'American grill' style meals

I am always just a little reluctant to eat in restaurants in shopping centers — there is something about the lack of promise and ambiance that I have a hard time getting past. But I was more than pleasantly surprised when I chose to have breakfast with friends at Flamez Grill, located in the Leghorn Center and adjacent to G&G Market.

Flamez is in a location that has been a succession of restaurants since the Leghorn Center opened. But catering to the neighborhood of busy families and the nearby Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma campus, Flamez has come up with a winning formula.

The spotlessly clean interior is decorated in dark wood and black table tops, giving it a casual, cool feeling. The floor plan, which accommodates more than 100 diners, is laid out in a series of large booths with higher sides that allow customers to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere but stay able to hear one another over the hum of the restaurant. The booths also allow families with younger children to contain their exuberance while they, and those around them, enjoy their meals. There is a bar area, with three big screen TVs for sports fans separated from the dining area but still visible from many of the tables. And there is an outdoor patio with area heaters, which seats 25, cordoned off from the parking area by planters and greenery, so diners can enjoy milder afternoons and evenings al fresco.

Flamez is owned and operated by Kal Schatnawi and his extended family. The Schatnawi family, which previously owned Kaffe Mocha in Santa Rosa, opened Flamez in Petaluma four years ago and most recently opened a sister Flamez restaurant in Windsor. Kal has worked in restaurants since 1982, starting his career as a dishwasher and working his way up to cook, then manager and now owner. He describes the business as a family affair, employing his wife, son, niece, sister-in-law, and anyone else in the family who wants to work. He also says all of his employees are like family, and as a result there is very little turnover; most of them have worked with him for a long time.

Kal describes his extensive menu as "American grill," but he points out that unlike many chain restaurants that offer a comparable assortment of choices, at Flamez they use only fresh local produce and quality meats, and make all their own entrees and side dishes from scratch, including soups, salads, guacamole, and salsas. Their number one dessert, the apple cobbler, is made in house.

Prices are reasonable, ranging from the Eye Opener breakfast for $6.95, burgers and sandwiches starting at $8.95, and full dinners for up to $15.95. The bar pours craft beer on tap, bottled beers, and local California wines. They are open seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and brunch on the weekends. Happy hour runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. everyday, with a special happy hour menu. Breakfast is available all day, and there is a complete kids' menu as well as a starters menu. They are very family friendly; much of their business is repeat customers and neighbors, and they are available to host parties and special events. Reservations are not necessary, but are recommended if there are eight or more people in the party.

My friends and I arrived hungry for breakfast after a long morning of tennis in Leghorn Park. We were not disappointed. The servings were ample and delicious. My friends, Tracy and Jenny, each had the Eye Opener ($6.95), which consists of two farm fresh eggs served any style, hash browns and toast. The eggs were cooked to their exact specifications and the hash browns were deliciously freshly fried and crunchy.

Janie ordered the Bacon Cheddar Cheese and Avocado Omelette ($8.95), a fluffy three egg omelette oozing with cheese, which she was unable to finish, but of which she said she savored every bite and brought the uneaten portion home. I opted for the Eggs Benedict Florentine ($10.95), which was two perfectly poached eggs on bed of spinach and grilled tomato, served on top of a crisp toasted English muffin and covered with homemade hollandaise sauce. It was exactly what I envision when I think about brunch and I polished off every bite.

While I certainly didn't need to eat the hash browns, I did anyway since they were delicious. And our server was very attentive, checking back and warming our coffee when it needed refilling, and making sure we had everything we needed.

Flamez is a place I will visit again, either with family for dinner or perhaps with friends for lunch or drinks. I believe that they are just what this neighborhood needs, and hope that they will be in this location for years to come.

(Contact Lynn Haggerty King at argus@arguscou rier.com)