By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Feb 24, 2009 at 4:36 PM

My business partner, Jeff, has been lobbying the Flat Top Grill franchise for years, in hopes that the restaurant would come to Milwaukee. The Chicago chain came close -- it's opening today in Wauwatosa at 2751 N. Mayfair Rd. -- but we nonetheless jumped on the chance to attend a media preview lunch on Friday.

The verdict? It was pretty good, and we all left stuffed beyond belief. The price for an unlimited stir-fry lunch is just $8.99, which is quite a bargain for that much food. And, if you like the concept of the "create your own stir-fry," a la the Mongolian barbecue, you won't be disappointed.

If you are, it's your fault, since you're picking the ingredients, after all.

In many ways, the Flat Top reminded me of Bayshore's BD's Mongolian Barbecue, with a few exceptions. The Flat Top is quite a bit smaller, cramped even, when it's crowded -- which I fully expect to be the case most of the time. Also, you don't stand around watching your food get cooked; it's brought to your table, which prolongs the process somewhat. And finally, you're left to make up your own recipe, although the waitstaff is nearby and eager to help out.

With an expansive selection of more than 25 sauces, veggies and meats (and lots of tofu and seitan choices, too), it's easy to go a little nuts. You can also request a moo shoo/Asian wrap or a piece of Indian roti bread on your plate.

On our pre-opening lunch, the dishes took quite a while to arrive, though in the restaurant's defense, the place was packed. The service, however, was astounding for a buffet restaurant. Our waitress not only carefully explained the concept, but refilled our drinks about a dozen times.

The restaurant has an upscale, but still "chainy" feel to it, much like a Chin's Asia Fresh or Noodles & Company, which isn't bad by any stretch -- though it doesn't feel like the original Chicago locations, Jeff tells me.

It's the kind of place that will do very well, given its location, and it's very possible to have a fresh, healthy meal that's completely different every time you visit. The four of us went back to the buffet twice, and we thorough enjoyed all eight of our dishes.

Honestly, if Flat Top put this restaurant Downtown, I'd visit regularly, though I don't think I'll drive out to Tosa just for lunch or dinner. When I'm at Mayfair, though, I'll stop back again, and the build-your-own breakfast looks intriguing.

Generally speaking, I don't go to restaurants to prepare my own food (I can do that at home). But Flat Top is a fresh look at a fun concept, and I'm happy it's come to town.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.