Dining out: Despite some plusses, few seem drawn to lakefront venue

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It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in July, too hot to go outside, so I’m sitting around with my family, enjoying a quiet lunch. The TV is on, but we aren’t really watching. I’m gazing out the window, trying to decide if I can get away with a post-lunch nap.

We’re not at home, however.

We are, rather, lunching at The Watershed, which describes itself as “Tempe’s Lakeside Kitchen, Patio and Bar.” Maybe, but on this particular day, Tempe doesn’t seem aware of it. Along with me, my wife and my daughter, another couple is having lunch a few booths away. And there’s one guy sitting at the bar. This, as far as I can tell, is all of Tempe that has shown up at The Watershed today—in other words, fewer customers than employees.

Why would this be? Not because of the view, anyway. The Watershed is situated in The Lakes, and the airy dining room offers a view of, you know, a lake. It’s pleasant to stare at as you eat.

The food isn’t the problem either. The wife’s burger comes on a slightly routine bun, but the patty itself is acceptably cooked and tasty, and the fries on the side are hearty. Similarly, I could wish that my Portobello Mushroom sandwich came on a fresher excuse for a French roll, but the innards of the sandwich—goat cheese and red peppers with greens, and the fine fungus itself—were sufficiently tasty. The meal isn’t a home run, but it’s a solid triple.

Nor can our service be faulted. Our waiter Kyle is attentive and funny, and the kitchen has put together a first-rate Caesar salad to accommodate my vegetarian kid, even though it’s not on the menu.

So with a nice view, acceptable food and at least one excellent server, why isn’t The Watershed jumping?

Part of the problem could be the location, a little off the beaten paths and main drags of Tempe. This gives the place a hideaway feel that seems to be part of its charm, but also makes it, well, hidden away, no doubt to its commercial disadvantage.

Even beyond this, however, something or other is a little off about The Watershed. There’s a sense that we’re dining before the place has really opened—the waitstaff are still mopping the floors, and there are high-top tables nearby with the chairs still upturned on them.

A door to a private office stands open by the entrance the whole time we’re there. And even with lunchtime customers seemingly an endangered species, no manager stops by to ask us how the meal is. Nothing is glaringly wrong, and Kyle makes us feel welcome enough, but something about the atmosphere makes us feel like unexpected drop-ins rather than invited guests.

In the year or so that the place has been open, seems like this is one basic management essential that could (should!) have been implemented somewhere closer to Day One.

Even with what we considered some such inexplicable oversights, we finish our meal with an indulgent dessert: a Brownie Sundae topped with Ghirardelli chocolate and vanilla ice cream. It’s as we’re finishing this that I decide I can—indeed I must— have an afternoon nap.

The Watershed is on Lakeshore Drive south of Baseline Road in Tempe.

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