The story of First Lasta bustling neighborhood restaurant and the newest addition to the historic Gold Spot building at the corner of Roosevelt and Third Avenue, begins with the story of owners Robb and Ashley Hammond.
Robb, who grew up canning and canning in the Midwest with his mother and grandmother, fell in love with cooking in his twenties. “As an insecure 20-year-old, I liked doing things I was good at,” he says. “I have always known how to cook. Also, the people who showed me the most love when I was a kid showed it through food. He danced around the Chicago dining scene, working in the kitchens of luminaries like Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless and Curtis Duffy before moving to Los Angeles, where he became regional executive chef for LGO Hospitality’s California properties. This is also where he met Ashley.
Ashley started working in restaurants when she was 16. “I immediately loved the fast pace and how each guest that came in was another opportunity to bond and brighten someone’s day,” says Ashley, who ran local hotspots La Grande Orange and Maple & Ash, as well as The Misfit in Los Angeles, where she met Rob. “I was hooked right away and I haven’t stopped working in the hotel industry ever since,” she adds.
After falling in love with restaurants, the two fell in love with each other. Now husband and wife, even the name First & Last, as in “the first thing I think about when I wake up” and “the last thing I think about before I go to sleep”, reflects their love. “It turned into first and last over time, kind of a shorthand for how we feel about each other,” Ashley explains. “The name reminds me every day that we’re in it together.”
First & Last invites you into the history of the Hammonds. Step into the modern desert oasis – an inviting space with pastel hues, playful lighting, large potted plants and high exposed ceilings that are at once bright, airy and industrial-leaning – and you can feel the love who entered it. It’s a multifaceted feast for the eyes, whether at the table, at the bar, at the chef’s counter, in the chic lounge, or on the terrace (there is also a mezzanine called “Le Panier” perfect for private events and groups), and each seat brings a different perspective with a similar feel. “The layers of the different spaces allow guests to use the space in multiple ways,” says Ashley, who runs date nights in the main dining room, happy hour with friends in the lounge, and dinner parties. relaxed on weekdays at the bar. “The chef’s counter was a really fun addition to the space. I feel like guests who want to sit there are always happy,” she says.
The space is lovely, but the real love story begins with the food. The one-page seasonal menu is refreshing in its simplicity and craving. Each dish starts with a single ingredient – carrots that entice with their sparkle, meaty asparagus that’s as thick as they are tender, grilled whole branzino, 28-day aged rib eye – that reaches new heights with shakes of aged fish sauce cask, fermented chimichurri chile, candied Meyer lemons, or smears of robust romesco. “In my world, dishes are driven by a single ingredient,” says Robb. “I try to surround that ingredient with all the things I know that enhance it.”
Chef Robb calls himself a perfectionist, but the subtleties are all there. A grilled asparagus entrée is armed with creamy garlicky tahini and horseradish gremolata for a creamy, crunchy, plate-licking treat. Whipped feta, which looks like art with its array of colorful fruits and vegetables resting on a cloud of creamy feta, quickly turns into a mess of deliciousness. The deliciously simple cacio e pepe transforms spaghetti, pecorino romano and black pepper into a mesmerizing plate of creamy pasta under a blizzard of grated cheese. The clams are bathed in a broth of herbs, butter and sauvignon that you will swallow with pleasure with the large piece of toast that accompanies it. Echoing his childhood experiences, Robb shows love through food.
The cocktail menu, designed by Cody Dickerson, shows the same refined restraint, skipping the gimmicks for seasonal ingredients and playful spirits. Take The Scenic Route, which combines pisco, elderflower, Peychaud and sparkling wine for a light, bright and floral sip. Things get boozier with the Fountain of Youth, a vehicle of strawberry gin, bianco vermouth with basil notes that are more on the savory side. “Cody is currently working on a pickled strawberry and rhubarb spritz for the summer that we will be adding to the menu soon,” notes Ashley.
The wine list is also intended to be evolving and rotating, with selections by the glass and by the bottle that are neither standard nor trendy. “Some current favorites are a killer rosé from Germany that has strawberry notes and great acidity, and a Txakolina from Spain made by high school sweethearts who traveled the world together before returning to the Basque Country and starting a cellar. It’s light, bright and semi-sparkling,” says Ashley. There are also local beers, sours and ciders on tap, plus a surprise guest: “You can’t visit First & Last without trying Montenegro on tap,” Robb says of the after-dinner Italian digestif.
When you’re done and the bill comes, you’ll be well satisfied. But beyond the empty plates, there is a feeling of real satisfaction. “Service is what you provide; hospitality is how people feel,” says Ashley. “We believe that everyone who walks through our doors is a guest, and we aim to make them feel that way.” A love story from start to finish.
1001 Third Avenue North
Opening hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; closed monday and tuesday