First Watch — a chain of "daytime cafés" that serve breakfast, brunch and lunch — recently entered the Lexington market. It was born in California in 1983 but is now headquartered in Bradenton, Fla. Presumably the sunny climes of both home bases have sealed a commitment to the fresh dining experience, set in rooms full of natural light and splashy colors evocative of sun and happiness.
The primary message here is rise and shine. To make sure you do, they serve good complimentary coffee when there's a wait; there is, of course, a charge for the pot at the table. Multiple copies of the daily newspaper, and free Wi-Fi if you're not old school, are available as well.
I've sampled all three meals served by First Watch, but breakfast and brunch are definitely the stronger suits, especially anything off the grill.
At lunch, my favorite dish has been a soup of the day: chicken and black-eyed pea "chili." Order it if it's on the menu, or call and find out when it will be. It was hearty, buttery and silky, resembling bisque, subtle with tomato and slightly peppery.
I would wish for more exciting salads from a restaurant that started in California, the land of virtually year-round produce, but First Watch's are basically the same as anywhere else.
Like most veggie burgers, too, the one here was a bit gummy, and its whole-wheat bun squishy. Texture aside, several perfectly ripe avocado slices and the outstanding Santa Fe sauce that was like a spicy ranch dressing redeemed it.
No, this place is decidedly about morning food.
Under the category "The Healthier Side," there are lacy crepes, light as feathers. They're delicate and fragrant with the filling of sliced strawberries and the topping of low-fat strawberry yogurt sauce. You also get sugary granola and a slightly sticky muffin, probably neither of which deserves healthy billing. Well, OK, to be fair, the menu does say "healthier," not "healthy," and the kitchen will make modifications to accommodate diners.
But for those who think a breakfast or brunch ought not to be low-calorie or "lite," there is the Chickichanga. A burrito by any other name might still be a burrito, but this one is loaded — with scrambled eggs, chicken, chorizo sausage, peppers, cheese, chilies — and napped with a sauce called Vera Cruz (tomato, onion and pepper). A nice balance was provided to all this heaviness by the fruit cup that came with it: berries and melons bursting with flavor, and even grapes that were at their peak, despite it being winter.
But for me, there are two real stars of the show.
First, the multigrain pancakes are about 6 inches in diameter. Whether you order them tropical with bananas and crunchy granola, or refreshingly antioxidant-packed with blueberries, they are slightly crisp on the outside, hot and fluffy within. Belgian waffles are on the menu, but the pancakes are the way to go.
Second, First Watch's simple eggs in their multiple variations were all delicious. The scrambled eggs were soft and melted in my mouth. I loved the Veg'd Out omelet with a tiny dice of zucchini, sweet cherry tomatoes and cremini mushrooms. Best, though, was the over-easy egg with the perfect seal over the yolk that oozed yellow when the fork went in.
Most of these plates come with sausage — get the slightly spicy turkey links — or thick bacon that was too tough for my taste.
Service is friendly and unobtrusive (except when obsessively clearing dishes from the table), and that would be reason enough for me to return — in addition, of course, to eggs and pancakes.
The first meal of the day should be easy. At First Watch, it is.
Address: 3071 Richmond Rd., in Man o' War Place
Phone: (859) 899-3447
Hours: 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily
Other: Parking lot. No alcohol served. Vegetarian options. Family-friendly. Real maple syrup available for additional charge. Egg dishes, $7.79-$8.79; pancakes, waffles and French toast, $3.49-$8.29; "skillet hashes," $8.49-$8.79; "healthier" dishes, $4.59-$7.89; salads, $7.59-$7.99; sandwiches, $7.59-$8.79; sides, $1.29-$4.79.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.