Communal Dining in Yarmouth
By Michaela Cavallaro
Photographed by Ted Axelrod
189 Main St., Yarmouth
If you care about good food made from local, sustainable ingredients, Maine is the place to be. Trouble is, the restaurants that do farm-to-table best hover at the high end of the price range, particularly in Greater Portland. Matt Chappell wanted to change all that. “I’ve got a family of four, and it can be expensive to go out,” says Chappell. “I wanted to create a place where, if you don’t want to cook one night, you could share a pizza and a salad without spending an arm and a leg.”
Thus, Gather, which opened in an 1860s Masonic Lodge in Yarmouth last September. Chappell and chef Chad Conley work with local farmers and butchers to source as many regional products as possible, with a preference for those that are produced within a day’s drive of the restaurant. That’s easily done from late spring through fall, and a bit more challenging the rest of the year. Still, Chappell says they were able to meet their goal of buying at least two-thirds of their products from local producers over the winter.
Gather may represent the leading edge of a new restaurant trend, in which local and sustainable is a given rather than a point of emphasis. There’s no lengthy list of purveyors at the bottom of the menu, though root vegetables are exalted and the soda is house made. Nor will you have to endure any soliloquies about the provenance of the fish or the ancestry of the chicken and its handlers. Sure, Conley serves Acadian rockfish — formerly known as ocean perch, it’s from a sustainable Gulf of Maine fishery — but you’re more likely to hear about the sides that accompany it (perhaps a pea purée and a potato gratin) than you are about any fishery management plans.
The menu is concise, just one page of starters, salads, and entrées, plus a small children’s menu with a burger, house-made fish sticks, and mac’n cheese. And the small set really is welcome — a sweet little corner of the dining room features children’s books, the Fisher-Price farmhouse Chappell played with as a kid, drawing supplies, and tree-stump stools around a small table.
While the kiddos color, Mom and Dad can sit at a candlelit table and nibble on an appetizer of crab and corn fritters with sambal chili mayo, which combines crispy, creamy, hot, and cool. They’d be well-complemented by a cold local beer — a combination Gather’s enthusiastic wait staff would be happy to engineer. Retro-cool deviled eggs are updated with saffron, and wings come with a soy-lime glaze.
It’s surely past time for the beet and goat cheese salad to sunset, but if you’re partial to that flavor combination, Gather’s offering is a worthy choice, lightly dressed with a zingy buttermilk-citrus vinaigrette. It’s also more than big enough to share, though you may end up fighting over the crunchy pepitas that are scattered throughout. A grilled chicken salad with mixed-grain tabbouleh and a walnut vinaigrette would make a lovely light dinner, especially when paired with the house white wine, a sauvignon blanc that is served on tap — the latest craze in eco-conscious beverage service.
Entrées are similarly flexible,ranging from an array of pizzas to pasta, fish, and a burger (house-ground, grass-fed beef and hand-cut fries, naturally). They’re complemented by a short list of specials, all reasonably priced. A recent offering — pork belly over a root vegetable slaw with creamy maple dressing — was a ridiculously delicious rendition of at least three foodie trends.
Even that dish, however, couldn’t compare with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts with Worcestershire butter and fried onions. Ordered impetuously, it seemed like overkill alongside a crisp-crusted pizza with shaved Brussels sprouts and parsley pesto. But where the pizza was subtle and delicate, the side was dark, complex, and utterly addictive. Follow that with a few desserts that expertly combine sweet and savory, and a tab that remarkably comes in under $100, and it’s easy to see why Gather has gained a devoted following from Yarmouth and beyond.
Michaela Cavallaro writes about food, money, and life from her home in South Portland.