First Watch is like IHOP for people who watch Barefoot Contessa. Photo by Lee Chastain

First Watch, 6333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 280, FW. 817-731-3447. 7am-2:30pm Mon-Sun.

“Yeah, it’s fresh” is the trademarked catchphrase of First Watch Restaurants, Inc., a Florida-based breakfast-and-lunch chain with more than 100 shops nationwide. Four of them are in Tarrant County, and they include a location near Camp Bowie Boulevard on Fort Worth’s West Side. The place is open from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with a brunchy menu that ranges from bacon and egg breakfasts to soup and sandwiches for lunch. 

And they really harp on the “fresh” thing. The menu brags that everything is made to order. No deep fat fryers, microwaves, or heat lamps are ever used, and fresh, seasonal produce from local growers is proudly featured “whenever possible.” 

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These keywords and phrases are the hallmark of a relatively new kind of corporate concept that peddles a vague sort of conscious consumerism to diners willing to play along. And it isn’t necessarily all bad — certainly any consciousness about our food supply chain is better than none. But there’s an awful lot of room around a turn of phrase like “whenever possible.” On a recent visit, as I eyed askance the bowl of room-temperature International Delight creamer cups sitting on the faux reclaimed-wood tabletop of my booth, I was troubled by the possibility that “whenever possible” wasn’t, in fact, all that often. 

All this is by way of saying that I didn’t find First Watch’s corporate schmaltz about “seasonal” and “local” convincing in the slightest. If you’re of a mind to pay extra for socially conscious dining, there are other options around town that don’t have the whiff of the focus-group insincerity found at First Watch.

No, dining at First Watch ought to be something you do (or don’t) based on the food itself, which, to be fair, isn’t bad. In addition to an improbably large selection of regular menu items, an attempt is made to recognize seasonal flavors as well as prevailing foodie trends. The place is like IHOP for people who watch Barefoot Contessa.

One of the seasonal items in particular, the Farmer’s Biscuit Sandwich, was exceptional, the sort of dish I could almost see myself going out of my way to have again. For a bunch of non-Texans, the First Watch corporate kitchen came up with a pretty decent biscuit, served grilled and stacked with a pork sausage patty and a perfectly cooked over-easy egg. Crowned with a lightly dressed arugula salad and a shmear of apple butter, the breakfast classic was given a trendy makeover worthy of its steep price tag. 

On the other hand, the very same biscuit failed to redeem a side dish of biscuits and gravy, though it’s difficult to know whether this is merely an issue of regional tastes. Do Floridians expect their gravy to have the taste and color of chicken soup? Is turkey sausage an expected addition in the Sunshine State? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind a bit if some of the emphasis on localism extended to the menu as well as (purportedly) to the ingredients.

Generally, the breakfast items I sampled were more successful than the lunch items. A “Power Bowl” of chicken, pesto, and quinoa was very heavy on the quinoa and very light on everything else, especially the chicken. (It’s worth pointing out that the menu identified said chicken as “all-natural,” a term that means practically nothing when it comes to poultry but that seems to fit their marketing motif.)

A pick-two lunch special included a pretty good roast beef sandwich on grilled bread, with horseradish Havarti, roasted onions and tomatoes, and more lightly dressed arugula. A cup of the seasonal butternut squash bisque had the consistency of mayonnaise and a temperature that made me wish someone would just go ahead and sneak a microwave in through the back door.

Though there are decent meals on offer at First Watch, chain restaurants that tout their corporate values in such vague terms ought to be considered skeptically — and graded on a curve.

First Watch

Farmer’s Biscuit Sandwich $9.49

Pesto chicken quinoa bowl $8.59

Half roast beef sandwich w/cup of butternut squash bisque $7.79

Biscuit and gravy $4.99