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Little Alley Steak restaurant review, Roswell

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Like many successful suburban restaurateurs before them, Hicham Azhari and Fikret Kovac cut their teeth at a strip shopping center. They opened Little Alley Tapas in 2005 in a Roswell mini-mall and showed everyone they had a real talent for vibe — getting that right mixture of food and mood, of drinks and clinks, of tight spaces and nice places to squeeze into.

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

But they soon learned the real action is out by the street and not in a building sequestered behind a parking lot. In 2008, Azhari and Kovac opened their next restaurant — an instantly popular pub called Red Salt (since renamed Salt Factory due to a trademark conflict) — amidst the colorful thicket of storefronts that crowd the base of Canton Street in downtown Roswell.

The following year, they opened Inc. Street Food a couple of doors down, serving casual Mexican fare. The crowds kept coming, the energy multiplied, the great vibe doubled down. When the time came to renew the lease on their flagship restaurant in the mini-mall, they walked away. These restaurateurs had gone suburban urban.

Now Azhari and Kovac have extended their mini-empire to a storefront across the street from the pub, long a purveyor of dusty tchotchkes, and have opened their most ambitious and accomplished concept to date.

The progression of New York strip (all photos by Becky Stein)

The progression of New York strip (all photos by Becky Stein)

Little Alley Steak is a full-throttle gourmet steakhouse done up in high-modern style. This means the kitchen carefully sources everything from premium steaks to locally made charcuterie and cheeses, Pacific oysters and live lobsters. It also engages in a lot of trendy culinary ideas, so scallops arrive dusted with porcini mushroom powder, escargot swim in Pernod and the Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout, and the tuna comes raw in an emulsion of Japanese citrus and serrano chile. Even the plain hunks of beef get into the foodie game with their supplemental “enticing steak enhancements,” such as roasted bone marrow or crab Oscar topping. All this happens in a small, ever-crowded space that seems half chic butcher shop and half Bourbon Street bar during Mardi Gras. Even if the kitchen doesn’t hit all its culinary marks, you will likely walk away charmed by its enterprise and goodwill, with a couple of favorite dishes to come back for.

las3For a restaurant in its first few months of operation, Little Alley Steak has a surprisingly large cohort of regulars whom the staff greets by name. I watch these folks from my perch on a bar stool one evening; many are couples in their Viagra-ad years — handsome, active empty nesters out for a nice evening.

I’m thrilled to ignore the serviceable cocktail list and instead explore the bodacious selection of brown spirits, surely one of the best in the metro area. The bartender pours me a taste of a vintage 1996 Oban Distillers Edition ($14) before I commit; I swoon my assent. (If you like your spirits on the rocks, you can get one rocking ice cube made from Evian water.)

I could just sip my Scotch, savor a platter of deeply cupped Shigoku oysters ($2.50 each) and be a happy camper. But there’s a lot to consider on the menu.

In my experience, restaurants that offer both simple, ingredient-driven dishes and complex chef creations tend to do one style better than the other. My early impressions of Little Alley suggest keeping it simple.

Roasted marrow bones

Roasted marrow bones

Chicago’s Meats by Linz provides the beef for a smorgasbord of steak options, both dry- and wet-aged and both USDA Prime and Certified Angus Beef. I heartily enjoy the most inexpensive choice, a hanger steak ($19.95) that had been wet-aged for 21 days and marinated to come off the grill with a firmer grain and more buttery texture than I usually associate with this cut. And there was nothing too shabby about one of the most expensive choices, a 16-ounce Prime ribeye ($47.95), which had a nice patina of crunchy, salty char and a melting texture.

For a gas, you might consider ordering the progression of New York Strip ($49.95), three four-ounce servings of wet-aged, dry-aged and Prime beef served in slices on a wooden board with some fancy salts. (Our table ordered this as an appetizer and all agreed we liked the dry-aged the best.)

Another great choice: the terrific presentation of boneless Springer Mountain chicken ($19.95), with crispy skin encasing both the white and dark meat. Add in a side of roasted fingerling potatoes with herbs ($5) or some garlic spinach ($6) for happy times.

Chicken cooked sous vide, then crisped in its skin

Chicken cooked sous vide, then crisped in its skin

The wine list tends toward expensive, well-rated, California red wines, which may frustrate those of you whose tastes run to Old World bargains. I very much liked the tannic, well-structured Prevail cabernet sauvignon ($60) our table ordered, but might have preferred a more expressive Spanish or Rhone wine with this meal.

I’d also edit out a few of the dishes that seem like they wandered in from an early “Top Chef” elimination. Those porcini-crusted scallops ($11.95) (actually one rubbery halved scallop) arrive stacked alongside pork belly over parsnip puree with sauteed spinach and a bubbly substance that calls itself “truffle-scented walnut foam.” Rich, gooey, forgettable. A house foie gras mousse ($14) tastes like liver-kissed whipped cream. Shellfish pappardelle ($19.95) offers a more-than-generous heap of good enough shrimp, mussels, calamari and noodles slicked in lemon-saffron butter that turns rich and tiring. Best of the more gourmet-minded options turns out to be the weirdly winning tandoori-spiced tofu steak ($16.95) with wild mushroom risotto, mascarpone cheese, bok choy and a truffle sauce. It’s a yummy train wreck.

The tightly-packed dining room is more like Grand Central Station, fun and really loud, with tables barely big enough to hold the plates and the wide decanters into which waiters transfer your wine. I found it got a little much on a weekend night when the kitchen was falling behind and we spent a good 45 minutes between courses shouting and nodding. Our waiter admitted he gets hoarse by the end of the evening.

But when a vibe is this hot, that’s what happens.

Little Alley Steak
955 Canton St., Roswell, 770-998-0440
2stars5Food: A steakhouse with gourmet stylings and a killer wall of whiskey
Service: Attentive and helpful. The kitchen seems to have a hard time pacing courses.
Best dishes: Springer Mountain chicken, progression of New York Strip, tandoori-spiced tofu steak
Vegetarian selections: Sides, salads and one killer tofu entree
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express
Hours: 4-10, 4-11, 4-9 Sundays
Children: Not a good spot for little kids
Parking: Complimentary valet in lot across street
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Bring your bullhorn
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes
ratings_key_febUSE

30 comments Add your comment

Gwinnett Mom

May 10th, 2012
11:53 am

We prefer Golden Corral. Prices R way beter.

Beer Geek

May 10th, 2012
12:04 pm

Fail.
The draft beer list is a joke. Blue Moon? Peroni? The ultra pedestrian Sweetwater 420? Yeah, the whiskey list is awesome, but exclude the beer geeks? What I still don’t get is your failure to challenge these places to improve their beer offerings. You don’t even mention it.
Fail….Both the restaurant, and the reviewer.

Cheers

Steve

May 10th, 2012
1:50 pm

Gary W said this place was much better than GC.

PJ

May 10th, 2012
2:39 pm

As a Roswell resident, I am loving all the great places opening within 5 minutes of my house & this place is a neighborhood gem. I love that the steaks are brought out in the skillet, placed on your plate, then the server pours all the delicious juices back over, along with some roasted garlic cloves. Yum! I tried the carpaccio appetizer & thought it was spot on. Who doesn’t like crispy capers? Our dining companions tried the Moroccan spiced shrimp & said it was delicious. Sides are easily big enough for 4 & the truffled fries are fantastic. The noise factor can be an issue – this is not the place for quiet conversation. Little Alley definitely delivers great, steakhouse fare in a location perfect for those of us who enjoy dining locally.

Ranchhand

May 10th, 2012
3:54 pm

It sounds terrific, but if it’s a place where I have to shout to be heard, forget it.

Winky

May 10th, 2012
4:13 pm

Little Alley is learning the lesson of focus, doing a few things really well. I love the whiskey/great steak combination. Makes for a fun spot.

Pigcooker

May 10th, 2012
4:24 pm

John, you know the best steaks on earth (as well as other various meats)are the ones you grill on your ceramic cooker at the house . . .

roswell ruffian

May 10th, 2012
4:37 pm

I love these guys and how they’ve revitalized the Roswell dining scene, but these restaurants get too loud and too crowded too quickly. They remind me of a NYC restaurant in terms of space, but if I’m spending a good dime on a nice meal, I’d like to not have someone’s purse knocking me in the head as they are standing in line at the bar. The brothers have been nothing but hospitable, nice, and charming. But the noise . . . . and lack of room . . . I really, really, have to be in a mood to go here.

crackbaby

May 10th, 2012
5:01 pm

JK,

Thanks for the review. Will mosey on down some time to check it out. Did I miss it or was there no mention of desserts?

Wondering

May 10th, 2012
5:41 pm

I have to agree with Roswell Ruffian. For these prices, I expect to be able to speak with my dining companions in a normal voice and leave without bruises. We loved Salt the first few times on slow nights but we avoid the weekends. This sounds like the same numbing experience. If we go by and its slow, we may try it.

Daniel X. Wargula

May 10th, 2012
7:01 pm

We were here with a party of six, waittress was friendly and helpful on a slow Easter Sunday. Food was over rated, my wife and I split a large aged potterhouse which was tastless and not tender, my daughter’s ordered the small filet medium, (Pink on the inside) it came out very well done, our son-in-law had an angus burgger which he said was standard. Bottom line the entire meal was so,so and we have had better. Bone’s and Chops are a lot better with consistent quality and good taste.

The best steak’s I ever had were New York at Peter Luger’s and the ultimate is a Ashia which has Kope beef in Kyoto. Save your money and go some place other then Little Alley, you will have a better meal.DXW

Dirk

May 10th, 2012
7:02 pm

John,
I’m sure you meant the “Viagra-ad years” empty nesters in a humorous vein but apparently we are the main source of revenue for restaurants and bars for Roswell and Alpharetta. Don’t slight us or I’ll put you in the age group of testosterone booster users. Seriously, a good but not great restaurant and a good but not great review.

Kevin

May 10th, 2012
7:40 pm

They pick up there dairy and produce at restaurant depot in a hot van with no refrigeration to save a buck. How’s that for your gourmet stomachs?

David

May 10th, 2012
7:55 pm

I sat at the bar with three freinds and enjoyed our time. The bar tender was knowledgable and accomidating, freindly service is key for me. Food was good, apps; Kobe meatballs were dry, tuna was very delicious but seemed very asian and not in line with the concept, bone marrow bones were definately frozen for a long time before being cooked but still interesting. The steak was great, i had the trio and loved it lets you really see the difference in the aging and quality of the beef. I think if your going to Roswell to eat you have to almost expect a bust loud atmosphere, these guys arent building restaurants there occupieing existing spaces making due with what they have, and frankly doing it pretty well. I will definately return and cant wait to try them out again after they have gone through a little growing pains. 3 stars from me.

David

May 10th, 2012
7:56 pm

busy not bust, sorry.

OU812

May 10th, 2012
8:33 pm

I agree with BEERGEEK, the wiskey,scotch and Bourbon selection is of the top choices. Beer is another question…Seriously that is a selection of “has been” beer that a sales rep begged to sell in or traded a wiskey bottle for their spot.You would expect a quality that would mate the bar selection. I too “Kevin” have seen the same van deliver accross the street! But, as one might say “smoke and mirrors make the illusion” The atmosphere is spot on crowded,loud and crisp. The food is good but not a “Bones” “Chops” or “Palm” although miles away but a reputation to drive for. What this resturant brought to the area is a now “pay after 5″ valet lot accross the street and a mystery behind the black windows! Viagra clad “WOW”

Occupieing? Apple or Cherry?

May 10th, 2012
10:52 pm

David,

“busy” is the least of your spelling and grammar worries.

Good luck with that.

Louis

May 11th, 2012
1:39 am

Kevin,

How would you know? Why are you “their”?

Janie

May 11th, 2012
6:35 am

One thing for sure, they won’t have to worry about common peon’s walking in their restaurant. We can’t afford their prices. As with most restaurants reviwed, us common folk can’t afford it no matter how good the food may be or sound to us.

Baltisraul

May 11th, 2012
7:52 am

Does not sound like a place that I would place on my “must go” list!

Ed Norton

May 11th, 2012
10:11 am

$11.95 for one ‘rubbery’ scallop and some bacon? You won’t be seeing Trixie and me there any time soon.

Baltisraul

May 11th, 2012
12:38 pm

Another resturant that didn’t read the memo on what kind of resturant not to open during an economic downturn. Don’t any of these folks read/listen to the news?

DC

May 11th, 2012
8:03 pm

I’ve dined here twice, both times in the rear dining room, and did not find the noise level excessive. I had the prime steaks and they were excellent. Not everything we ordered wowed us, but not that unusual for a new restaurant. I liked the stepped up menu and its a BIG concept that sets high expectations on the kitchen and the staff. Beautiful space, gracious attentive service – these folks know how to run a restaurant and they’ll get this dialed in tight quickly. Great addition to the growing Canton Street dining scene.

Eat at Joes

May 11th, 2012
9:12 pm

Been there 3 times. the first was in the front near the bar and it was loud but we expected that and enjoyed the party atmosphere. The second time was in the back with another couple and it was a totally different feeling more quite and slower paced. The third time we sat outside and really enjoyed the street feel. the food was very good (not best ever) but really good. Service was top notch and the drinks were great. It is expensive but it doesn’t seem to stop the crowds so more power to the brothers. I agree I would probably take a few items off the menu and perhaps add a couple of steakhouse regulars (Tomato & Blue Cheese, Asparagus & a prime filet)

I give it 3 stars – based on your rating system its worth a drive. I certainly have driven into Buckhead and Midtown for some really average meals so driving to Roswell would be a no brainer (plus it’s one the best streets in metro area). One thing to mention, it is not kid friendly and you probably should dress a little nicer than your trip to Chili’s.

Baltisraul

May 12th, 2012
7:27 am

Eat at Joes…….I always dress nice when I go to Chili’s, don’t you?

Relentless

May 12th, 2012
1:40 pm

My prime steak ($45) was tough and gristly, and was one of the worst steaks (strange taste) that I have ever eaten. Also, my Blanton’s on the rocks was mostly water. My friend had pork which he said was good. My wife had a Fillet which she said was ok. I tasted it, and felt the same. She tasted my steak, and agreed with my evaluation and that it could not have been prime. The service was fair. No, I did not complain since the service was slow, and I was hungry. Nice place, but I’ll order a drink and eat my steak elsewhere next time.

Baltisraul

May 13th, 2012
7:30 am

Relentless……if it was indeed prime meat, it is almost impossible to mess up. May not have been prime, sounds like western select!

What is a Blanton?

Localisgood

May 13th, 2012
4:53 pm

Janie, who cares if you can’t afford it there are plenty of people who can, especially in Roswell. Go eat at Outback and stop complaining about positive growth on Canton Street.

Baltisraul obviously they are having huge success so your logic is flawed.

Epicurious

May 13th, 2012
9:57 pm

Way too noisy and outrageous prices.

Forget it.

jen

May 14th, 2012
12:16 pm

Had the pleasure of checking this place out last night for mother’s day, and must say I was fairly impressed. The service (Kevin) was top notch, and one of the best waiters I’ve ever had in the city. I hit NYC fairly frequently (on expense account dinners), and this was easily on par with some of the places I’ve been there. American Kobe burger and belgian fries were great (although a little different for my kid’s taste). NY strip was excellent (had with one of the butters) and they are now offering a tomahawk chop, which honestly, was slightly under (not enough to warrent a re-fire) and while it had a great crust of char and salt, could have used one of the butters as a topper. Place was fairly crowded last night, but we had no issues with hearing ourselves or our servers, but could see if you were at a table and not a booth where you’re somewhat insulated from the sound how that could be an issue. Creme brulee dessert was fair, key lime tart was much better. I’d go back in a minute. Love what they’re doing to make that area fun to hang out in.