November 25, 2012

Dine Out Maine: Gather succeeds in building community around local food

The new Yarmouth restaurant succeeds in providing good, locally-sourced fare at reasonable prices.

By NANCY HEISER

Gather. It's what we do in November. Friends and family connect over food at Thanksgiving, presaging the parties to come in December. Fun, unpredictable and boisterous at times, many such food-centric get-togethers are a warm and lively antidote to shorter, colder days.

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Gather, a new restaurant in Yarmouth, is housed in a former 1860s Masonic hall. A communal table for 18 sits central in the space. “It’s a twist that mostly works,”owner Matt Chappell said, as does the well-prepared food at reasonable prices.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

GATHER, 189 Main St., Yarmouth. 847-3250; gathermaine.com

★★★1/2

HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

CREDIT CARDS: All major

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $5 to $8; 12-inch pizzas, $9 to $14; burgers and main dishes, $11 to $24

VEGETARIAN: Yes

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes; including options for a gluten-free burger bun

KIDS: Welcome. A separate menu offers popular items upgraded: House-ground hamburger, house-made fish sticks or mac 'n' cheese, with a side of carrot sticks.

RESERVATIONS: Accepted for parties of six or more

BAR: Beer and wine. Four of six beer taps are dedicated to local craft brews. The bar also dispenses two wines from an airtight draft system, which reduces waste. The bottle list, $22 to $46, is more creative than the usual supermarket fare.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: Surround yourself with warmth, energy, company and very good food at Gather, whose purpose is to offer healthy, locally sourced and deliciously prepared food so that people of all ages and many incomes can partake. The restaurant succeeds admirably. You may not gush, but you'll certainly enjoy.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

★ Poor  ★★ Fair  ★★★ Good ★★★★ Excellent  ★★★★★ Extraordinary.

The same can be said for Gather, a new restaurant in downtown Yarmouth. It's been open since mid-September.

Housed in a former 1860s Masonic hall that's seen many uses – town meetings, karate lessons, a lunch and take-out spot, antiques shop – this restaurant, open for dinner, exudes a new spirit and energy.

Gather is a fun place for many ages to hang out; consume very good, well thought-out locally sourced food; and greet a colleague, neighborhood retailer or old friend.

The space is cavernous and country, bespeaking its heritage, but the new build-out adds elegance and character. The single large hall has stylish pendant lights, warm wood tables and booths, and a fully open, brightly lit and gleaming stainless kitchen set on what once was a stage.

In this aspect, Gather resembles Grace restaurant in Portland – the cooks are elevated above the guests, with all prep visible. After the initial delight and surprise at this effortless voyeurism, diners get down to the real business – enjoying themselves in the company of others.

A communal table for 18 sits central in the dining space. You might find yourself here, rubbing elbows with a stranger, who likely won't remain anonymous for long. Owner Matt Chappell intended for his restaurant to have this community-building aspect. "That table gets the most reaction. It's a twist that mostly works," he said.

Chappell also commits to locally procuring as many items – food and otherwise – as he can. "Chad (Conley, the chef) and I are working hard to source at least two-thirds of our food within a day's drive, and we've been pretty successful in that," he said. "All of our meat comes from Maine and most of our shellfish." His third goal is to make a healthy meal using local ingredients suitable for many budgets.

The bar runs along one wall, and it too is lively. In addition to draft beers and wine, it serves homemade sodas. The lime ($2.50) was excellent – clean, sour/sweet and tingly. Goodbye to colas and all that.

A velvety, creamy butternut squash and apple bisque was not too sweet and served with a pungent swirl of sage oil. It was an ample and delicious starter ($6). A delicious crusty homemade bread accompanied.

Crab and corn fritters were another excellent appetizer: A light, crunchy and golden exterior, crab and corn mixture interior in nice proportions, mayonnaise with a sambal chili kick ($6).

Vegetarian mushroom Bolognese resembled a hearty meat sauce, and the flavor was as robust and rich. The tomato-based mix served over linguine came in at an easy $12. Leave off cheese, and you've got an excellent vegan entree.

A crispy-skinned slice of Atlantic salmon ($18) drew appreciation, if not swoons. It came with a light green dill yogurt sauce, served with wild rice pilaf and a few squash slices.

Hats off to the excellent flaky and tender hake – a lesser-used fish and the best main dish of the evening – served over spaghetti squash and in a mushroom broth that bore a lovely earthy depth of flavor. Both fish entrees were a comfortable $18.

A couple of items did not quite reach their potential. A side of brussels sprouts seemed more steamed than roasted, and too much Worcestershire butter made the vegetable a little soupy ($6).

Other sides that we didn't have an opportunity to try sounded delicious; beets with herbs and broccoli gremolata (lemon zest and seasonings), for instance. Who doesn't love simple preparations that inspire us to eat more veggies?

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