How successful could a restaurant be that's only open for breakfast and lunch? In the Tristate, folks may call weeks in advance for reservations at high-priced, dinner-only restaurants, but they'll wait an hour or more for over-sized pancakes and creamy crêpe-eggs at the area's five First Watch restaurants. The chain's recipe for success is simple: light and airy dining rooms; a breakfast and lunch menu of healthy choices; and no-hassle service that accommodates toddlers in high chairs as graciously as lingering business folks at power breakfasts.
Although the five Cincinnati spots vary in size and shape, the interior décor is the same. Light and airy California colors of greens and golds, whimsical artwork and greenery keep the mood upbeat, even when the wait is long. And, wait you will: On some weekend mornings when the locations are flooded with suburbanites lingering over the newspaper, you might wait an hour or more for a table. Weekday mornings, it's the power business meeting spot, where groups begin filing in at opening. Sometimes there's a wait for a table as early as 7:30 a.m.
Our recent visit to the Downtown spot on a late Sunday morning put us at a very doable half-hour wait, with other couples and families lingering both inside and spilling out on the sidewalk. Fortunately, complimentary coffee is offered to ease the delay.
Although the menu is divided into Breakfast, Brunch and Lunch sections, all items are available anytime during business hours.
Signature pancakes the size of dinner plates are made from scratch, and include healthy choices like Banana Crunch with Granola ($4.95) and Bluegerm -- blueberry with wheat germ ($4.95). Popular seasonal skillets ($5.95) are egg dishes cooked to order and piled on top of a bed of potatoes, cheese and a number of ingredients, like Cajun sausage and mushroom, or green chilies, onions and salsa.
My California Crepe ($6.25) -- a delicious mix of creamy avocado slices, mushrooms, onions and gooey Monterey Jack cheese folded into a thin crêpe -- was a mild but flavorful meal, especially with spicy salsa and sour cream. And our server happily accommodated my request to make mine without the usual ham. My husband's Tri-Fecta ($5.75) was a no-nonsense combination of a waffle, two eggs and a side of bacon -- a delicious and satisfying breakfast that's hard to botch up.
Folks who want to participate in the brunch frenzy without the guilt can order from several choices, like scrambled cholesterol-free eggs in the Veggie Rollups ($5.25) or the Siesta Key Cocktail ($4.95), a parfait of low-fat yogurt, granola and fresh fruit that resembles a decadent dessert more than a healthful breakfast.
Lunch sandwiches ($5.75$6.50) include slight twists on classics, like the smoked turkey Monterey Club ($5.95) served with avocado, bacon, cheese and sprouts on a flaky croissant. Salads are fresh and plentiful, and include choices like Won's Oriental ($6.50) with teriyaki chicken breast, veggies, water chestnuts and cashews in a sweet and sour dressing, topped with crunchy noodles and Mandarin oranges.
Although First Watch operates more than 40 restaurants across the country, each restaurant strives for a neighborhood-friendly feel, allowing guests to linger as long as they like. I once staked out a booth with five coworkers for a planning session that lasted for four pots of coffee and at least two-and-a-half hours -- with a smiling, friendly server waiting on us the entire time.
Although the food is almost always fresh and hot, the quality suffers a little on incredibly busy weekend mornings. Mid-mornings and late-lunches during the week are the best time to walk in for a table and savor quick, fresh fare. ©
Go: 700 Walnut St., Downtown (enter on Seventh St. between Main and Walnut) Also Symmes Twp., Ken-wood, Tri-County, Norwood
Hours: MondaySunday 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Eggs (with or without cholesterol) dishes, pancakes, salads and sandwiches.