• Steven Keith

1st Place Café in Nitro serves up a first-rate chicken sandwich

Superlatives are thrown around a lot these days – too much, actually – especially when it comes to restaurants and food.

Nashville Blue Hot Chicken Sandwich from 1st Place Cafe
Nashville Blue Hot Chicken Sandwich from 1st Place Cafe







Thanks to the explosion of social media, EVERYONE is now a food critic, constantly posting a stream of photos and comments touting “the best burger ever” or “the most amazing steak of my life!” Even if said life-changing filet came from a run-of-the-mill chain whose food is mediocre at best.


I’m not mad about it, because we all have our own tastes and preferences, and I’ve been guilty of doing the same while being swept up in a moment of culinary hedonism.


This thing is a BEAST!
This thing is a BEAST!

I do, however, try to be much more cautious in making such claims. I may enjoy a salad that is ridiculously fresh, creative and delicious, but is it really the BEST salad on the planet? Isn’t saying that it’s amazing and memorable and highly recommended worthy enough praise without all the hyperbole?


Every dish can’t be the best ever, and swearing otherwise is like the boy who cried wolf. No one will believe a word you say over time.


But believe me when I say this: The Nashville Blue Chicken Sandwich at 1st Place Café in Nitro is one of the most EPIC sandwiches I’ve had in a very long time.


Best sandwich? No. Most creative and delicious? No. One of the most epic? Without a doubt!


Here’s what makes it so: For starters, it’s as big around as a saucer and stands some 5-6” tall. (Think about that size for a second.) Even bigger is its flavor, which is heavy on the heat, but in a way that compliments – without masking – everything else tucked in its bun.


Yes, this is a "side" of fries!
Yes, this is a "side" of fries!

A giant double-breaded crispy chicken breast is smothered in glistening Nashville hot butter and placed on a locally made toasted kaiser roll. It’s then topped with spicy mayo, crisp lettuce, cool tomatoes, red onions, jalapeno pickles and blue cheese sauce, to create a spicy, creamy, crunchy, crispy, cool explosion of tastes in every bite.


As giant as this sandwich is, it still gets dwarfed by the towering mound of fries that come with it. These babies – piled impossibly high and spilling off the tray – are hand-cut daily, fried in peanut oil and tossed in a special blend of dry spices to create French fry perfection.


All of the restaurant’s sauces and such are made fresh in-house daily. Everything but the mustard and ketchup, they boast, and it shows.


Bacon cheese steak burger from 1st Place Cafe
Bacon cheese steak burger from 1st Place Cafe

It’s a small place, though, so be prepared to wait a bit and don’t expect a full-on restaurant experience. You walk in, place your order at the register, then take a seat while your food is prepared fresh to order.


It’ll take a while, but is worth the wait. Granted, I haven’t had anything else on 1st Place Café’s small menu yet, but the steak burgers, bacon cheeseburgers, hot dogs and chicken plates I saw on adjacent tables looked really enticing.


I also witnessed some of the most impeccable and friendliest customer service I’ve seen in recent memory, with the only guy working the register and serving all food going above and beyond to take care of every customer as if they were his only customer. It really was a sight to see.


More superlatives, I know, but true and well-deserved.


Remember all of those burgeoning food critics I mentioned on social media earlier? They’re also gushing over this unassuming place that’s doing big things in a small space. And the origin of the café’s name? They’re striving to be the “first place you think of” when you’re looking for a great sandwich in Nitro.


They’ve got my vote!

  • IF YOU GO: 1st Place Café at 800 8th St. in Nitro is open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday-Monday. (Closed Tuesday-Wednesday.) For more information, call 304-759-9026 or visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.

• • •


If you’ve got a craving to celebrate good food while supporting an equally good cause, tomorrow night’s Community Culinary Showcase fundraiser at the Charleston Convention Center & Coliseum may fit the bill.


House-made jalapeno pickles from 1st Place Cafe
House-made jalapeno pickles from 1st Place Cafe

Throughout the evening, guests will have the opportunity to watch local food and drink processionals prepare signature items right before their eyes, while offering some tips and tricks of the trade.


Confirmed chef participants tomorrow night include Evan Wilson from Ichiban, Jeremy Sprouse from The Lookout, Kerry Martin from Karubee’s, Michael and Rachel Ervin from Coal River Coffee, Camron Cordon from Phat Daddy’s on Da’ Tracks, Morgan Morrison from Rock City Bakery, Stephanie Kraus from Valley Cakes & Café, Chef Ke from Keekreationzzz, Anthony Wilkins from Gourmet Fast, Dennis Harris from Edgewood Country Club, plus a representative from Casa Garcia and culinary instructors Thomas Grant and Mandy Gum from Carver Career Center.


Beginning at 5:30 p.m., the event will feature a pre-party mixer until 6:15 pm, which is when demonstrations and tastings begin, along with a silent auction and music.


Chef April Hamilton
Chef April Hamilton

Selected dishes prepared that night will be reviewed by a panel of celebrity judges, including local chef Paul Smith and cookbook author and former Charleston Gazette-Mail food writer, April Hamilton, who is making a visit back to Charleston for the event. Those awards will be presented from 8:30-9 p.m.


(I’m humbled that I was asked to join Paul and April at the judging table but, alas, I am eating and drinking my way through food-mecca Asheville, NC, on vacation this week.)


Tickets are $75 each, with proceeds benefiting culinary scholarships at Carver Career Center in Malden. You can purchase them at https://charleston-coliseum-convention-center.square.site/.


• • •


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. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.

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