The buzz starts right at 5 p.m. Young families show up as the doors open, eager to enjoy an early dinner and still get the kids to bed on time. An hour later, couples and a few small groups gather at the bar, relaxing with a drink while waiting for more friends to join them. And so it goes at Gather, a community-oriented spot in Yarmouth that just happens to serve really great food and drink along with a big helping of small town warmth.
Owner Matt Chappell has worked in restaurants since he was 14 years old. Three and a half years ago, he was skating at the pond across the street with his children when he saw the “For Lease” sign in front of the old Masonic Hall on Yarmouth’s Main Street. He looked around at the space, which was then an antiques shop, and came away inspired to open a welcoming, neighborhood restaurant—the kind that was needed in the village.
“In this day and age we’ve lost the neighborhood feeling,” Chappell tells me. “People are hungry for that kind of local connection.” Gather is completely community driven, from the collaborative art pieces on the walls to the local musicians providing entertainment on Wednesday nights and brunch on Sundays. Gather even has a community barter system that was created last summer by a former employee. Local gardeners and neighbors with a surplus of produce can trade it for restaurant credit. Tomatoes, radishes, squash, eggs, and even grapes grown nearby have found their way onto the menu at Gather and are highlighted on the specials board as “neighborhood ingredients.”
As this weeknight evening progresses, groups fill up the big communal table at the center of the restaurant, which is made from the smooth polished wood of old bowling lanes and offers flexibility for both larger groups and spontaneous gatherings. Did you serendipitously run into your friends from across town that you’ve been meaning to get together with for months? Grab those four chairs at the end of the table and catch up on the latest news. You can share a dish of the delicious fried Brussels sprouts and maybe a pizza or two. Order a beer from the list of local brews or one of the creative cocktails made with spirits from local distilleries. A wide selection of wines is available by the glass or half-carafe thanks to the draft system that utilizes airtight kegs. House-made sodas are another popular option, especially the mint lime or blueberry.
With Maine’s late growing season, the Gather menu is just transitioning into summer now. It’s clearly evident on the plate of crispy arctic char, where the perfectly cooked fish sits on a smoked tomato, grilled scallion, and corn salad with chili oil, a balsamic reduction, and a little pickled onion. The dish is bright in flavor and color and is a delightful mix of texture and tastes. Also new on the summer menu is a baba ganoush pizza. The smoky eggplant puree with Mediterranean spices is spread on a crisp crust with a lightly charred edge. A pile of arugula lends freshness while a Mission fig gastrique adds sweetness.
Fish tacos were added to the menu a few months ago and they have become so popular that they outsell the burger, a long-time favorite. Cusk or pollock is lightly fried in rice flour and served with a kelp slaw—all fresh from Casco Bay. This fish is served on a fresh corn tortilla and finished with sriracha sour cream; it’s a little spicy, but the bite can be tamed with a bit of the avocado crema served alongside.
Gather also offers brunch every Sunday and it’s another opportunity to connect before or after activities that pull families in various directions. A local bluegrass band, fittingly called “The Gather Rounders” keeps the atmosphere upbeat. The homemade corned-beef hash is a must, but the veggie Benedict is my personal favorite. The home fries are a delicious blend of white and sweet potatoes, seasoned just right. Add a Bloody Mary, which is made with a carrot-based vodka and fresh horseradish—a guaranteed wake up call.
As this evening becomes late, the chalkboard list of desserts is brought around to tables. The homemade blueberry buckle and caramel cookie sundae sound tempting. Friends finish their meals on this sweet note, and murmurs of “Let’s do this again soon,” are heard as they bid each other good night.
Matt Chappell’s vision of a warm and welcoming neighborhood place, right in the middle of town, has been realized.