Watch and learn

The breakfast quest continues… Hubby’s been going into work at noon on Wednesdays, a schedule that lends itself nicely to a weekly breakfast date. This morning’s destination? First Watch, a newly opened breakfast/brunch/lunch joint on 86th Street just across from Keystone at the Crossing.

First Watch exterior

Part of a Florida-based franchise, First Watch roosts in the corner spot of the strip mall, on the end near Shanghai Lil. This is the company’s first foray into Indiana, and plans for several additional locations are in the works around town.

We arrived mid-morning mid-week, and the place was doing a fairly brisk business. It’s bigger than I expected with tall ceilings, a black chalkboard on the wall for specials, semi-retro booths and table seating including a tall eight-top with tall stools in the corner, and cheery details like colorful albeit generic art of coffee cups. Imagine a cross between Denny’s and Panera and you’re on the right track. The orange tulip-ish light fixtures and the rectangular vases filled with tall grasses anchored in beds of coffee beans were interesting touches.

The menu covers the usual breakfast bases — eggs, omelets, several varieties of hash, pancakes, some healthy items, and variations on something called a “crepegg.” Quite a few ingredients and recipes, though, are a step up from ordinary bacon, eggs and cheese. For instance, omelet selections include any number of elevated fillings along the lines of chorizo, avocado, spicy chicken, crimini mushrooms and roasted zucchini. First Watch seem to hit a lot of Americanized international flavors; I counted Mexican, Cajun, Greek, French and Italian themed choices among the omelets alone. There are also nods to First Watch’s Florida roots in names like the Floridian French Toast and the Siesta Key Cocktail yogurt parfait.

We started off with coffee, which was your meh standard drip served in a carafe. Hubby drinks his black with a little sugar, but I need some dairy to mellow mine out. Alas, I had to resort to the single-serving non-refrigerated creamers from a small bowl on the table. I’m sure they’re cost-efficient for restaurants, but these things should be outlawed in my opinion. Dairy that doesn’t need refrigeration is disturbing, and it tastes like crap. This is without a doubt my biggest dining-out-for-breakfast pet peeve. I suppose I could have asked for some fresh milk or Half and Half, but I hate having to. Restaurants that sweat the small details should just automatically serve it, or at least ask diners if they’d like fresh creamer.

Via Veneto omelet

Anyhoo, hubby ordered the Via Veneto omelet. Curious, I asked for a Key West Crepegg. The food arrived hot and promptly. Serving sizes were good, not ginormous but certainly generous. Hubby loved the flavorful Italian sausage in his omelet, and the roasted red peppers, tomatoes, herbs and cheese all played very nicely together in their egg wrapper. A complaint, though — hubby HATES onions. (I believe I might have mentioned this once or twice?) When he ordered his omelet, he specifically asked whether or not it contained onions, and the server said no. We’ve learned the hard way it’s always good to double-check. However, when his plate arrived, the accompanying cubed potatoes were peppered through with — you guessed it — onions. You’d think maybe the server might have picked up on this and said something when he was ordering??? Sigh. This happens to us a lot. You wouldn’t believe how often. Why reassure him there are no onions in the main dish if you’re only going to stealth-bomb him with the little suckers in a side or on a salad? He doesn’t like onions, people. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand and get right.

My Key West Crepegg (pronounced “crepe egg” FYI) was tasty. Honestly, I’d forgotten it was a crepe at all. It arrived at the table looking like a flat omelet, and it wasn’t until I dug in that I remembered it was a crepe. A thick, eggy, slightly sweet crepe that made a good foil for the turkey, avocado, bacon, cheese and tomato housed within. It was also topped with sour cream and served with a little ramekin of housemade salsa that I loved. There’s really nothing about this omelet that screams “Key West,” though. When you say Florida Keys, I automatically think of key limes, coconuts, seafood and rum runners. I also got a side of the same cubed potatoes with onions, as well as a basic English muffin.

Key West crepegg

Other than the onion hiccup, service was attentive and friendly. Almost too much so. I can appreciate that this is a new restaurant and the staff is working hard to make a good impression, but at a couple points, I felt like we were being watched like a hawk for any opportunity to swoop in and ask if we needed anything. Still, I suppose this is much better than being ignored and having to flag someone down.

So, while we had a decent meal at First Watch, I can’t say there was anything about it that really knocked my socks off. I may go back and try it again for lunch sometime. Prices are pretty much in line with Denny’s or IHOP; our bill for two was right under $30. Always nice to have another breakfast option in town, but Café Patachou and Taste are still holding rank at the top of my list.

For more information:

First Watch on Urbanspoon

Duck, duck… Goose!

There’s a neighborhood deli here in Indianapolis called Goose the Market that’s been on my radar for awhile now. Lunch today with my friend Amy seemed a great excuse to give it a test drive.

Goose the Market is a tiny place nestled into a storefront along Delaware at 25th Street, right along the way home for many downtown commuters. There’s a liquor store directly across the street that was doing a stonking business during our noontime visit, and although the area is still what you’d consider urban, it’s undergone a ton of renovation during the past decade to improve housing opportunities. Part of those efforts included the addition of a handful of local businesses.

Goose is celebrating its second anniversary, and appears to be doing just fine in this location. The place seems to bill itself as a market first and restaurant second. The claim-to-fame is obviously the cured meats; there is an impressive selection behind the glass counter priced by the pound, along with a small but well-considered array of cheeses, fish and olives.

In addition to all that, Goose offers local produce, the freshest baguettes I’ve seen this side of France, and a soda fridge full of out-of-the-ordinary offerings. Bottles of Abita root beer, Traders Point Creamery milk and Sprecher sodas. Nice touch! Don’t miss a visit to the cellar to browse Goose’s creative inventory of beer, wine and gourmet foodie spices, sauces and other items. I may have to make a special trip back just for some of the bourbon smoked paprika…

Glancing at the store’s web site, I see they manage a “Bacon of the Month Club.” Hello! It’s the gift that keeps on giving!!! They’ll be glad to cook up a holiday turkey for you as well, and home cooks (like myself) will be pleased to hear that you can drop off your knives there for sharpening once a month.

But back to lunch. The menu is limited to a handful of sandwiches, a soup and some baked goods. The owner knows what he does well and sticks to it. No fault there. This is a perfect example of a business that’s found its niche. As my friend Amy is a vegetarian, though, I worried for a second that she wouldn’t be able to find something to order amid all that meat. However, the staff was very friendly and accommodating, and able to steer her toward appropriate options. She ended up with a baguette filled with smoked salmon, but said it could have used a little something to kick up the flavor just a bit – dill or capers perhaps? She vowed to go for the salmon pastrami next time.

Named for Mario’s dad, a meat-curing master in his own right who operates a shop in Seattle, the “Batali” seems to be the sandwich of choice here. That’s what I got, and it’s a doozie consisting of three kinds of Italian salami, provolone, lettuce, spicy giardinara, sweet tomato preserves, mayo and pickled onion. If that sounds like a lot to cram onto one narrow swatch of baguette, it is, but it works.

The meats and cheese are sliced super thin and the fillings aren’t slathered on so thickly that you have to unhinge your jaw to take a bite. The giardinara has an addictive kick of heat; I kept picking pieces off to nibble as I made my way through the rest of the sandwich. Apparently, the culinary powers that be agree – the Batali made a top 10 short list of best sandwiches across the country in Bon Appetit magazine.

Is it the best sandwich I ever ate? I don’t know that I’d say that, but it was certainly good. And at $6.95, the value was very fair – it was a filling two-parter full of fresh, delicious ingredients. For my next visit, I’m already daydreaming about the “Goose,” a concoction of Prosciutto di Parma, basil, fresh mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil.

Can’t forget the gelato – there’s a mouthwatering collection of 10 or so gelato flavors, and samples are allowed before you decide on your choice. I got a small cup of the limoncello flavor; Amy chose the Swiss chocolate. Both were scrumptious in totally different ways. The chocolate was rich and creamy, while the lemon was light and nearly floral. It’s hard to find gelato in Indy, and I’m glad to know it’s available here.

Space is tight at Goose the Market if you plan on eating in. Like, five-barstools-lining-a-window tiny, along with a scattering of outdoor tables. Too cold to consider al fresco today, so Amy and I ended up eating our sandwiches standing up. We did snag two vacated stools as we lingered over our gelato. Most customers got their orders to go.

I will definitely come back here again with hubby in tow. He loves proscuitto, and will think he’s died and gone to ham heaven. (Don’t tell him, but I picked up a six-pack of Kolsch beer for him as a surprise…)

This little piggy went to market

Ah, another day, another market… you’ve gotta love Paris.

We saw the stands being erected for a street market on one of the streets shooting off from Bastille while we were walking around in search of Valentine’s Day dinner. Sure enough, the next day it was teeming with vendors and throngs of shoppers. This market was a little more spacious than the one we came across up by the Eiffel Tower the other day, but no less busy or impressive.

We spent a happy half hour or so wandering up and down the stalls, checking out the wares. Mountains of sumptuous strawberries, oceans of fish the likes of which we’ve never even heard of, bins of olives, honey, hats, purses — you name it. It’s too bad the weather isn’t a little bit warmer, I found myself yearning to assemble the perfect picnic and seek out the nearest garden.


the Bastille street market

the Bastille street market

As an quick aside – Even the terms of endearment here are food-related. One such example, people call their children and loved ones “mon petit chou,” which literally means “my little cabbage.” How cute is that!

Earlier in the morning, the baby and I hoofed it over to the supermarket to pick up some rations and supplies. As we passed a high school tour group, I heard two of the girls catching sight of us and cooing about what a cute little French baby I had! The ultimate compliment! Could we really be passing for locals?!?!

I’m afraid I committed a cardinal sin – I stopped into Starbucks. Hubby cringes as I write this. As a seasoned traveler, it is nearly unforgivable to him to frequent an American chain establishment when there are so many local authentic French cafes in proximity. I justified my actions by reasoning that I just wanted a cup to go on the way to the store. Plus, I knew the coffee would be consistent. Starbucks, alas, is the same everywhere. Disappointingly, quite a few cafes seem to serve coffee out of a machine, not the good perked kind you’d expect. 

So anyway, I ordered my grande latte and asked for directions to the supermarket, then went on my way. However, in wheeling the baby stroller over cobbled stones and streets, half of my coffee ended up sloshing out all over the pram. Divine justice, perhaps?

After a spin through the market, hubby offered to take the baby off my hands for a few hours so I could enjoy a visit to Sacre Coeur. My favorite sight on my last trip to Paris four years ago, I was really looking forward to a return visit to the scenic spot. I’d really hoped hubby would want to join me, but he declined and in retrospect, I’m glad he did. The stairs and crowds would have been difficult to navigate with the baby in tow. So, I hopped on the Metro and was on my way. 

Coming off the Metro in Montmartre, I got a little confused. For starters, the exit itself entailed about three flights of stairs up a narrow winding staircase. Ugh. By the time I and my fellow Metro-ers emerged into the daylight, we were huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf. The spiraling stairs disoriented me and I didn’t immediately see any directional signs to the cathedral, so I ended up setting off in the wrong direction. Fortunately, a big looping turn through a pretty residential area (more uphill climbing) deposited me where I needed to be. 

The white domes of Sacre Coeur gleam from the hillside like a sentinel, and although it was slightly hazy, I imagine that in the sunlight they shine as if they’ve been kissed by heaven itself. As noisy and thronged as the exterior of the cathedral is, the interior is reverent and quiet the second you step in the door. The sanctuary literally took my breath away, it’s hard to believe this kind of beauty actually exists. The sun streamed through the stained glass windows to illuminate the faces of the visitors below. Talk about a religious experience in the truest meaning of the word… I’m not Catholic, but it’s impossible not to feel in God’s presence here and I found myself reciting a silent prayer. I lit a candle in honor of my mom and one for my father-in-law as well and left feeling spiritually renewed. 

Once you step back outside into reality, the commercial side of Paris tourism slaps you in the face. The crowds here are unbelievable – groups of people in all shapes and sizes speaking every language under the sun, cameras and tour guides in hand. A duo of Polish wannabe rappers were accosting the eardrums of passersby with their boom box and their self-promoted street show, which as far as I could tell consisted of a few So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance-style hip thrusts, some juggling, and a lot of hype.

Hungry, I made my way slightly off the main souvenir shop drag into a cafe for a snack. The Six Nations rugby tournament was this weekend, and I found myself seated next to a table full of enthusiastic and loyal Scots, both the men and women decked out in kilts. I ordered a Croque Monsieur sandwich and my first Coke in about a week. Croque Monsieur is another French menu mainstay; you can find them in almost any cafe or bistro. It’s basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but this being France and all, they find a way to make it richer and more decadent. The cheese is added on top of the bread, along with a little bit of creamy bechamel sauce, and then the whole thing is broiled. When’s the last time you had a grilled cheese that required a knife and fork? Delish. You can even get it topped with a fried egg, in which case it becomes a Croque Madame. (A reference to ovaries perhaps??)

Unlike in America where your food often arrives with a whole slew of condiments, the standard food adornment here is mustard. Servers bring a little carrier to your table that contains salt, pepper, and a small jar of spicy Dijon. And when I say spicy, I mean SPICY. This stuff will clear your sinuses and make your eyes water if you take too much. It’s yummy in small doses, though. Also, there seems to be one kind of salad dressing here and one kind only – a creamy tangy dijon vinaigrette. Don’t even think about asking for Ranch.

Hubby and I decided our tummies and our wallets needed a little break from dining out, so I embarked upon operation Cook-At-Home tonight, a real adventure in a kitchen the size of a closet. Two electric burners and a tiny cutting board made cooking here feel like a Top Chef challenge, but I managed ok. The knives, pots, pans and tools here are sparse, but what we do have is of the highest quality, so that helped matters quite a bit.

I’d stocked up at the store for spaghetti with a sort-of Bolognese sauce. The electric burner took about 20 minutes to boil a pot of water for my pasta, but that was the most difficult hurdle I had to overcome. I jazzed up a bottle of store-bought marinara sauce with some hamburger, mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes. With a side salad and some fresh baguette, it wasn’t bad. It felt good to cook, but I really found myself missing my arsenal of spices from back home. I had also picked up a bottle of Cotes du Rhone at the grocery for 2.40 euros, and was pleasantly surprised to find the quality on par with much of the wine we drink back home at three or four times the price.

our first home-cooked meal in Paris

our first home-cooked meal in Paris

As I sit here writing this, it’s cold and misty outside, yet here I am, safely ensconced in a cozy little cafe with a cup of cafe au lait cooling on my table and a view of the Bastille monument just outside the window. At the table next to me, a stylish older woman feeds a small Yorkie terrier tiny pieces of sausage off her plate.

Ah, les Francais….