First Watch – Downtown, Charleston, WV
First Watch has a popular following with many Charleston workers (those who pay the $2/wk user fee) and residents. Located on Summers Street between the Subway and Capitol Roasters, First Watch serves breakfast, brunch and lunch seven days a week. (7:00A – 2:30P) I have never been to First Watch when there wasn’t a wait. It stays busy and today was no exception. We were told it would be a 10 minute wait and we were seated in about 10 minutes. Our server greeted us within a minute to get our drink order. Being in a hurry we put in our food order, too.
The dining area is separated into several sections, and they even have a bar with a TV for people who want to dine alone. The decor is pretty neutral with not much to look at. The service was quick today and somewhat attentive. Our meals came quickly even though the dining room was full. I ordered the Won’s Oriental Salad for $6.99. It has chicken breast, mushroom, onions, broccoli, water chestnuts, cashews, celery, tomatoes, and mandarin oranges served over a bed of romaine lettuce. It is tossed with a sweet and sour oriental vinaigrette and topped with a few of those La Choy Crunchy Chow Mein Noodles. It is served with two grilled pita wedges – yum. This salad is good even though they used those awful canned mandarin oranges. Note to the culinary world – Mandarin oranges does not make a dish Asian. If you want a great oriental style salad the California Pizza Kitchen has three to choose from and not one of them has that nasty orange in it.
I washed the salad down with a diet Coke for $1.89 with unlimited refills. Coffee is $1.99 with refills. There was a line when we got up to pay, and management should be given a couple of thumbs up for processing that line quickly. The service and food were good. First Watch gets a fork deduction for gouging us with that outrageous soda price. This was a THREE FORK experience.
Oh, how I love the Chicken Salad Melt at First Watch. I became very concerned when we walked into First Watch at exactly noon and there were a lot of people waiting ( You have to either get there early or late to immediately get a seat). I was worried because we rarely go to First Watch due to someone’s refusal to dine here- Susan (You can tell I am pretty bitter!). She says that it is because everything has eggs or mayo in them- but I am not buying it- she needs to give them another chance! Maybe if she reads my public plea she will be sympathetic and go again. Also, I know my co-workers like to take only an hour for lunch and I am starting to wonder if they are going to suggest somewhere else. However, the hostess said that the wait would only be ten minutes, so everyone decided to give them a chance. There were a lot of people standing around and I did not think this was possible. But, in ten minutes, they called our name and I jumped up so they wouldn’t bypass us.
Of course, I ordered a soda (I don’t want to advertise for the other soda- but it was not Pepsi- which is my preference) and the Chicken Salad Melt. Depending on my mood, I sometimes substitute extra potatoes for the side salad. Unlike Ron’s experience at Tidewater, First Watch actually gives you double potatoes. OK, back to the sweet Chicken Salad Melt…It is an open face sandwich on a multigrain piece of toast. It has chunks of chicken, apples, raisins, water chestnuts, and celery- topped with a slice of tomato and melted cheese. And, it was YUMMY. There was a nice mound of chicken salad on the bread and I just love the crunch of the water chestnuts and the sweetness of the apples and raisins. Now, the celery is another story. Celery is one of the foods that I hate…I cannot stand it. I hate everything about it- the strings, the texture, the taste. Now, a lot of people say that it does not have much taste, but I strongly disagree. However, I understand that this is a typical item in chicken salad and other people like it in there and I am not above picking the celery out. These celery pieces are pretty chunky and you can easily spot them and pick them out. Once you pick out the celery, the sandwich is great.
Now, one mention about the fruit cup. You do not get a whole lot of fruit- usually four pieces of the following selection: pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberry, grape, and honeydew melon. On this visit, I received the pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, and the strawberry. They were all ripe, sweet, and delicious. The best fruit I have had in quite some time.
I give First Watch- FIVE Forks!
Chicken Salad Melt
I love this place because of the variety of flavors which come on your plate. I have a preference for Rachels, and theirs is very good. The sandwich is filling, but not too big so as to stuff you. That is the job of the potatoes, salad and fruit. The potatoes are just right, not too crispy and they love to be covered in Heinz (there is no other, regardless of how you spell it). The real treat of this meal is that we’re only halfway done with the flavors. I like to think the fruit is there to cleanse the palate between each of these mini-courses. The final item is the salad which is also light and always fresh, never wilted. It’s covered in a light poppyseed vinagrette which isn’t overpowering and lets the fresh, diced vegetables’ tastes come out. I’ve never had a bitter veggie here. If you like a light but filling meal, this is a place to come and be satisfied. My cost was just below $9 w/o tip. I rate them with Four forks.
I will say that the substantial crowd at noon had all but dissipated by the time we were through. Daniel noted that it appears this crowd is a large brunch crowd, and I believe he was correct in this assumption. Also, although I never order it, some may want to know that they have a substantial (60-75%) breakfast menu.
Previous to Misty’s birthday lunch yesterday, I had only been to First Watch one time. It was not too long after they opened and we made the effort to drive downtown and search for parking in order to try it out. I was not impressed and placed it on my list of places the lunch group should go when I am on vacation. (Which they did, see their recent review while I was at the Strawberry Festival.)
In honor of Misty’s brithday, I gave it a second chance. Hmmmm….the result was much like the initial impression several years ago.
I called ahead to see if I could make a “reservation” for our party of 10 and, to my surprise, they said they would. However, when we arrived, we were stuck right inside the doorway huddled with other potential patrons who were crammed in the small entry area right beside the cashier’s station. Also forced into this small square footage were the people waiting to pay and leave. We were there about 10 minutes, trying to continually shift around to avoid blocking the door, allow the people seated on the bench a chance to see something other than our rear ends, and make room for the others coming in to try to get a table. There is a serious “flow” problem in the front of this restaurant. Nevertheless, we were seated at a table for 10 which they constructed from 3 smaller tables and we appreciated the extra effort to accommodate such a large group.
The menu. It is about 75% eggs. If the dish is not an actual egg, eggs are a key ingredient in the dish. I am probably exaggerating the 75%, but it is accurate to say that they have a breakfast menu available at lunch that has a lot of egg dishes on it. The specials on the chalkboard over the cashier’s head were eggy as well. If you read my five-fork review of Bluegrass Kitchen, you already know that I detest eggs. Since my fear that someone would force me to eat an agg did not come to fruition, thankfully, I was able to order a sandwich related to eggs only in that the mayonnaise (the other food I really hate) served on the sandwich is made of oil and eggs. I, of course, 86’d the mayo. eeeewwww.
My choice was the teryaki chicken sandwich served on a sesame seed bun with tomato, lettuce and melty monterey jack cheese. I really liked the sandwich. The bun was initially lightly toasted but unfortunately soaked up a lot of teryaki juice, I guess, because it became sort of soggy as I went along. The sandwich reminded me of the teryaki chicken sandwich at Penn Station, only they use Swiss instead of monterey jack – I like the jack cheese better. Plus, this sandwich boasts an intact chicken breast, not the slices of chicken breast at Penn Station. (I do enjoy the Penn Station sandwich and they have really great fries. Look for my piece entitled “Ode to the French Fry” to be published in the future.)
Teryaki Chicken Sandwich
My memory of First Watch included a dislike of the marinated salad they refer to as “signature”. I couldn’t remember why, though and had looked for a description of the salad on their website prior to our visit and didn’t find one. When my plate was placed before me, I immediately recalled the reason: cucumbers. Lots of little pieces of cucumbers. Too many to pick out, really, and I am a seasoned picker like Misty. I just don’t care for the taste of cucumbers. I dug to the bottom of the dish to grab a few leaves of dressed lettuce and was unimpressed. There wasn’t even another type of side salad to substitute for it. I received the fruit cup with 5 bites of fruit. That was just fine. I believe these five bites of fruit is a key reason why Phil enjoys First Watch so much. He really likes fruit. Plain fruit, fruity drinks, fruity candy, fruit-flavored cold medicine. If it’s got fruit, it’s got a direct line to Phil’s heart.
The potatoes, although forbidden by low-carbers, were good. Hell, I was already eating a bun, why not a few bites of potatoes?? After all, I wasn’t eating those cucumbers! The potatoes were crispy and seasoned nicely and appropriately dubbed “fabulous” on their website.
The worst part of our visit was that Misty was served tuna salad instead of chicken salad. Geez. If you mess up someone’s order, make it anyone, anyone I say, EXCEPT the Birthday Girl! Especially when she just so happens to be pregnant. To her credit, Misty took it very well and I doubt we’ll hear anything bad from her about that mess-up because First Watch is one of her favorite dining establishments. When she finally received her chicken salad melt, she seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and her double order of potatoes.
I paid $6.69 for my sandwich with sides and $1.89 for my Diet Coke. Kudos for having the premium soda, btw. Another thing that really bugged me was sitting there, whist eating my sandwich, with an empty glass. Teryaki’s kinda salty, so I was in dire need of that carbonated refreshment. Daniel finally asked for our server because half of us were now in need of a refill and still no sign of relief. If I am paying $1.89 for a fountain soda the restaurant probably pays pennies for, I better get my refill(s).
If I enjoyed the type of food they specialize in at First Watch, I would rate them higher – but I don’t. Based on my level of enjoyment of the food, value, spotty service, and lack of atmosphere, I rate First Watch TWO FORKS.
164 Summers Street
Charleston, WV 25301