First Watch

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First Watch dining

Until last week, I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in a First Watch, but I could tell you the first time.

That was in 1988, in Phoenix, and my erstwhile colleagues at the newspaper I had recently been laid off from wanted to take me out to a goodbye lunch before I headed to Orlando and a new job. One of my friends suggested we go to a place that had opened near the newspaper’s offices. It was new to town, open only for breakfast and lunch and was called First Watch.

Inasmuch as that was 31 years ago, I can’t remember a whole lot about the experience. But I can tell you a lot about the brunch I had recently at the First Watch in the Waterford Lakes area. I was invited to join FW’s regional marketing manager to see what’s new at First Watch, both in the restaurant’s ambiance and its menu. And to try something unique to this Central Florida location: alcohol.

The Waterford Lakes location is among the first to experiment with adding a bar, something you might not expect in a restaurant that’s open only until 2:30 p.m. daily. But when you consider the popularity of brunch cocktails — and this location’s proximity to UCF — it makes sense.

And you should know that this is not a name-your-drink bar; there isn’t even a bartender. Instead, First Watch features an array of premixed cocktails made with juices juiced in house daily.

First Watch drinks

I had sips — just sips — of a flight of cocktails, including (as seen left to right): Pomegranate Sunrise, with tequila, pom, lime and agave nectar; Morning Glory, with vodka, orange and lemon, turmeric, ginger and agave; Vodka Kale Tonic, with apple and cucumber; Cinnamon Toast Cereal Milk, coconut rum, cold brew coffee and coconut milk; and Million Dollar Bloody Mary, garnished by a maple-slathered rasher of bacon. 

First Watch bacon

(The Million Dollar Bacon is available as a side dish, too.)

Freshness is sort of the new mantra of First Watch. Its catchphrase in ads, including the one here on SJO is, “Yeah, it’s fresh.” It isn’t meant to suggest that everything is farm to table or even sourced locally, though the kitchen buys as much from area providers as it can. But it emphasizes that everything is prepared fresh — there is no microwave oven or deep fryer in the kitchen — and the results are quite good.

First Watch avocado

I’ve become an aficionado of Avocado Toast and frequently make it at home. But even mine isn’t as luscious and substantial as First Watch’s. That might be because each order uses one and a half avocados, which are more chunks than mash, served on thick-sliced whole grain toasted bread that is made specifically for the restaurant. A bit of lemon and sea salt added depth to the avos. They were served with two basted cage-free eggs.

First Watch carnitas

The eggs were poached in the Cornbread Carnitas Bowl. They were also difficult to spot amid the pork carnitas, pico de gallo, Cotija cheese and black beans. Fresh cilantro, lime crema and sliced avocado made the slices of cornbread almost superfluous.

First Watch salad and sandwich

There is a Roast Beef & Havarti sandwich on the menu and there is a Chicken Avocado Chop salad, too. You don’t have to choose between the two — you can get half portions in a lunch special that, at $7.79, is a great deal. And don’t think half portions mean insubstantial; there was plenty to eat. The sandwich was especially good, with plenty of roast beef slices, horseradish and arugula on grilled sourdough bread with a parmesan crust.

First Watch pesto

I also sampled the Pesto Chicken Quinoa Power Bowl, which besides the three ingredients in the name also had shredded carrots, roasted tomatoes, kale and loosely crumbled feta cheese. It was fine, but I found myself going back to the avocado toast.

First Watch bar

The decor at this First Watch is sort of modern farmhouse. There is a dearth of barn wood, but touches of rusticity in the wooden floor and chairs (try to grab one of the padded booths; very comfy). Bare-bulb work lights are wrapped around a ceiling beam, and white, grey and blue tiles make up the bar backdrop.

Service was genuinely cheerful, authoritative and efficient.

First Watch is based in Sarasota though it started out in California. Ironically, there are no longer any locations in that state. I’m pretty sure the one I first visited in Phoenix is still there. I hope it’s scheduled for an update.

And a bar.

First Watch is at 1448 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando, and other locations around town. It is open for breakfast and lunch daily. The phone number is 407-809-3447.