Hidden Gems: Johns Creek

Written by Emily Anne Jackson & Carl Danbury

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Viande Rouge Steakhouse
At one end of the Shops of Warsaw on Medlock Bridge Road, Trattoria one.41 has thrilled diners with its interpretation of Italian cuisine for several years. Two years ago, Trattoria Chef Marc Sublette and partner Thomas Taylor teamed with managing partner Brian Thomas to provide Northside diners with another unequalled dining experience. Viande Rouge Steakhouse, just a few doors down, seduces guests with provocative, sensual aesthetics, an antithetic departure from nearly all located in a sub- urban strip mall.

Within its sexy confines, special occasions like anniversaries, impressive first dates and solicitous pop-the-question moments are as memorable as Viande Rouge’s menu, wine list and surprisingly unpretentious waitstaff. As one waiter, Blake, remarked, some dishes here are worthy of a death-row inmate’s last meal — such as the 14-ounce, melt-in-your mouth, bone-in filet topped with Baked Alaska jumbo King crabmeat.

With jazz music playing wistfully in the background, the soft lighting, dark crimson walls and mesmerizing artwork provide instant decompression. Meals may begin with starters like French onion soup, which is a nicely subtle version enhanced with sherry and brandy, and topped with glorious Gruyere rather than ordinary Provolone, or magnificent oysters baked with bacon, Gruyere, spinach and Pernod glacage. A feast for the eyes as well as the appetite is a tableside preparation of Dover Sole Meuniere. Starting with an oval plate on a burner, your server will slather a perfect amount of brown butter on it, and filet the sole with two spoons, placing the pieces of fish on the bubbling plate and topping it with crispy capers. Additional tableside preparations include Caesar salad, spinach and mushroom salad, and special desserts.

Decadent side dishes are to be shared and no dining experience here is complete without dessert; the choice of three souffles (wow — the chocolate) and other specialties are not to be missed. Even the coffee is perfect. The private club atmosphere and exceptional dining experience certainly qualifies as a Hidden Gem in our book. As Voltaire once opined, “God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.” If you subscribe to such a tenet, a visit to Viande Rouge is essential. 9810 Medlock Bridge Road, Suite 900, 770-623-4959, vrsteakhouse.com

Read it Again Books
Thanks to Amazon.com, bookstores are becoming an endangered species. Used bookstores are even more rare — tiny fossils buried in historic town squares and ramshackle strip malls, just waiting to be dug up and replaced by fro-yo purveyors. Luckily, Read It Again is not your typical, disorderly used book- store. For one, they carry new and old books along with an eclectic selection of gifts. Within their tiny storefront, they manage to produce the perfect blend of Books-R-Us style organization and old book smell. Plus, they offer one thing Amazon never can: a friendly face to recommend a favorite story, guide you through shelf after shelf of pre-loved paperbacks or just chat about Hollywood’s latest book-to-movie monstrosity. 3630 Peachtree Pkwy, Suwanee, 770- 232-9331, read-it-again.com

Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra
No longer is a venture down to the Woodruff Arts Center necessary for suburbanites to get their culture fix. The Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra (JCSO) brings together many of Georgia’s finest instrumentalists who just want to share their passion for music with the Northside. These professional players have an average of 16 years of orchestra experience each. JCSO director and founder J. Wayne Baughman will present a vocal recital of his favorite songs on Oct. 24, and the next gala, a Christmas Concert, takes place in December. Until then, the audio page of their website will have to satisfy our concerto cravings. 11950 Jones Bridge Road, 678-748-5802, johnscreeksymphony.org

Sara Donuts
Light and fluffy are two words rarely associated with donuts, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. The heavy, sticky fried pastries that pass as donuts these days are worlds away from the cloud-like, sugar-sweet halos of dough found at Sara Donuts. They may not make the most creative breakfast confections, but don’t let the ordinary appearances fool you. A glazed donut in Sara’s signature star shape is nothing less than a puff of pure joy. Cream and jelly donuts are filled to order, and Sara’s sausage rolls are a popular savory option. Hot glazed donuts usually make their appearance around 5 a.m. and again at 8 a.m., and don’t dilly dally if you want your sugar fix on a Saturday morning; the shop is only open until noon, or until the donuts run out — whichever comes first. 9760 Medlock Bridge Road, 770-622-2222

RosaMia Italian Restaurant
Much like an Italian nonna herself, RosaMia, a cordial restaurant perched on the corner of a modest Jones Bridge shopping center, refuses to be restricted by its diminutive size. As Shake-peare wrote in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” though she be but little, she is fierce. Settling in at one of RosaMia’s linen covered tables is rather like entering a dream, and a tasty one at that. Shortly after you sit down, a plate of bread will appear on your table. Ah, the bread. The circular onion roll, slightly crusty on the outside, impossibly soft on the inside, makes a perfect vessel for the herb-infused olive oil served alongside it. If you’re lucky enough to get a table on a weekend night (reservations recommended), sweet, acoustic sounds emanate softly in the background as the babble of a dozen dinner conversations somehow make the small space seem bigger. Yes, you read that correctly. People actually converse when they eat here. A meal at RosaMia perfectly embodies the too-oft- forgotten concept of a family dinner. The graciously doting owners, Rosa Bitussi and Maria Gabelman, bustle around the joint, making sure everyone is taken care of entrees like the famous chicken petronella pasta, homemade gnocchi, seared sole or handcut pappardelle are presented on mismatched floral china and taste like a happy childhood memory. You can pass each portion around the table and still have some left over. Finish your meal with a molto benne espresso and a spicy chocolate ganache cake, and you’ve got a brand new happy memory to take home with your leftovers. 11730 A Jones Bridge Road, 770- 772-6456, rosamiaitalian.com

Newton Dream Dog Park
If your pup could design his own outdoor doggie hangout, do you think he’d be satisfied with a scrubby patch of grass and a chain link fence? In 2011, one canine-loving Johns Creek resident won the Beneful Dream Dog Park contest and put the grand prize of $500,000 to use building the park of your pet’s dreams. The park is divided into three sections, one for small dogs, one for large dogs and a free-for-all wooded area. Shade structures and dog-sized water fountains throughout the facility will keep you and your furry friend cool. The true pieces de resistance, however, sit (and stay) in the central large dog section. These include a giant bone- shaped bridge arched over a cluster of log crawls and a refreshing red fire hydrant sprinkler. Of course, it’s not all about animals at Newtown Park. Two-legged park visitors can enjoy 46 acres of total park space including two miles of walking trails, athletic fields, tennis courts, picnic pavilions, playgrounds and a community garden. The park is also the site of the Johns Creek Farmers Market every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 3150 Old Alabama Road, 678-512-3200, johnscreekga.gov

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve & Heritage Center
Imagine visiting a Cherokee Indian dwelling, a 19th-century cottage, some river mill ruins and a modern reptile house in a single day. Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Heritage Center, located on 46 acres of woodlands and wetlands in the Johns Creek area, lets you do all that — no time machine necessary. Wandering through the grounds is like taking a stroll through history. In one corner of the well- forested acreage sits the Heritage Village. The village contains eight different buildings as well as a pole barn representing the rural structures that speckled the banks of Sal’s Creek between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s. Two model American Indian sites show how our country’s earliest residents lived in harmony with the land. Should you choose to explore the walking trails and bridges winding through the rest of the preserve, we reckon you’ll feel pretty in sync with nature, too. 9770 Autrey Mill Road, 678-366-3511, autreymill.org