By Michael Araj
In my recent business trip to Omaha, Nebraska, where I previously lived for three years, the changes to the city cannot adequately be enumerated in one post. Omaha, a barren and spread out city eight years ago, has exploded and continued on the culinary journey it had begun when I left it.
Enter: First Watch. A farm to table, breakfast and brunch focused restaurant that puts a healthy spin on some classical dishes, an uphill battle when dealing with southern comfort food like pancakes and biscuits.
For the first day, we had a leisurely breakfast, and the eclectic, modern vibe with current pop music caught my attention first. The place started out leisurely enough, but became more crowded towards the tail end of our meal.
Our very friendly wait staff started us out with hot coffee for me and cold brew for my friend. The coffee tasted well roasted, but the cold brew left much to be desired with an overtly bitter taste. One person opined that it may have been burnt; in the alternative, perhaps the proportions to the water were just off.
While not a great way to start the meal, First Watch soon redeemed itself, and in spectacular fashion. The Farmhouse Skillet Molly had looked amazing and expertly executed; my lemon ricotta pancakes left no complaints. The fluffiness and delicateness of the pancake with the richness of the ricotta proved to be delectable. The homemade lemon curd and fresh strawberries became streams of sunshine in the pillows of delight below, necessitating no syrup (this, too, was expertly provided, warmed up).
I returned two days later to explore the menu further. This time, I opted for one of the juice blends they promote, seasonally named “Summer Blush.” Light, refreshing and crisp, the apple flavor proved to be the main melody in a balanced harmony of watermelon and lemon and a light percussion of mint. It would be difficult to find a complaint with this drink; if it has any faults, it may hint towards being too sweet. However, overall, it is well balanced and the herbal earthiness cuts through the natural sweetness of the fruits perfectly.
I also opted to try two Southern staples: cheesy grits and biscuits and gravy. Don’t order the grits – they are nothing special. Do they taste good? Yes, though slightly bland, they are executed well texture-wise and the butteriness is nice. Save the room for something more special like the bacon, which is singularly excellent.
The biscuits and gravy are a revelation. The use of turkey sausage lightens up this classic dish enough to prevent you from going into an immediate food coma. A Southern grandmother could not make better biscuits. I do not say this lightly being a Southerner, but they are fluffy, buttery and flaky as all good biscuits should be. The lift on the biscuits is just right.
The over medium eggs were ever slightly overcooked, but the main complaint is the presentation of this dish. The biscuits and gravy come in their own vessel, necessitating lifting the eggs into the vessel (because what’s better than a runny yolk adding another dimension to your biscuits and gravy?). The potato hash that came on the side came also expertly cooked with the crispy exterior masking tender bites of love.
Overall, this is a great place for breakfast or brunch in Omaha, living up to the high standards set by Dixie Quicks before it. Next time I return to Omaha, this will certainly be on the short list for revisits.