Florida-based breakfast chain landed in Raleigh with two locations last year, one on Glenwood Avenue and the other on Capital Boulevard, with one simple concept: freshness. It’s a mantra, philosophy or whatever you’d like to call it that’s very en vogue right now, but it works.
I haven’t set foot in an IHOP or Denny’s in years, but despite what you may think a priori, First Watch is a pretty damn good breakfast spot that doesn’t only serve desserts masquerading as sweets-laden pancakes and waffles. Gone are the drab beige décor and uncomfortable, sticky vinyl booths of chain breakfast spots from yesteryear and in are the chalkboards, faux reclaimed wood benches and open dining space. Sure, it’s going for a certain fashionable, contrived aesthetic that you might roll your eyes at, but it’s inviting and it’s working.
On a Sunday right before noon, the Capital Boulevard location is bustling. Bleary-eyed guests are sipping on complimentary coffee in the lobby from Styrofoam cups as they wait for their tables. Luckily, turnover is relatively rapid on the tables at First Watch.
What’s most striking about this nascent breakfast chain is the breadth of options on its menu. First Watch touts that it makes everything to-order and also offers healthier items like quinoa bowls, multigrain pancakes and fresh-squeezed juices. You can tell from a cursory glance over the menu that the fast-growing chain is well-aware of food trends with Instagrammable items like avocado toast and seasonal add-ons like chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican breakfast mainstay.
And, in case you’re wondering, the avocado toast that’s highlighted on the menu comes as a hearty portion with two towering mounds of chopped avocado slathered onto a pair of triangle-sliced multigrain toast. For $8.49, with two eggs over-easy, the toast is not a bad deal. The avocado, bacon and tomato hash is a similar story—nice portion for the hungry , weary and well-prepared—and especially satisfying while guzzling it down with your own carafe of hot coffee.
Raleigh is currently seeing an influx of breakfast eateries with the growth of places like Rise Biscuits and Donuts and a host of donut shops that have cropped up in the last several years that give residents the power of choice. But, despite being a chain, I think First Watch gets it right with their assortment of menu items that accommodate peoples’ changing dietary desires; it’s an ability to acquiesce to the evolving times that may soon leave other popular breakfast chains that serve “cupcake pancakes” in the Cheetos dust.
FIRST WATCH | 6320 Capital Boulevard Raleigh NC 27616
6109 Glenwood Avenue Raleigh NC 27612
If First Watch is what breakfast can be, North Raleigh’s Big Ed’s is what it once was. And that’s fine for most people whom are loyal to the Southern breakfast stalwart. Lines still spill outside the door on the weekends for the style of homespun food that North Raleigh’s location of Big Ed’s serves.
If the menu at First Watch is exciting, imbued with life and choices, well, comparatively Big Ed’s is anemic. Not that there isn’t choice, because there are plenty of those with Southern traditional breakfast items like biscuits, local ham, grits and hotcakes that look like they’ve been struck by elephantiasis. Is bigger always better? Sometimes, the answer is “no”.
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Quite simply, the menu at Big Ed’s North sounds enticing enough, you just might be sad to find out that the fare does not deliver. The weak S&D coffee is barely potable for those that think Folgers is not the best part of waking up. The biscuits lack any discernable fluff or buttermilk flavor and the home fries seem more like a mass of limp potatoes thrown haphazardly on the breakfast platter in order to move on to the next order. The only saving grace is perhaps the Natahuna pork sausage that redeemed the country breakfast as the only sign of “country” flavor. If this is supposed to be the kind of food that mama used to make, mama might need a break from the kitchen.
On a Sunday morning, you may quickly realize that Big Ed’s serves more as a filling station for those customers, many the post-church crowd, that want to get in and out with a sizable amount of food before getting onto their day. Folks that want a Southern-style big meal for a relatively fair price will be satisfied at Big Ed’s, and judging by crowds on a Sunday morning, it won’t be changing any time soon.
BIG ED’S NORTH | 5009 Falls of Neuse Road Raleigh NC 27609 | 919.747.9533