Two-Hundred Minutes in…Alpharetta

written by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY | photography courtesy of CITY OF ALPHARETTA; JENI’s SPLENDID ICE CREAMS; SOUTH MOON UNDER; BARLEYGARDEN KITCHEN & CRAFT BAR; MF SUSHI; TORI ALLEN PR | ATLANTIC SEAFOOD CO.; FLATLANDS 52

When en route to my parent’s house, I sometimes do a double take. This either happens at night when the unfamiliar bright lights of Avalon stun me or in the morning when I notice construction progress of the mixed-use development. 

“This is a place where memories are made, new traditions emerge, families gather and community happens,” reads the description on  experienceavalon.com. These words might have sounded cheesy if I didn’t know the statement’s credibility. The first phase was unveiled in fall 2014 and has been anchored by a premium movie theater, high-end boutiques and locally owned restaurants surrounded by luxury residences, office spaces and resort-level hospitality.

At a glance, it’s a glorified shopping mall with hour-plus wait times for a dinner table. In the years since opening, my perception has evolved, revealing a host for my family’s traditional Christmas Day movie outing, a place to meet up with friends and even where I was let in on the secret planning for how my sister’s fiancé was going to pop the question. 

When I took a hard-hat tour of the “urbanburb” nearly three years ago, I couldn’t have foreseen all the moments spent and memories made there. Instead, I started to see the city in more quantitative terms. When North American Properties began designing Avalon, they did extensive market research that compared the area to similarly burgeoning markets, but still, many of their original projections and goals have been exceeded.

Last month, Phase II officially opened, doubling Avalon’s size and tripling its density. Tallying the expansion’s addition of 1,000 jobs, 350 residents, 20 stores and restaurants, and by early 2018, the 325-key Hotel Avalon and conference center, I can confidently say this “development” has played a hand in reshaping the area as I’ve known it. At this rate, I wouldn’t blink an eye if the conference center announced it would host TEDxAlpharetta next year. 

However, if you came to town and and only visited Avalon, I can also confidently say that you’d be missing out.

ECONOMIC GROWTH

What makes a person “from” a place? In truth, I wasn’t born in Alpharetta, but arriving just after kindergarten has kept the city as my de facto answer of where I’ve called home for 20 years. 

I can point out the places I’ve broken bones, celebrated birthdays, found the perfect prom dress, attended funerals and graduated from high school. 

As a person can change in many ways during that timeframe, so too can a place. Perhaps no one knows that better than the team behind North American Properties, who have the data to prove it. Avalon has been warmly embraced as a “third place,” next to home and work or school, for guests, residents, employees and the estimated 9 million visitors who have frequented.

South Moon Under opened in April at Avalon.

In early April, I got another sneak peek at its next wave, just a couple weeks before new retailers like South Moon Under, Boogaloos, Levi’s, Urban Outfitters, Scout & Molly’s, Brooks Brothers, Hammer Made — among others — opened their doors. 

While some shops like Apple, Lucky Brand, Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma have relocated from their North Point Mall locations, the arrival of others to the Northside — and likewise the restaurateurs and chefs it has attracted — signal a shift in the way people are spending their money and time.

Just ask Peter Tokar, who has served as the economic development director for the City of Alpharetta and managing director for the Alpharetta Development Authority since 2012. In his first role, Tokar is responsible for leading recruitment, retention and expansion initiatives for the city with the end result of creating jobs, increasing the city’s tax base and providing a quality of life second to none for both businesses and residents. With the Authority, he helps provide bond financing for economic development projects, create grant programs to assist local businesses and provide analysis analysis and studies to promote smart development. 

Currently, Alpharetta is home to more than 600 technology companies, including Microsoft, the first to lease office space at 8000 Avalon. It’s gaining a reputation as both a healthcare and tech hub of the metro Atlanta area, and Nerd Wallet claimed it’s the best place in America to start a business while Forbes ranked it as one of the country’s friendliest cities.

By now, it should come as no surprise that the City of Alpharetta is also the sixth fastest growing municipality in the nation according to the U.S. Census Bureau. What began as a quiet trading camp more than 155 years ago is, today, a sophisticated and affluent city that is home to 60,000 residents and boasts a daytime population upward of 100,000.

THE RISE OF THE URBANBURB 

With so many people coming and going, there’s a caveat and it’s called traffic. However, with the city’s expansion has come an attitude of reconsidering how we want to live, pitting suburban sprawl against Avalon’s New-Age mentality. While my parents’ home is just 4 miles away, I’ve never considered biking there — until now.

Earlier this year, local headlines put me in the market for a new set of two wheels when they announced plans for the Alpha Loop. While the Alpharetta Greenway treelined paths have been a popular destination for weekend recreation, the Alpha Loop proposes something different: multi-use paths including a 3-mile inner loop and a 5-mile outer loop to better connect our neighborhoods and offer a healthier choice for getting around town.

The project is taking cues from the Atlanta BeltLine and its landmark success in spurring revitalization and economic growth while increasing the amount of green space, community events and public art. Like the BeltLine, the Alpha Loop will also be a long-term project; however the section linking Avalon to downtown Alpharetta is anticipated to be completed as soon as later this year. 

Mugs on Milton is a community gathering place in historic downtown Alpharetta.

If Avalon is drawing huge crowds, one can’t help but wonder about how the charming downtown 2 miles down the road is faring. The historic brick buildings that line South Main Street and continue around the corner of Milton Avenue have played host to a mix of businesses throughout the years, but are perhaps their most vibrant today. Mainstay eateries like Smokejack BBQ and Corner Deli have gained good company with Hop Alley Brew Pub, Mugs on Milton coffee shop, Maven Restaurant Group’s South Main Kitchen and Butcher and Brew. Stylish galleries and boutiques like Chic Evolution in Art and Sis & Moon’s also command attention, and the list will continue to grow, compliments of the Alpharetta City Center. 

In March, Alpharetta celebrated the groundbreaking of the city center district, a project that has been in the works since 2011. The public phase, including a stately City Hall, Brook Street Park and town green, Alpharetta Library, new roads and sidewalks, was completed in 2015. The private phase, including retail, dining, offices, 42 single-family homes and 168 rental units, brings the total size to five-city blocks and sets the foundation for a more walkable lifestyle.

“These are two sides to the same coin; a coin which will expand our downtown … and attach people to this great city of Alpharetta for years to come,” said Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. “For, we know that the very grit and soul of a city is in its downtown.” 

While its opening remains more than a year away, some confirmed tenants are: Atlanta-grown Highland Bakery’s first outside-the-Perimeter location; five familiar fashion boutiques; and fine dining with a concept from the Vin25 team as well as a Lapeer, a Caribbean-inspired seafood marketplace from Maven Restaurant Group. Keeping landmark preservation in mind, the historic Jones House will become the home of Holmes, an eclectic American restaurant from Executive Chef Taylor Neary (formerly of Marcel and St. Cecilia).

Needless to say, anyone that visits Alpharetta regularly won’t be going hungry. Added to the list of options at Avalon includes Persian eats at Rumi’s Kitchen and Vietnamese at MF Sushi’s younger sibling, District 3. Whatever type of cuisine you’re craving, you’ll likely find it within reach or, soon enough, a bike ride away. 

THE TRAILBLAZERS

In the window of a local business, you may spot a blue sticker with artfully arranged letters that spell “Support Alpharetta.”

It’s a good reminder of what happens when we keep spending dollars close to home, but also that a moniker like “Technology City of the South” doesn’t happen overnight. The boom we are seeing today started a long time ago, and it’s in those generational stories of success where inspiration lies.

When an after-school rollerblading ride led to a broken wrist and a cast at age 6, I still remember my dad taking me to Alpha Soda on the way home from the hospital. In 1920, Louis Jones opened this soda fountain in the back of his medicine shop. Ownership has changed hands and though today’s menu — replete with craft beer selections — reflect the upscale palate of its 30009 zip code (you can even follow them on Instagram), the retro interior and sky-high slices of pie are still a classic comfort.

While playing the starring role in your own episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” don’t miss the unique threads at Bohemia. It’s a place to stock up on fringe and festival-wear perfect for outdoor concerts and your summer social calendar, while guaranteeing you’ll show up in a one-of-a-kind ensemble. Located behind Alpha Soda, the free-spirited finds and home goods at this boutique evoke a different era; one when Fleetwood Dance Center began welcoming students.

Founded in 1962 by Carolyn P. Fleetwood and currently under the ownership and artistic direction of her daughter, Lynn Fleetwood-Dukes, the studio is home to the Fleetwood Dance Theatre, Inc. Its mission is to educate and entertain through the art of dance in the north metro area of Atlanta. The center caters to both children and adults, carrying on Carolyn’s tradition of training dancers in all styles of dance including musical theater, jazz, tap, ballet, pointe, modern, hip hop and lyrical. Many of Fleetwood Dance Center’s students have gone on to professional careers in stage, screen and television. It’s a beautiful example that technology, urban planning and culinary arts aren’t the only categories where Alpharetta is taking the lead. 

MOUTHWATERING FESTIVALS

Don’t take my word for it. Get a taste of the variety Alpharetta has to offer for yourself at one of the many food-centric events happening throughout warm-weather months. 

Sample bites from local restaurants like South Main Kitchen at Taste of Alpharetta on May 4.

Named a Top 20 event for 2017 by the Southeast Tourism Society, Taste of Alpharetta is an annual tradition for families and epicureans alike. On May 4 from 5 to 10 p.m., more than 60 restaurants take over Roswell Street and Milton Avenue with culinary demonstrations, samples from the top chefs in town and activities for all ages. Admission is free, but you’ll need to purchase tickets to exchange for food samples.

Beginning the following week, the festivities continue every Thursday evening through October 19 at the Alpharetta Food Truck Alley. Enjoy bites from a rotation of six to eight food trucks with live music — a good excuse to kick off the weekend a little early.

Early birds might prefer starting off their Saturday mornings at the Alpharetta Farmers Market where you’ll find an impressive array of stalls full of fresh fruits, veggies, natural meats, flowers, herbs, baked goods, raw honey, homemade sauces, jellies, soaps and more. Unless in the case of inclement weather, you can find the market set up on Old Canton Street between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. each Saturday until October 28. 

A PLACE TO CALL HOME

Gathering places like Avalon, downtown Alpharetta and the Alpha Loop may make awesome third places to create memories, but the most important reason many of us visit Alpharetta is to go home or to spend quality time with family and friends. 

With a rare combination of beautiful neighborhoods ranking as Georgia’s 12th largest city, that one word, “home,” holds a unique meaning for all the residents in not only the 30009, but also the 30004,30005, 30022, 30075 and 30076. In the shops, we find the art and decor to fill our walls and rooms. At the markets, we find the food to feed our stomachs and souls. At school, work and in our neighborhoods, we find the people who fill the seats at our kitchen tables. 

When I turn off the exit to my parent’s house, I follow the same route to the same address I’ve been taking for 20 years, but almost everything else about the scenery has changed along the way. 

You could say Alpharetta is having a moment, but I encourage you to stay a little longer than that. awesomealpharetta.comgrowalpharetta.comalpharetta.ga.us

WHERE TO EAT IN ALPHARETTA

With more than 175 dining options and counting, we know it can be hard to pick just one. We tried to keep these suggestions to a handful, but as it turns out, our appetite for local options is too ravenous.

ATLANTIC SEAFOOD CO. A mainstay on Mansell Road, Atlantic Seafood Co. specializes in just what their name suggests – fresh seafood flown in daily and cut, prepared and served with a thoughtful approach for each filet, dozen of oysters or sushi roll. Sit in the open, breathable dining room for a view of the exposed market-style kitchen and wall mural or al fresco on one of their two patios. atlanticseafoodco.com

 

BARLEYGARDEN KITCHEN & CRAFT BAR Fans of Krog Street Market’s Hop City and The Spotted Trotter, listen closely. Located in Avalon’s new East wing, Barleygarden is an exercise in relaxation with a dog-friendly patio, convenient to-go window, ample interior bar seating with 64 rare and limited rotating beers on tap, plus an open-air rooftop specializing in Belgian, German, English and other European favorite suds. And I haven’t even mentioned the boutique charcuterie. barleygardenkitchen.com

BRINE SEAFOOD SHACK Another new addition on Avalon’s East Boulevard, Brine is the brainchild from Chef Marc Taft (Chicken and the Egg, FEED – Friend Chicken & Such) and Chef de Cuisine David Connolly (Two Urban Licks, TAP). The Cape Cod-meets-Santa Monica seafood menu promises to follow sustainable practices, leaving it up to you to relax on the rooftop with a tiki drink, tuna poke, clam rolls, fish tacos and soft-serve ice cream. brineseafoodshack.com

COALITION FOOD AND BEVERAGE Opening this summer at the corner of Milton Avenue and Canton Street, Coalition is the third act from R.O. Hospitality, the team behind Roswell’s Table & Main and Osteria Mattone. While we anticipate the same standard of style and quality from Founder Ryan Pernice and Chef Woody Back, we also have a feeling their progressive and signature interpretations of American wood-fired classics will keep us on our toes. coalitionfoodandbeverage.com

FLATLANDS 52 BOURBON AND BAYOU August will mark the one-year anniversary of bringing the bayou to the suburbs for Flatlands 52. Inspired by the building that houses the restaurant, the owners have created a New Orleans-esque atmosphere, Cajun cuisine menu and of course, have plenty of cocktails – although instead of Hurricanes, these are each made to order and mixologist approved. Join them May 5 for “Cinco de Bayou” and later this summer for a crawfish boil. flatlands52.com

MF SUSHI Created by famed restaurant designer Alex Kinjo, the artful interiors match the attention to detail that is put into each decadent dish. An extension of its Buckhead and Houston locations, MF Sushi has added two restaurants to its portfolio at Avalon. Next door to MF Sushi’s sleek bar (insider tip: Club Avalon’s concierge can help make reservations while you shop) is District 3, which draws on the Kinjo brothers’ heritage with modern yet authentic Vietnamese fare in a casual, stylish environment. Here’s to hoping for a late-night menu. mfsushiusa.com

PURE TAQUERIA This place is a household name around much of the Northside, but if you’ve never been to a PURE Taqueria, why not start with the original location? Located at the site of an abandoned 1920’s era Pure Fuel Oil station, PURE’s crowds and margaritas have been hip, loud, sophisticated, fun and family-friendly since 2005. Down the road, enjoy more Sedgwick Restaurants with either tapas at MADE Kitchen & Cocktails and Italian comfort at Vinny’s on Windward. puretaqueria.com

SMOKEJACK BBQ Anchoring South Main Street’s dining scene since 2004, Smokejack is located in a rustic 180-year old building that has served the community in a variety of ways. They’re carrying on that tradition with quality ingredients, prepared with respect. While they emphasize great barbeque, they play no favorites with the many regional styles. From slow smoked, hand-pulled pork to moist tender ribs to their signature beef burnt ends, there’s something for all BBQ lovers. Don’t even get us started on the sides. smokejackbbq.com

SOUTH MAIN KITCHEN One of Smokejack BBQ’s newer neighbors, South Main Kitchen is also housed in a historic building, but offers a fresh approach to the true artistry of food. Chef Christy Stone’s creativity shines from the open-kitchen and locals flock to the communal seating and rooftop bar. South Main’s success is echoed next store at Maven Restaurant Group’s second endeavor, a gastro sports bar called Butcher and Brew. Lapeer, a seafood marketplace inspired by islands like Saint Barths and Anguilla, will join the scene next year. southmainkitchen.com