Cocktails

First Taste: First & Last Is a Phoenix Restaurant With a Love Story

Robb and Ashley Hammond, owners of First & Last.
Robb and Ashley Hammond, owners of First & Last. Kyle Ledeboer of KPL Studios
The story of First & Last, a lively neighborhood restaurant and the newest addition to the historic Gold Spot building on the corner of Roosevelt and Third Avenue, starts with the story of owners Robb and Ashley Hammond.

Robb, who grew up in the Midwest canning and preserving with his mother and grandmother, fell in love with cooking in his 20s. “As an insecure 20-year-old, I liked doing things I was good at,” he says. “I’ve always been able to cook. Also, the people that showed me the most love as a child showed it through food.” He danced around the Chicago food scene, working in the kitchens of luminaries like Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless, and Curtis Duffy before moving to L.A., where he became the regional executive chef for LGO Hospitality’s California properties. It’s also where he met Ashley.

Ashley started working in restaurants at age 16. “I immediately loved the fast pace and how every guest that walked in was another opportunity to make a connection and brighten someone’s day,” says Ashley, who managed local hot spots La Grande Orange and Maple & Ash, as well as The Misfit in L.A., where she met Rob. “I was instantly hooked, and haven’t stopped working in hospitality since,” she adds.
click to enlarge First & Last's cacio e pepe is cheese-and-pepper perfection. - ALLISON YOUNG
First & Last's cacio e pepe is cheese-and-pepper perfection.
Allison Young

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 fall asleep,” reflects their love. “This turned into First & Last over time, a sort of shorthand for how we feel about each other,” says Ashley. “The name reminds me each day that we are in it together.”

First & Last invites you into the Hammonds' story. Step into the modern desert oasis — a welcoming space ripe with pastel hues, playful lighting, big potted plants, and soaring exposed ceilings that is simultaneously bright and airy and industrial-leaning — and you can feel the love that went into it. It's a multi-faceted feast for the eyes, whether at a table, the bar, the chef’s counter, the chic lounge, or on the patio (there’s also a mezzanine called “The Basket” that's perfect for private events and groups), and every seat brings a different perspective with a similar feel. “The layers to the different spaces allow guests to use the space in multiple ways,” says Ashley, who steers date nights to the main dining room, happy hour with friends to the lounge area, and casual weekday dinners to the bar top. “The chef’s counter has been a really fun addition to the space. I feel like the guests who want to sit there are always a blast,” she says.
click to enlarge First & Last is bright and airy, with an added industrial tilt. - ALLISON YOUNG
First & Last is bright and airy, with an added industrial tilt.
Allison Young
The space is lovely, but the real love affair starts with the food. The one-page seasonal menu is refreshing in its simplicity and craveability. Each dish starts with a single ingredient — come-hither carrots that beckon with their brightness, meaty asparagus as thick as it is tender, whole grilled branzino, 28-day aged ribeye — that rises to new levels with jolts of barrel-aged fish sauce, fermented chili chimichurri, preserved Meyer lemons, or smears of robust romesco. “Dishes are driven in my world by one ingredient,” says Robb. “I try and surround that one ingredient with all the things I know that showcase it.”

Chef Robb calls himself a big-picture perfectionist, but the finer points are all there. A starter of grilled asparagus comes armed with creamy garlic tahini and horseradish gremolata for a creamy, crunchy, plate-licking treat. Whipped feta, which arrives looking like art with its array of colorful fruits and vegetables resting on a creamy feta cloud, quickly turns into a mess of dipping delight. The deliciously unfussy cacio e pepe transforms spaghetti, pecorino Romano, and black pepper into a mesmerizingly creamy plate of pasta under a blizzard of grated cheese. Clams come bathed in an herby, buttery, Sauvignon-spiked broth that you’ll happily sop up with the accompanying big piece of grilled bread. Echoing the experiences of his childhood, Robb shows love through food.
click to enlarge Take The Scenic Route at First & Last for a flowery, not-too-sweet sip. - ALLISON YOUNG
Take The Scenic Route at First & Last for a flowery, not-too-sweet sip.
Allison Young
The cocktail menu, designed by Cody Dickerson, shows the same refined restraint, skipping gimmicks for seasonal ingredients and playful spirits. Take The Scenic Route, which combines pisco, elderflower, Peychaud's, and sparkling wine for a light, bright, floral sip. Things get boozier with the Fountain of Youth, a strawberry gin, bianco vermouth vehicle with notes of basil that’s more on the savory side. “Cody’s currently working on a strawberry and pickled-rhubarb spritz for the summer that we’ll be adding to the menu soon,” notes Ashley.

The wine list is also meant to evolve and rotate, with selections by the glass and bottle that are neither standard nor trendy. “Some current favorites are a killer rosé out of Germany that’s got strawberry notes and great acidity, and a Txakolina out of Spain made by high school sweethearts who traveled the world together before returning to the Basque Country and starting a winery. 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 Italian after-dinner digestif. 
click to enlarge First & Last's whole grilled branzino is as tasty as it is impressive. - ALLISON YOUNG
First & Last's whole grilled branzino is as tasty as it is impressive.
Allison Young

When you’re all done and the bill arrives, you’ll be properly full. But beyond the empty plates, there’s a feeling of true satisfaction. “Service is what you provide; hospitality is how you make people feel,” says Ashley. “We operate under the belief that everyone who walks through our doors is an invited guest, and we aim to make them feel that way.” A love story from first to last.

First & Last
1001 North Third Avenue
602-975-8297
firstandlastphx.com
Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday
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Allison Young has written about food, nutrition, and travel for Sunset, Women’s Health, Oxygen, Clean Eating, Mindbodygreen, and Prevention. Her local jam is food writing, where she happily eats her way across the Valley to discover the best hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, pizza joints, and the latest Phoenix food trends. She also loves to pick Valley chef’s brains for their favorite food finds. On her website, TheGlitterList.com, she posts one thing she’s looking forward to each day, from food to books and podcasts.
Contact: Allison Young