There’s No Place Like Holmes

Above, search long and far to find a better mussels dish than the one with bacon broth at Restaurant Holmes

By Joe Duffy

My veneration for Alpharetta’s City Center is not exactly a closely guarded secret. With more restaurants scheduled to premiere before long, three obvious standouts have emerged: the previously reviewed Citizen Soul, the newly-launched Lapeer Seafood Market, and Restaurant Holmes.

Let’s talk about the latter. One-time St. Cecilia Chef Taylor Neary is the chef/owner of the upscale newcomer located inside the century-old Jones House. Though small plates oriented, Restaurant Holmes has shifted focus a bit more toward large plates. With a hat tip to the bacon broth, the icy-blue mussels instill delectation as few analogous dishes could. Our waiter supplied my eldest son and me two soup spoons, a must for the bouillon infused with bacon, poblano, and lemon. Do not waste one drop of this transformative sofrito.

The gourmet grilled cheese craze needs to live on forever, at least at Holmes.

Cookie-cutter poke shops are the craze of the last two years in Alpharetta environs, but it’s tough to settle for the clones after sampling RH’s slightly spicy tuna version, replete with jasmine rice, avocado, and ponzu sauce. My son raved over his upscale grilled cheese, with provolone, cheddar, bacon, and apple butter. You’ve read this from me before—tons of burger options, but at some point, I am going to give the burger a venture at a high-caliber restaurant. In my several years of pretending to be a food critic, I’ve found restaurants are always enthusiastic to get back to me with answers to basic questions. Holmes is the outlier, so I was ineffective in confirming, but the unique taste appears to be from woodfire or possibly charcoal on the grill. It is better than most I’ve had, and this growing boy has sampled countless.

Holmes has an evolving menu so the most venturesome among us can enjoy the replenished possibilities. Desserts are in the highly capable hand of Jasmin Willis of Gracious Plenty. She knows Neary from their days of employ with Ford Fry’s restaurants described above.

The fast, casual poke clones may be good in a pinch, but Restaurant Holmes takes tuna poke to a new level.

Among the growing number of enthusiasts is Alpharetta resident Kevin Phelan, who celebrates no longer having to transport with his wife intown for excellent cuisine. “Now, a pleasant walk to downtown Alpharetta is all it takes to experience an ever-changing seasonal menu that keeps us coming back for more.” Initiated by Avalon, City Center has gravy-trained the walkability craze with Holmes playing a leading role. Though expressing admiration for other nearby options, Phelan emphasized that Neary’s sensation “is leading the pack with fresh, inventive dishes.” The house-made Cacio e Pepe, a modern Roman pasta dish, is his most beloved thus far.

It was only a few years ago that Alpharetta’s top-shelf dining options were scarce. Fast forward to today, where the barely-getting-started City Center has more strong date night options than the city combined flaunted a half-dozen years ago. The best so far? One could contend there’s no place like Holmes.

Sound Bites

Soraya Khoury, the extraordinary culinary artist and proprietor at Hen Mother Cookhouse, who was entrained here as the head chef at Rumi’s Kitchen Avalon, agreed with me that Noosh Kitchen is at least among the best if not the most excellent Persian restaurant in metro. Of Jordanian-Iranian descent, highly qualified, she declared the “A-word”—said it’s the most “authentic” Persian in town…

Though Noosh sets a high bar, I need to get back to this super casual joint, Taaj Kabob & Grill. Ensconced within Taaj Persian market at Spalding and Holcomb Bridge, it is terrific hole-in-the-wall Persian.

Speaking of that excellent foodie junction, I was enthralled by the fact Four Seasons Asian Cuisine, not I reiterate, not to be muddled with the unrelated Four Seasons Wings two miles down the road, had some real Chinese on the menu. Mei fun, ho fun, and a small offering of Sichuan dishes leapt from the otherwise Americanized menu. Boiled fish was excellent. Not the best I’ve ever had but easier travel for me than the Johns Creek gems. Warning: no-frills, mostly takeout, counter service type place. Definitely good enough to try more of the above, and if I sanction those alternatives, I’ll seek my American-Chinese yardstick item of pepper steak. Again, it’s at Spalding and Holcomb Bridge Road in the Publix shopping center…

When BB’s Bagels on the Alpharetta/Cumming boundary opened a pizza parlor right across the street, the family and I rushed to try it. I mean BB’s is widely and accurately accepted as the best bagels for many miles. Vincenza’s Pizzeria (not to be confused with the excellent Vingenzo’s in Woodstock) was endorsed with one accord, though short of mine or my family’s top dog. Verra-Zanno (not to be confused with Varasano’s) and Joe’s New York Pizzeria (not to be confused with Brooklyn Joe’s) remain the big cheese (pun intended) purveyor of NY style. No longer under the BB’s ownership, Vincenza opened a second spot on Jones Bridge. I mean, did you really suppose I wouldn’t try it?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Indisputably superior to most; however, Joe’s on Mansell Road will remain our chief go-to place for NY style pizza. Ditto on Vincenza’s stromboli. Alpine Bakery & Trattoria gets top billing, Joe’s second, but V’s a solid third among pizzerias. However, Plantation Italia Market makes the best of them all…

Good Americanized Asian at Vuu Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar in West Roswell. Thai pho, tuna tartare, and avocado fries were all virtuous. I sampled wife’s pepper steak, which was also proper though with broccoli and mushrooms a divergence from most of the other Americanized places with hackneyed menus of varying quality. Kids enjoyed their sushi rolls. It surpasses most Asian-for-Americans restaurants in class…

I had the delight of dining with a long-time comrade and fellow chowhound Milton Hill at Nahm Thai Cuisine. It’s the first time in years I’ve been. We partitioned pork massaman curry and pad Thai. Grant owner Chef Nahm Thongyoung acclimation. Twelve years ago, as Alpharetta was shedding the Bloomin’ Onion Acres typecasting, she was well ahead of just about everyone else showing faith this area would sustain quality restaurants. With Thai Emerald, M Thai Street Food, and Royal Thai, there are various good alternatives in AlphaRoz. But this higher-end place is as right as any. Glad to see most of the dining room occupied…

A-Pollo & Taqueria specializes in pollo a la brasa. That’s charcoal-broiled chicken for those of you not bilingual (well at least when it comes to food) like your intrepid Hub correspondent.

The newcomer serves Peruvian/Mexican food in a no-frills atmosphere. The pollo is substantially superior to the supermarket rotisserie stuff you pick up on the way home from work. They have an extensive Mexican menu, in fact: menudo, pozole, and even fajitas for the irresolute Tex-Mex crowd. Get you some pleasing, cheap eats at 10479 Alpharetta Street #1, Roswell, GA 30075 in the old Leito’s, for those in the know…

Dominated by regional ones, my index of “gold chains” is scanty. Georgia’s own Chick-fil-A is the only sizeable national example. Chicken Salad Chick is a good case provincially. South Jersey/Philly-based PrimoHoagies is indubitably on the checklist. The first GA franchise in Sandy Springs, is not far from the King and Queen buildings. It’s the first location I’ve been to with cheesesteaks. Meh, skip that item. But the sharp Italian hoagie was pleasing. The roll wasn’t as fresh as I’ve had in NJ or even Florida, but even with growing pains, it’s still much better than any “sub” at a Florida-based supermarket chain. It’s reasonable proximity to GA 400 and Hammond Drive: 6115 Peachtree Dunwoody Road Suite 125, Sandy Springs, GA 30328. ❍
Disagree (how dare you!) or give kudos to Joe at OffshoreInsiders.com

When he’s not eating, which is rare, the author is CEO of Sports Handicapping website Offshore Insiders. His bride’s gift site, Duffy Gifts is the place to go for gifts for all occasions from My Thirty One Gifts.