Only a few coffeehouses in St. Louis are serious enough to roast their own coffee. At a time when dilettante entrepreneurs, hoping to cash in on the trend, rent a space, throw in a coffee-grinding machine, hire a couple of groovy-looking baristas and call it a coffeehouse, Boyle and Maher have taken the long and painstaking approach. They started with the purchase of an old storefront and took a few years converting it to an elegant space for coffee drinking, pastry noshing and all the conviviality that goes with it. To their credit, they kept the ornate metal ceiling like it was 70 years ago. They resurrected a handsome floor of quarter-sawn pine from beneath scabrous linoleum tiles. They put in smart fixtures and halogen lighting, hung tasteful coffee-related prints. The resulting look-and-feel is a cross between a West Coast café and an Italian espresso bar. Of course, they still use Midwestern water for brewing. It's hard to get around that.
The owners met at Washington University Medical Center, where they work. Boyle, a physician, is co-director of the surgical intensive care unit, and Maher is a senior research technologist. They share a love of good coffee -- the sign on the door to their lab reads "Bohemian Espresso Bar and Vascular Biology Laboratory" -- and a passion to convert others. During the renovation and before the first customer ever took a sip of the house blend, Boyle and Maher were learning coffee. They talked with roasters and importers, attended seminars on the selecting, roasting and brewing of coffee beans. "We went into this as purists," says Boyle. "Quite simply, our goal was to import and roast the best coffee."
Shaw's Coffee, next to Viviano's, is open daily. Having just passed their first year, they have already attracted a following -- that is, the dozen or so cushions, stools and plush chairs are usually taken most mornings. The Hill is not a high-traffic area, but as word of mouth spreads, things are looking better. "We're presently a break-even venture," says Boyle, who works the counter on Saturdays, "and have yet to do any serious advertising." Not bad for what both owners refer to as "a hobby run amok."
-- Wm. Stage
First Watch offers a welcome alternative.
This pleasant, casual restaurant, which opened at the end of June off Olive Boulevard in Chesterfield, is open from 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and serves only breakfast, lunch and brunch. Its menu contains both an extensive list of healthier offerings and some true comfort food. A pitcher of icewater is standard on every table, and, for coffee drinkers, so is a bottomless carafe.
The menu contains generous servings of standard breakfast fare, like omelettes served with potatoes and an English muffin; made-from-scratch French toast, pancakes and Belgian waffles; and "sensational skillets," made with potatoes topped with melted cheese, eggs and such things as ham and mushrooms or avocado, bacon and onion or diced vegetables. For the health-conscious, there's the "tri-athlete omelette," with egg whites, mushrooms, onion, tomato, green chiles and low-fat cheese, or the fresh-fruit crê pes, two thin crê pes wrapped around fresh fruit and topped with strawberry yogurt, cinnamon and sugar.
More unusual items are also featured, like the turkey dill "crepeggs" -- a crê pe whipped with eggs and wrapped around diced turkey, mushrooms, fresh spinach, onions and Monterey Jack cheese, then covered with hollandaise, tomatoes and dill.
For lunch, there's a host of salads -- Greek, caesar, Cobb -- as well as unusual ones like Won's Oriental, which features teriyaki chicken breast, water chestnuts and cashews, sautéed in a sweet-and-sour dressing and piled on top of greens and crunchy oriental noodles. Sandwiches run the gamut from a chicken-salad melt -- with water chestnuts, raisins and celery on grilled multigrain bread with melted cheese and tomato -- to a BLT with a fried egg and cheese.
The chain's first restaurant opened 18 years ago on the bay in Monterey, Calif. -- where it derived its name and logo for the "first watch" in the morning -- after one of First Watch's partners heard about a guy who opened a strictly breakfast-and-lunch restaurant in Colorado because he wanted time to ski the slopes. The concept worked.
Ron Hendrix, a vice president of the Sarasota, Fla.-based company, says some people doubted whether a restaurant could succeed without serving dinner or alcohol, "but it provides us with a niche we can concentrate on." The company now has 35 locations in Florida, Arizona, Ohio, California and Missouri, including eight restaurants in the Kansas City area. Hendrix says First Watch is planning to open as many as four to eight restaurants in St. Louis. He is currently in lease negotiations for another site in Creve Coeur. Prices range from $2.75 for biscuits and gravy to $6.50 for an "Acapulco Express" omelette. There's also a kids' menu.
-- Laura Higgins