This week, Monica and I had a Sunday morning breakfast at the new First Watch location at 300 Cherokee Blvd. The restaurant shares a block with the Heaven and Ale brewery behind the Heaven and Ale taproom. It’s a big white complex. You can’t miss it.
First Watch is a national breakfast/lunch chain started in 1983 in University Park, Florida. There are more than 200 First Watch locations across 26 states. Chattanooga’s first First Watch (that’s fun to write) opened at 1825 Gunbarrel Road. This second restaurant opened in April.
The Knoxville-based owners of the First Watch franchises also operate First Watch restaurants in Johnson City and Knoxville.
We arrived at about 9 a.m. on an Ironman Sunday in Chattanooga. It was crowded, but we were seated at a table before a much larger rush hit the door. The restaurant was already filled with healthy people eating healthy food. Healthy is a pillar of First Watch. According to the website, they specialize in “award-winning, made-to-order breakfast, brunch and lunch … offering traditional favorites, such as omelets, pancakes, sandwiches and salads, and unique specialty items like quinoa power bowls, avocado toast, and the “Chickichanga.” The latter a whipped egg dish with chicken. All the dishes have clever names. Monica flat-out refused to order an omelet called the “Tri-Athlete” due to the arbitrary name. I felt the same way about dishes with “ancient grains.” I get that’s what they’re called (millet and barley are among them), but it sounds so dramatic like they were recovered from a tiny leather satchel inside King Tutankhamun sarcophagus and re-introduced into the world recently as something other than just grains. Whatever it takes to get people to eat them, I guess. “I’ll have two poultry ovals and a handful of dissected Carthusian tubers. Swine strips from a bespoke farmer? Yes, please.”
I’m kidding, of course. These names are cute. Despite the bustle, our hostess was quick to find us a table. Another server sat down an entire pot of coffee for us to drink. I love that. A whole pot just for us?! Apparently, that behavior is a part of First Watch’s “You First” philosophy. They “do whatever it takes to keep you coming back for more.” That includes free Wi-Fi and a newspaper, the option to share food, no automatic gratuities and egg substitutions. The pot of coffee, though, is a major perk. And it’s good coffee, too. This “You First” M.O. would end up playing a part in our meal.
We were dining about two hours into an Ironman race. I assumed it would be less crowded because of the race — wouldn’t the people who cared be cheering the racers on or racing themselves? But everyone around us had Ironman gear on. Are these people just fans? Groupies? Monica sent a text to her Ironman friend and that’s how we learned about Sherpas. They are the people that serve as a “dependable friend or family member that helps shapes the race experience for us by providing support, guidance and logistics.” That still didn’t explain why they were at First Watch instead of on the course, but I learned something.
Monica ordered a Kale Tonic to start the meal. This is a cold juice with kale, apple, cucumber and lemon. It tasted like one of those Green Goddess drinks from Whole Foods. I’m not a big fan of juices, but Monica enjoyed hers. I sipped on coffee and we eventually ordered some food.
I’m not sure what I was craving. Maybe some eggs? I like avocados and bread, so I eventually went with the Elevated Egg Sandwich — a brioche bun stuffed with eggs, bacon, Gruyere, avocado, mayo and lemon dressed arugula. Monica ordered the eggs Benedict Florentine — two eggs poached on ciabatta with baby spinach, avocado (!!!!) and vine-ripened tomato covered with hollandaise. My side was a pile of fried potatoes and hers was a pile of mixed greens.
We try not to screw up intentionally when eating for this column. This time, we made an honest mistake. Monica is allergic to avocados. Her throat closes and she gets puffy. It’s not pretty. She somehow glossed over the full description and didn’t tell our server upfront about her allergy. In her defense, I probably tried to order to quickly and she had to choose something on the fly. When her plate arrived with avocado all over it we had a dilemma. It was Monica’s fault for not reading the menu, but she also couldn’t eat the dish as it stood. She couldn’t eat my sandwich because it also had avocado all over it. What to do?
The next time our server was at the table I explained the situation. It was our fault and we were willing to pay for another order to be made. She stopped us and wasn’t having any of it. She apologized to US (even though she did nothing wrong) and proceeded to fast-track another order sans avocado during what was the busiest time of the day. In under 10-minutes, Monica had a plate of food she could eat and our server wouldn’t even let us pay for our mistake. She went above and beyond to remedy our mistake. That’s incredible service and that fact alone would make us return customers. That and the endless black coffee.
I had long finished my sandwich and potatoes, so I also ordered a side of Million Dollar Bacon as a treat for both of us. It’s four slices of bacon sprinkled with brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne and maple syrup drizzle. That combination enhances every aspect of the bacon from sweet to salty, savory to crunchy. Two slices are enough for your palate. I’m glad I didn’t eat this at the beginning or my taste buds would’ve been gone.
At the end of our meal, our server boxed up the avocado-laden eggs for us to take home. She refused to charge us for the mistake even though we were willing to pay. I just transferred that $10 to the gratuity. Monica’s sister ate the eggs later that night.
Would we go back?
As much as I wanted to hate this place — ancient grains and trendy omelets — I was blown away by the service and quality of the experience. Our food tasted great and the service was impeccable. The server didn’t even ask a manager to remedy the problem. She just took care of it on the spot. Monica and I plan to visit First Watch for breakfast often. I’m not sure I’ll be eating “ancient grains,” but, sure, I’ll have another egg sandwich.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.