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I’ve been giving lots of attention to tasty brunch menus of late, highlighting a few favorite dishes at some of the area’s locally owned restaurants.

But I’m telling you, folks, don’t sleep on First Watch.

Yes, it’s a chain, but it has the feel of a local café and serves up consistently fresh and fantastic breakfast, brunch and lunch creations near the corner of Quarrier and Summers streets downtown. Healthy ones, too, if you so desire.

Besides an awesome lineup of soups, sandwiches, salads and burritos for lunch, breakfast options run the gamut from hot oatmeal, fresh fruit, yogurt parfaits and smoothies to specialty pancakes, waffles, crepes and a whole host of savory egg dishes.

Current seasonal breakfast specials include Crab & Avocado Toast served with two cage-free eggs, a Triple Berry Açaí Bowl and Huevos Rancheros Tostados, along with the ever-popular hardwood-smoked Million Dollar Bacon baked with brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne and a maple syrup drizzle.

But my current obsession is the infinitely satisfying A.M. Superfoods Bowl full of creamy coconut milk chia seed pudding topped with fresh sliced bananas, berries, blackberry preserves and crunchy house-made granola, served with a side of whole-grain toast topped with a smear of almond butter and a sprinkle of coarse Maldon sea salt.

I promise it will get your day off to a delicious, healthy start.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love starting my day at local gems like Mea Cuppa, Café Crema, Starlings Coffee & Provisions and Taylor Books. But in a city with surprisingly few locally owned restaurants that serve a full breakfast menu, I have no problem adding First Watch to my rotation.

It’s just plain good. Every single time.

IF YOU GO: First Watch, 164 Summers St. in Charleston, is open from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. For more information, call 304-343-3447 or visit www.firstwatch.com/locations/charleston.

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Another recent food quest has taken me in search of great winter soups, and I discovered another this weekend during an impromptu dinner at Barkadas at the base of Fort Hill.

I stopped in just to have a drink on my way home Friday night, but the place was so hopping (and so full of all the good smells) that I ended up calling the family to come meet me there for dinner as well.

There, I enjoyed I really nice cabbage and pork soup before digging into one of my favorite Barakadas dishes, the sautéed mushroom bowl full of fresh ’shrooms locally grown by Hernshaw Farms and tossed with seasoned pancit noodles.

Just how fresh? After placing my order, the chef brought out a platter of just-received mushrooms to show me the gorgeous bounty he was about to use to make my dish. Now that’s cool.

Despite occasionally being a tad or a ton too salty — a recurring problem I’ve noticed with this dish — it’s one of the area’s best when it nails that savory salty seasoning balance.

And bringing things back full circle here, Barkadas is also quickly becoming a new brunch favorite thanks to a creative menu offered both Saturdays and Sundays.

Current options include Filipino Style Shrimp & Grits with longanisa sausage gravy, chicken and pearl sugar waffles topped with candied jalapenos and spiced honey whipped butter, a breakfast burger with house-made tomato-jalapeno jam, and a Spam Burrito with green chili queso, spicy pickle and fried egg, stuffed with either coconut ginger rice or home-fried potatoes.

That’s good eatin’.

IF YOU GO: Barkadas, 100 Cantley Dr. in Charleston, is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. (Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.) For more information, call 681-205-8051, visit www.barkadasrestaurant.com or check out the restaurant’s Facebook page.

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While COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the restaurant industry and local food events, some community groups are hustling to find new ways to host alternative versions of popular gatherings.

The latest is FestivALL’s annual beer vs. wine pairing dinner, a lively affair that usually packs Berry Hills Country Club each winter. This year, the local arts organization has teamed up with 1010 Bridge Restaurant in South Hills to offer “FeastivALL To-Go” dinners on March 15-16.

Each ticket buyer will receive a three-course gourmet meal to go, along with a can of beer and a half-bottle of wine to pair with the main course – plus pairing suggestions for the salad and dessert courses.

Supporting a worthy cause while enjoying a great meal makes this a slam-dunk already, but more perks await.

Participants also receive three handmade items from FestivALL Art Fair artisans (a wooden serving board, a pottery ramekin and an original painting on a mini canvas) along with a link to a video featuring “Wine Boy” John Brown and “Beer Guy” Rich Ireland discussing the pairings they’ve chosen to accompany your meal.

Special VIP tickets also include delivery of the meal packages as well.

The fine folks at FeastivALL have offered me a sneak taste of the night’s three courses in the coming days, so stay tuned for a bite-by-bite review of what awaits!

Tickets, which are $125 per person or $150 with delivery included, go on sale today at www.festivallcharleston.com.

Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as “WV Food Guy.” He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.