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Petaluma restaurateurs Lori and Joe Shea are at it again. In August of 2011, they opened their latest project, Food Bar, located downtown on Helen Putnam Plaza.

If the Shea name sounds familiar to Petaluma diners, it's because this is the seventh of their undertakings in the local restaurant industry. Way back in 1978, they opened New York Subs, and since then they have owned and operated Caffe Giostra, Sugo, and Blu, among others, spinning each of those establishments off to family members.

In January of this year, Food Bar was remodeled, changing its style from that of a lunch place to a cozy, more intimate Italian-esque coffee bar. Sprinkled among tables and banquettes are comfortable chairs and couches, and one large family style table that can be shared by multiple small parties. On the outdoor patio there are umbrella covered tables surrounded by flower filled planters. Food and drink is prominently displayed behind the counter, almost as art.

Lori Shea was born in Tuscany, Italy, and came to Petaluma by way of New York and Buffalo, where she worked in a sub shop. She has continued to open restaurants and diversify her cooking because, she says, "I love food. I love to create it." She views food offerings as a trend, and keeps changing her style to reflect the latest trends.

According to Lori Shea, Food Bar was originally opened as a salad bar/sandwich shop because the location fits the lunch trade. While lunch is still a staple offering, they also offer breakfast sandwiches and breakfast grains, available all day. With the addition of an indoor grill area, they now boast full breakfasts on weekends, served from 8 a.m. until noon. Eventually, full breakfasts will be available every day. And starting this summer, they plan on being open for happy hour and dinners each evening until 8 p.m. They are in the process of developing a broader dinner menu, with menu items to change seasonally.

Food Bar serves food from local purveyors, using fresh, local ingredients, and natural meats and cheeses. They serve Petaluma Coffee Co. coffee, and pour local wines for $5 a glass and beer for $4. They also pour freshly made lavender lemonade and home brewed iced tea, as well as serving homemade cookies.

Lori Shea describes the style as fast casual — you order food at the counter, pay there, and they will bring it to you at your table inside or on the patio.

Right now, the backbone of the business is lunch. They feature a variety of sandwiches and their own salad combinations, as well as stuffed baked potatoes and daily soup offerings.They also let you design your own salad, choosing the greens, add-ins, cheeses and dressings for $8. If you want extra add ins, it's 50 cents apiece; for proteins (chicken, turkey, egg, bacon or tuna salad), it's an additional $2. It's much like a salad bar, but they mix it for you.

We sampled three of the lunch offerings. Daughter no. 1 had a generous salad that she designed, with mixed greens, roasted potatoes, corn, apple, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncini, and roasted chicken, lightly dressed in olive oil and vinegar, along with two pieces of garlic parmesan toast ($10). After eating and enjoying all of it, she reported that she probably wouldn't have dinner that night.

Daughter no. 2 had the Turkey BLT, which contained thin sliced turkey breast, apple wood smoked bacon, basil aioli, cheddar cheese, avocado, tomato and romaine on sliced sourdough and came with a side salad and freshly made potato chips ($9). She especially liked the aioli as an addition to the mix, and also said that she wouldn't need to eat dinner, at least until after she got home from working after nine.

I had the Chicken Salad Panini, made with a curry based chicken salad with almonds, apples, dried cranberries and brie grilled on rosemary foccacia and served with a side salad and chips ($9). I will also not have to eat dinner, since I ate and savored every bite.

Food Bar has free Wi-fi access, and is available for catering. They are located at 139 Petaluma Blvd. North, and are open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. From all indicators, it appears that the Sheas have again come up with a winning formula for Petaluma restaurant goers.

(Contact Lynn Haggerty King at argus@arguscourier.com)

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