I finally had a chance to experience the newest First Watch, the current flagship and prototype restaurant for the Florida based daytime cafe, and to taste the dishes added to the spring menu.
As you know, First Watch closed its longtime Maitland location and moved that operation down Orlando Avenue to the former Cinco Tacos + Tequila and Carmel Kitchen building in Winter Park. The new location had been long planned, but the circumstances of the pandemic and the changes it made to the way we dined caused the First Watch team to change the design.
For example, because takeout and delivery became so important to us, First Watch created a separate entry for customers and delivery drivers to pickup orders to go. What’s more, it reengineered the kitchen area to provide a separate cook line for those takeout orders. That allows for an efficiency of output, with to-go meals packaged apart from where dine-in orders are “plated.” But it also allows better spacing for the kitchen staff.
That’s important: When we hear about social distancing in restaurants we think about the spacing between tables, we seldom think about the often-cramped conditions in the kitchen where cooks regularly work elbow to elbow. And plexiglass partitions aren’t going to help back there.
But changes were also made to facilitate better spacing for diners, too, including an expanded patio area, which is where I sat when I was invited to sample the spring menu items.
I’m always a little surprised whenever I eat at First Watch and I’m reminded how good the food really is here. Take the shrimp & grits for example. Make that shrimp, grits and andouille sausage, the latter adding a bit of spiciness, not to mention sausageness. Firm shrimp, tails removed, thank you, tossed with roasted tomatoes, green peppers and onions and served over Bob’s Red Mill grits infused with cheddar and parmesan cheeses.
Or the pork carnitas omelet, the slow roasted meat making it a good choice for breakfast or lunch. Chunks of avocado and melted cheddar and Monterey jack cheese were also folded inside the fluffy eggs. It was accompanied by a side of black beans to complete the Southwestern theme.
I also sampled the Loaded Smoked Salmon Bagel, an everything bagel, toasted, smeared with scallion-infused cream cheese and topped with Alaskan sockeye salmon. There was also a thick slice of tomato and red onions, pickled in house, under a stack of lightly dressed arugula. It was served with a dish of fresh fruit.
Let’s segue from the Loaded Bagel to mention that this First Watch also features an indoor/outdoor bar that serves its crafted brunch cocktail list. I was on duty do I didn’t imbibe but I did have a sip of the Golden Glow, a nonalcoholic drink with pineapple and orange juices and turmeric, coconut water and lemon.
Aptly named and a refreshing way to start a meal of really good food.
First Watch is at 140 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park (map) and other locations. It is open for breakfast and lunch daily. The Winter Park phone number is 407-287-9034.