I have to thank John Kincade, of 680 the Fan, for this tip. A picture of a pretzel went viral on the internet. My cousins found the picture and started talking about the shop, and in that way, I found out that one of my first cousins was making pretzels in the greater metropolitan area of Atlanta.

What the fuss is all about

So, be warned: this is hardly an anonymous critical review. I know Stephen and Jill pretty well. Jill is a daughter of my uncle Thomas. She’s smart, spunky, independent. Stephen I know as a loving and devoted father. But we’re not tied by the hip, so until now, I didn’t know they were pretzel makers. That I remedied this morning.

The pretzels are made on site.

The pretzel oven

The shop they run is called the Pretzel Company. They used to be associated with a franchise, but no longer. Their products (some are shown on their Facebook page) are their own creations. They started making pretzels that had NFL themes, and the one of the man in prayer has now gone viral.

Prices are reasonable. You could have lunch here for around 5 dollars.

spicy pretzel sausage and a larger pretzel

The Pretzel Company also does Ga Tech themed pretzels

I’m hardly a pretzel guy, so I’ve taken some home to my wife, who learned to love pretzels while working in Center City, Philadelphia. She’d leave work, get a pretzel with mustard, and walk over to John Wanamakers to listen to the organs play. She had a huge smile on her face after tasting one of Steve and Jill’s pretzels. My expert approves.

For those of us with carb limitations, they have a kolache-like pretzel stuffed with sausage. I had one. The outer crust is light and crispy, the inside, between the sausage and the dough, is a white cheese. The sausage is gratifyingly spicy, and if it were close, I’d probably be coming here fairly often. A sausage pretzel and a diet Coke would make a fine fast lunch.

To get to the Pretzel Company, exit at Windward Parkway (exit 11), head west to Main Street, turn right. Go past the Fry’s and you’ll see a mixed bag of small strip mall stuff on the right. If you see a Kohl’s, turn in, as you’re a little past the Pretzel Company, but can still get to it.

If you’re coming from, say, Snellville, then have some of their pretzels, or their wrapped sausages. Once you’re done, head down to exit 10 off 400, and head east along Old Milton Parkway. You’ll pass some great groceries on the way home (Whole Foods, Super H) and can shop your way back to Snellville.

The Pretzel Company
13087 Highway 9 North
Milton, GA 30004
(770) 475-6649

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It’s full of shrimp and chicken, with a spicy tomato sauce as a base.

I couldn’t eat the starches provided with it, but I didn’t care.

Great little lunch entree.

Mambo’s Cafe
5950 North Point Parkway
Alpharetta, GA 30022

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Alpha Soda is in the same mall area as Mambo’s Cafe, a little weatherworn and sitting in its own niche. There is a history associated with this 90 year old restaurant, one someone who publishes, fast, as I do, can’t really dig into. But the name is evocative enough: just what is an Alpha Soda? Did it exist? Was it served in a soda fountain only, or did they bottle it? Was it why the restaurant was invented, or was the soda just a side effort in a town awash with Coca Cola? Trying to figure out the history and heritage of the restaurant is deserving of an Atlanta magazine article or a long essay in the Sunday magazine of the AJC. Just, in the “get a bite and get an impression” world of amateur blogging, I’m not the one with the resources to do it.

Inside, the heavy wood, the frosted glass, used to create this space evokes images of old East coast eateries, places like Bookbinders in Philadelphia. It reminds me in one sense of shopping for used furniture in the East, in the old shops where men with gnarled hands strip old hardwoods and make better-than-new heavy antiques for 20something home buyers. It reminds me of the desk on which I write these essays, so heavy two men are needed to lift it. Yes, the furniture and the glasswork evoke that kind of image.

But it has to be understood that Alpha Soda has gone through four moves and a dozen owners and the evocation is deliberate. The past is lost. The image is what remains, of an eatery with a history Alpharettans may know, buried in their bones, but the rest of us take in as “cloned Greek diner.” But its hardly that. The history, though, lies buried in news print that only exists on microfiche, or God forbid, real paper in libraries. And it will stay there, until the AJC becomes an efficient patron of its own heritage and stops losing <bleep>ing articles on the Internet every  time someone sneezes. Yes, I’ve said something similar once and I’ll say it again, the AJC’s online caretaking of their food opinions, the writing of their own journalists, is the very definition of irresponsible. And as a consequence, the reaction to Alpha Soda isn’t “WOW!”, it’s “what’s that, Mommy?”

To return to the restaurant: It’s nice inside, the redwoods, heavy and comforting. I’ve been at lunch and also around dinnertime, when a few words on the Internet led me to the gaming group that hangs out here on Thursday nights. At lunch I had their salmon entrée, a good chunk of salmon with sides, and at night I was asking for a salad and their bunless burger.

Service has been quick and efficient each time. The night time manager came by the gamers, made sure they were comfortable, was really nice. Clientèle appear to be people familiar with the place; being 90 years old has its perks.

No, I don’t expect the “in crowd” from ITP to ever come running up highway 400 to this icon of an eatery in Alpharetta. It is, at this point, a better than average diner, with good entrées, a lot of room, nice interior, and a very rich history on the cusp of being lost forever, unless people take the time to preserve it. Given the AJC’s treatment of food journalism as a disposable, don’t expect it from our mainstream media.

Verdict:  A cut above the average Atlanta diner. Worth a peek for the history alone. Highly recommended.

Alpha Soda Family Restaurant
11760 Haynes Bridge Road
Alpharetta, GA 30004
(770) 442-3102

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Mambo’s Cafe is a popular Cuban-Peruvian eatery, well liked by its patrons. I came here for lunch recently, liked it, and came back with my family the next day. Lunchtime is crowded. It took 5 minutes until the rush grew slow enough that staff even made eye contact with me, much less offer a word or a table. Once two tables cleared, a waitress then smiled, pointed, and I was seated.

This eatery is located on Haynes Bridge Road, just before the intersection with Old Minton Road. It’s on the left as you’re heading north, in a shopping center whose supermarket has abandoned the complex. There is no sign visible from the street and the eatery itself is almost impossible to see until you’re in the parking lot. I guessed, based on the map Urban Spoon provided and a feeling I was at the right intersection.

Once inside, there aren’t very many seats, over a dozen but not by much. There is a small bar in the back and a screen covers the opening into the kitchen. Once seated, staff will supply a basket of a very good garlic bread, and what Chow Down Atlanta has called an aji sauce. First time I was served this, I made enough room in my diet for a chunk of the bread and some sauce. Very much worth it.

For lunch I had the pan con bistec. It’s a sandwich with grilled palomilla steak, onions, greens, potato sticks and mayonnaise. I scraped off the sticks – there were plenty of those – and ate about half the bread. Serving sizes in this restaurant are large, and for their size, lunch sandwiches are pretty cheap. Rather than fries, Mambo’s let me substitute salad greens. That was certainly welcome.

picante de camarones

Yellow rice, and plantains.

At dinner I knew my family was going to go for the paella, and I wanted one of the Peruvian dishes that Mambo’s offered. I ended up choosing the picante de camarones, and since the paella takes at least 30 minutes, we started with ceviche mixto.

ceviche mixto

The ceviche was quite good, a mix of seafoods and fish in a good citrus base. I spent my time digging out bits of red onion and lettuce and soaking them in the sauce. My daughter rummaged through the dish looking for bits of octopus; she especially liked the short bits of tentacle. The picante de camarones was also good. The shrimp are cooked in a yellow pepper sauce. There may have been a hint of sweet in the sauce, but not enough to make a difference.

paella. The pan is about 13-14" across, and pretty deep.

The paella was the star of the meal, coming out in a large metal pan, the serving size so large that both my wife and my daughter were eating from it and they left about half of it to be doggie bagged. It’s a huge serving, given the price. That’s typical of Mambo’s, to provide a lot of value for the dollar.

The sides were good. My wife spent a good deal of time looking for the toastier plantains and eating them. She doggie bagged the ones less cooked. Service, once you catch staff’s eye, is pleasant, thoughtful, and good. My wife described our waitress as “very sweet”.

Verdict: Good to excellent food, exceptional value. Very Highly Recommended.

Mambo’s Cafe
11770 Haynes Bridge Road, Suite 601
Alpharetta GA, 30009
(770)-753-4352

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CANS Taqueria is part of a row of pastel colored houses that could be easily mistaken for model homes, or part of a brand new subdivision. It doesn’t have any of the refactored grace of, say, a post garage Decatur eatery, or a in-the-basement charm of a Center City Philadelphia chocolate shop found in a block of row houses. The area looks and feels like a growing suburb, and CANS could just be the sign on the door of a next door neighbor. As you pass however, you might catch the “KIDS EAT FREE” sign in the tiny strip of green between the eatery and the road, and manage to turn around in time to try this place out.

I’ve to some extent avoided CANS, because CANS Taqueria and Pure Taqueria have very vocal and rather nasty online partisans, and their boorish behavior vandalizes almost all the review sites for these two restaurants. It’s not uncommon to see people create accounts, log onto a review site, say something like “(CANS|Pure) sucks! (Pure|CANS) is far better; you need to go there” and never be seen again. Since this kind of nasty fighting can involve overzealous staff, I would suggest that both restaurants should do their best to put an end to it. It only makes their own establishments look bad.

That aside, CANS was looking like something out of a Bogart and Bacall tropical scene when I arrived. They were taking full advantage of the cooler spring weather and windows were open and the patio had a fair amount of customers. What it didn’t have this day was a crowd. Unlike Pure, where the seating is often cramped, people had room to spread out here. Many of the tables had a copper or brass outer layer. I sure thought that was cool.

Chips came early and they were nicely arranged. I didn’t eat chips, but the table next to me with three kids sure did, and they refilled the chips routinely. The salsa is good and has a decent amount of cilantro. A couple tastes and I was looking forward to what they could serve.

I didn’t see any mind blowing entrees at CANS. I saw panuchos, which I’d never had, but that was it. The appetizers have a lot of variety and depth, however, and they offer 5 different salsas. Things like Chiquitos (tiny tacos) and Mexican riblets dot the appetizer section of the menu. The tacos were diverse but missing exotics such as beef tongue.

To start I ordered ceviche and I had their pollo plate (chicken tacos). I was very tempted by the puerco tacos (pork shoulder and mexican cheese), but didn’t want the headache of figuring out how much cheese I was eating and how much fat was in that particular cheese. Simple foods work best for me these days, and I knew as well that I was ordering food I would end up doggie bagging.

The ceviche was good and fresh. I was having a hard time not eating it all, and it was nearly a day’s serving of meat for me these days. I had the same issue with the tacos, as the serving size was more than ample for me. I nibbled on the ceviche and ate a pair of tacos. The banana chips were too good looking not to try at least one. The same held for the green rice and the black beans.

Service was very good. I was being tag teamed by at least two people all the time I was there. They also have the neatest delivery car. Surf boards on the top and a hula girl on the dash make it a wonderful bit of eye candy.

To summarize, this place is a cut above. I have no problem recommending CANS as a place to eat. The food is very good, the atmosphere relaxed, and the solid service make it a pleasure to attend. If the overly partisan fans can stop bickering on the Internet, then everyone would be better served, because there is plenty of room in Atlanta for taquerias as good as this one.

Verdict: Roomy, breezy, fun restaurant with excellent service and very good food. Highly recommended.

CANS Taqueria
12635 Crabapple Rd
Alpharetta, GA 30004
(770) 663-0908

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I had to buy a cable for work, and so Fry’s was on my agenda. I spent a lot of time working my way up Windward Parkway, and Windward has a ton of good places to eat (Sushi Nami, Wildflour, and Tara Humata are three examples).  After getting my cable, though, this soup and salad place caught my eye. Lettuce Souprise You has yet another name dominated by puns, and the pun in this case is so bad I’d normally have avoided it. But the soup and salad place near my work and my home is Sweet Tomatoes, and for a change of pace, I decided to try Lettuce Souprise You.

It’s simpler than Sweet Tomatoes. Gone are the prepared salads (and also the dressings on those salads). Gone is the ice cream, gone are the fancy lemonades, gone is the wide array of exotic cheesy breads, gone are many of the things that can make you fat. Gone is the really high price for lunch, gone are the slices of chicken you have to pay for. Instead, chicken on this buffet is part of the all you can eat price.

That said, there are plenty of bread options, about five or six soups (including a chili and a chicken noodle). There are cornbreads, muffins, pita quarters, and small chunks of garlic bread. The salad had more than enough things to help me balance my diet. Things like chicken, olives, corn, cheese crumbles were available as well as plenty of kinds of green leafy vegetables.

Verdict: Simpler spread than Sweet Tomatoes, but less expensive and perhaps a better value. Highly recommended.

Lettuce Souprise You
5530 Windward Parkway Ste 300
Alpharetta, GA 30004

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It’s a pretty restaurant, Wildflour, just a little east and south of the intersection of Windward Parkway and North Point Parkway. It’s also a popular restaurant, as by the time I arrived at 12:30pm, there was a line of 4-5 people waiting to make orders and every place to sit was filled. I ordered food to go and waited, even though the lady up front said the tables might clear. There was no sign of any tables clearing at the time.

img_1016

Wildflour has a pretty web site and a respectable pedigree, all of which is detailed on the menu pdf you can download from the site.  But to summarize, Michael Field, after having a lot of success with Portabellas, downsized the restaurant and called it Wildflour. Launched in Roswell in 2007, it moved to Alpahretta some time later. It lives in a strip mall now, accessible from the Windward Parkway side or the North Point Parkway side. It’s pretty inside, light colored, with natural wood furniture, but it’s not large. So, there is a lot of reason to not arrive during the lunch rush, which unfortunately, I did.

After 15 to 20 minutes after making my order, my order finally arrived. Two tables actually had cleared by that time and I was able to sit and eat.

img_1017

The pasta salad was tangy, and the sandwich surprisingly good. They call it a hammered turkey, and if you don’t read the fine print on the menu, you’ll be as surprised as I was by the sheer amount of flavor from this mix of meats and bread. But it has bacon and ham, and they add immeasurably to the whole experience. It was a terrific sandwich, the kind of eating that made it much easier to handle all the waiting. To note, by 1pm the restaurant was back to being a third clear and with no food line.  If I come back, I’m going to be sure to arrive a little late.

Verdict: A nice boutique sandwich shop, open only for lunch. Small, so time your arrival to miss the lunch peak. Highly recommended.

Wildflour
5815 Windward Parkway Suite 210
Alpharetta, GA 30005
(678) 822-9453

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