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With all of the crowds clogging breakfast and brunch places around town, we were excited that First Watch (3309 E. 86th St., 317-643-9792), the Florida-based “daytime cafe” with nearly 100 outlets in 14 states, had finally touched down across from the Fashion Mall. Other Indy locations are planned, including one at Market Tower downtown. Perhaps now we could sleep in on a Sunday and not have to cut the line. “Fresh food is key,” reads the press kit, and the chain claims that they “begin each morning at the crack of dawn, slicing fresh fruits and vegetables, baking muffins, and whipping up our French toast batter from scratch.” This was promising verbiage, to say the least. In addition, First Watch’s kitchens use no heat lamps, deep fryers, or microwaves, so we were hoping for something a notch above the hash slung at the corner diner. Our greeting here was almost a little too cheery, with two employees opening the door for us and flashing us friendly smiles. Bright paintings of citrus fruits and a decidedly upbeat soundtrack would likely appeal only to the morning person in your party. A paper wrapper around our silverware offered the adorable motto “I love you more than bacon,” but this made us wonder if the thick-cut bacon on offer would be that memorable. A diverse but not too exhaustive menu includes categories for omelets, “First Watch Eggs-clusives” (mainly frittatas and crepes), skillet hashes, griddle cakes, French toast, and sandwiches. Staple ingredients make repeat appearances in most categories, with ham, sausage, crimini mushrooms, standard cheeses, and spinach turning up in nearly half the dishes. But, hey, it was breakfast, so we didn’t exactly need elk patties or ostrich eggs to get us going. We chose from several categories and settled into a pot of hot coffee while we waited. What emanated from the kitchen did indeed look like breakfast, but sinking our forks in, we got a few surprises. Poached eggs atop our hash and on the side of a pancake, though pretty, were cooked solid through to the middle. No runny yolks would serve as a sauce for our breakfast dishes. After flagging down our waitress, we got replacement eggs, and a sincerely apologetic manager was quick to remove some items from our bill. A Key West “Crepegg” had all the right ingredients—eggs, avocado, bacon, cheese, and sour cream—in a light crepe, but it lacked any real character and was so light as to be bland. A side of that thick-cut bacon seemed pretty pedestrian, given all of the artisan bacons available these days, and not especially thick-cut. Breakfast buffet fodder came to mind. “Parma Hash” promised Italian sausage, “house-roasted mushrooms,” Parmesan, mozzarella, and fresh herbs. But this was also quite bland, with very little sausage or cheese and lots of chopped mushroom stems. The potatoes did seem healthier and less saturated from the griddle than at other breakfast joints, but there was little else to make up for their wholesomeness. A wan English muffin lay to the side, with standard Smucker’s jellies from the tabletop carousel to top it. Perhaps the best item we ordered was a multigrain banana granola crunch pancake, though it didn’t exactly offer much crunch. The bananas integrated into the cakes made them a tad wet. Still, they were sweet and homey—and an accompanying pitcher of syrup meant we could make these as unhealthy as we wanted. Employees milled about the place; we counted at least five different staff members stopping by our table to fill glasses, deliver food, or field our complaint about the eggs. It made the place a little frenetic and tense, and we left thinking that even the greasiest short-order diner could put out a breakfast that would be more comforting—and flavorful—than what First Watch was putting out for the most important meal of the day.
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