Gather is housed in the historic Masonic hall building in the village of Yarmouth. The space was a natural for this farm-to-table restaurant, which opened in 2012. Food was being created with such vision and style by its original chef, Chad Conley, that it helped put this establishment on the culinary map with its successful sourcing of the region’s local bounty. Conley, however, left Gather in January to resurrect the Palace Diner in Biddeford, set to open later this month.
After a short two-week break Gather re-opened earlier this month with its new chef, Bryan Dame, firmly in charge since January. On the first of several visits, which began on opening night and a follow-up the next evening, there were some spectacular dishes while others didn’t fare as well.
First courses were particularly good. Such starters as the crab and corn fritters ($7), deviled eggs with saffron ($5) and goat cheese crostini ($9) were marvels of invention. My guest commented that the deviled eggs were the best ever. Their filling was silken and creamy, and the saffron and dusting of paprika added that decisive touch of flavor. Exemplary too were the fritters. These were exceedingly delicate – with the combination of corn and crabmeat in perfect balance. The delicious crostini of goat cheese were another winner with their liberal coating of Brussels sprout leaves, honey and walnuts.
Upon entering the great room at Gather, at first glance it looks like the main hall where a church supper is about to begin. High ceilings, tall windows and vintage wall sconces define the room’s simplicity. The long wooden bar on one side of the room is another focal point for patrons dropping in for a drink, small bites or dinner. And near the bar on the wall is a blackboard posting of the local farms and purveyors who supply the kitchen.
Next to the bar is a long harvest-style communal table. It accommodates up to 18 people and is a great spot for large gatherings of family or friends.
On the opposite wall are comfortable wooden booths and tables for two to four alongside. What further distinguishes the room is the raised open kitchen set on the original hall’s stage so that those below in the dining room sit like the audience watching the performance of food preparation done so artfully.
The restaurant recently got its liquor license, though it is minimally stocked right now. As for the wine list, it’s a short compilation of moderately priced labels with offerings from all the important wine regions. The beer offerings include mostly local brews.
For a wine pick, what seemed like a good deal was the half carafe of Gotham Project Chardonnay ($14) from New York. At that price we got an undistinguished wine.
The service staff is extremely attentive, and our waitress made some recommendations for entrees: the braised chicken leg ($18) over horseradish spaetzle, kale, fingerling potatoes and pickled mustard seeds, and local leg of pork ($26) with a polenta cake and braised greens.
The spaetzle that accompanied the chicken were superbly done, tender and delicious; the addition of horseradish to the dough was a great touch. The chicken leg, however, was dry, whereas braising should have rendered it juicy and moist. Common restaurant kitchen practice might be to cook this dish in advance. Perhaps it suffered from being reheated in a hot oven for too long.
The leg of pork was brined, braised and served as a large wedge of meat on top of a seared cake of polenta, which was fortified with milk and cheese and was deliciously creamy within. The pork was such a towering piece of meat that it looked like it would topple over any minute, being too big to rest on the small polenta cake. But it was also so tender that as soon the fork touched the meat it fell apart. And even though the meat was put through the machinations of brining and braising, it was surprisingly dry and dull tasting.
We concluded this first dinner with two house-made desserts. An apple Napoleon was served under such an avalanche of raw apple shavings that it nearly took a shovel to unearth the stewed apples underneath it all. The ginger-spiked crème brulee, however, was lovely.
On our second dinner the experience had some fine moments, though not without a few hiccups. A special first course that evening was a poutine of rosemary French fries with duck confit ($12). This was so good and so plentiful it would have been a fine dinner with just a salad or soup to accompany.
For a main course my guest ordered the special pizza ($14) of the evening – a thin-crust style 12-inch pie topped with salmon rillettes, cured salmon made in the manner of a pate.
The pizza menu is a good one, and this special was a stand out. The crust was thin and crisp and the topping of cured salmon was brilliantly prepared.
My entrée of poached haddock – in a deliciously fine celery-root cream, with clams on the half shell and braised spinach and fingerling potatoes – was a fairly good dish except that it didn’t escape the kitchen’s tendency toward overcooking. Poached, the fish should have been flakier and the clams were nearly shriveled in the shell.
A dessert of house-made brownie served with the popular Maples-brand ice cream (it’s surprising that a farm-to-table kitchen isn’t preparing its own ice cream) and caramel sauce never materialized. The kitchen was apparently overwhelmed by a packed house and our order must have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Both dinners had their ups and downs, but overall the kitchen has its interesting moments. And for city slickers or area residents who want a charming restaurant in which to dine, Gather offers a fairly glorious forum for that farm-to-table experience served in a cozy country setting.
John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be reached at: