’s about it for restaurant news this month. Since last month Cookout opened on Haynes Bridge, but based on the crowds I think everyone in town has been there already. And Senior Fajitas Mexican Grill has opened on Highway 9 and McFarland in south Forsyth.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Extremely slow progress on this coffee shop in Johns Creek.
Cafe at Pharr – Also slow but steady progress on their new location off Windward.
Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen - Coming soon to Milton in the old pretzel store near Target.
Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar – Opening on Milton Avenue in downtown Alpharetta next to 2B Whole Bakery.
Mondo’s Pizza Kitchen – Coming to Highway 9 in Milton in the original Zola Bistro location.
Starbucks – Tiny new free-standing location coming to Haynes Bridge near the mall.
Bawarchi Biryani Point Indian Cuisine – Replacing Mayuri in the old Pizza Hut near the mall.
CamiCakes – Another cupcake joint, North Point near REI.
Mugs on Milton – Second location for this indy coffee joint to open in Crabapple, former Scoops location.
Pura Enchilada Taqueria - Coming to Jones Bridge in Johns Creek.
Varasano’s Pizzeria - New buildout within North Point Mall. Construction has not started.

Dan Merkel announces candidacy for City Council

It looks to start early this year. Campaign season is kicking off in April as Dan Merkel announced yesterday he is running for City Council. He plans to run for the post 6 seat currently held by DC Aiken. According to a press release he has DC’s endorsement.

Merkel, who lives in the Kimball Bridge area, is a 20 year resident of Alpharetta. His community resume is consistent with that of an established guy running for office in Alpharetta. He’s served the newly-formed Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce as well at the Rotary, Public Safety Foundation and the YMCA.

While 2013 was a snoozer for municipal elections in this area, 2015 promises to be much more, especially in Alpharetta. DC Aiken is term-limited out of his post 6 seat. Michael Cross has announced that he will not seek reelection leaving that position up for grabs too.

Jim Gilvin’s seat is also up. As the most homeowner friendly and anti-establishment guy up there, you should expect a challenger to emerge for this spot as well. Mayor David Belle Isle will also face the voters this year.

With qualifying in August it is rare for candidates to announce this early. However David Belle Isle started very early in 2011, a move that obviously turned out well for him. Perhaps Merkel is taking a page out of this playbook.

Merkel will soon host a campaign kickoff party at Pure Taqueria. It was an unusual part of this announcement as most of these political guys party at Ron Wallace’s joint, Olde Blind Dog in Crabapple. Merkel’s campaign also appears to be managed by Fred Hicks who in past campaigns has had close ties to Wallace. But maybe we’re looking too much into things. With four months to qualifying and seven to the election, there is plenty of time yet to talk election politics in Alpharetta.

Show Me the Money – Alpharetta’s most expensive steak

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

I recently received a $100 gift card to one of Atlanta’s fine dining establishments. Reading the menu online made me realize that a hundred bucks wasn’t going to cut it. It got me thinking, where in Alpharetta would a sawbuck not be enough? Continuing on that line of thought lead me to want to find the most expensive single menu item in Alpharetta.

oak steakhouse logoThere aren’t a ton of “$$$$” priced places up here. As expected, most of them are steakhouses. If you want a prime slab of cow, you’re gonna pay for it. Cabernet, Ruth’s Chris, and Viande Rouge in Johns Creek all are candidates. Keep in mind, the steak joints are all al a carte, which is French for “You ain’t gettin’ nothin with that”. All sides are extra, so we’re just talking the price for one steak.

So, who’s steak will cause your wallet to cry for mercy? The most expensive menu item in Alpharetta isn’t in any of the above mentioned places. The distinction belongs to none other than Avalon’s Oak Steakhouse. Its “Master Purveyors of NYC 24oz. Dry Aged CAB® Prime Bone-In Ribeye” is far and away the most expensive steak I’ve ever seen at $85. You read that right. In fact, three of the five steaks offered are $50 and over. I’m sure the Millennials will be lining up to drop that kind of cash on dinner.

Ruth’s Chris and Cabernet barely touch the $50 mark and Vinny’s on Windward isn’t even in the discussion. Oak’s got them all beat. I’m sure the steak is good, but really, who’s going to fork over that much money? That’s a “I earned my PhD” or “I was just elected President” or “I really want to sleep with my date so I’ll try to impress her” kind of a meal. Would even an expense account justify that price? Maybe it’s one of those menu items like the Ol’ 96er or the 10 pound burrito where no one really orders it, but the restaurant has bragging rights. Well, go ahead and brag, Oak Steakhouse, you’ve got the most expensive menu item in Alpharetta.

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