By Joshua Maloni
Sure enough, not long after the “open” sign lit up at Gather American Eatery, savvy Lewiston residents made their way into owner Michael Hibbard’s second Gallo restaurant.
“We technically just turned the sign on, on Wednesday (March 4). So, from Wednesday till Saturday, we had people just walking in,” he said. “The reception’s been great already.”
Guests have dined on potato chip chicken – a playful spin on chicken cutlet – as well as PB & egg – a seared pork belly on sourdough, with a fried egg, sriracha aioli, lettuce and tomato.
The restaurant, at 453 Center St. – most recently Center Cut: The Village Steakhouse – has a fresh look, with new booths; paintings (many from the Polly King collection, courtesy of Don King); and a large communal table at the end of the dining room (“This has been utilized quite a bit for bigger families,” Hibbard said).
Toward the spacious bar, room dividers were removed and a service slot was cut into the kitchen, allowing for easier transfer of dishes; the seating area was redone; and the back wall was designed with a copper patina to give it a weathered look.
A cocktail reception area north of the bar greets guests when they enter.
All in all, Hibbard said, the nearly three-month remodel process wasn’t terribly cumbersome.
“The biggest thing was just figuring out the concept of what we’re going to do here,” he said.
The original Gallo, a coal-fire kitchen at Center and North Eighth streets, serves Italian dinners and pizza. That menu will transition to Mexican when the third and largest Gallo opens later this year at the corner of Center and North Fourth streets (taking with it the pizza and pasta).
“We felt like Gather American Eatery was a good fit here,” Hibbard said. “We have fish, steaks, sandwiches, burgers.”
“We weren’t reinventing the wheel here,” he added. “We’ve already opened up and have an established restaurant, so it was easier for us to get a liquor license and be able to be open.
“A lot of help from the reps – the liquor reps, the beer reps, the food reps – that came in and actually helped us get this thing to where it is. And staff.”
In particular, Hibbard said his administrative assistant, Laticia Moreno, and chefs Andrew Szafran (Gather), Bill Huggins and Doug Herrick (Gallo) were instrumental in helping him open this new eatery.
A look at the interior of Gather American Eatery.
Hibbard said what makes Gather different than Center Cut is its name. That is, “Why I came up with that name was a place for the community just to come together. You could get a meal; you know, we have burgers for $13, we have sandwiches for $12, then we also have steaks that are at that $28 mark – but the steak also comes with side and salad, instead of an à la carte menu, which the previous owner had.”
Hibbard said, “We used to come here when it was Center Cut,” at that time operated by Brickyard owners Ken Bryan and Eric Matthews. “It was a great, great concept. But Lewiston, we needed something that was more affordable, and I think we’ve definitely achieved that here.
“We have an extensive wine list, but we have wine that’s $6 to $7 a glass, and then we have $200 bottles, as well. So, we kind of touched upon every demographic; and what I’ve noticed here since we’ve opened – I mean it’s only been less than a week – but there’s a lot of people.”
Though the prices dropped, Hibbard noted, “The quality is right there. That’s something that – going back to working with distributors, chef Andrew and I, and then a lot of the reps, we’d kind of come together. We wanted something that was really quality, which, what we do at Gallo, we buy the best tomatoes; we buy the best ingredients. We wanted to do the same thing here.
“We didn’t want the food to suffer, because of price points. So, we’ve just created a menu that we’re able to achieve that.”
For bar patrons, “We have a really great bourbon selection,” Hibbard said. “We bought a smoker, so we can infuse that smoke into our drinks, and that’s kind of a unique thing that people are really kind of gravitating towards at the bar. We have an elevated cocktail list, elevated wine list.”
Of course, Gather also welcomes families with children.
“We have a kids menu here,” Hibbard said. “Last night we had a group of 12 that half of them were kids.
“For me, I have four children. I wanted a place that my kids could come and actually enjoy and not feel like you have to get dressed up. We have that kids menu to help with that.”
As of Thursday, Gather was still in “soft open” mode.
“But this week we’re going to ramp up; we’re thinking maybe tomorrow to be able to do full menu,” Hibbard said. “We’ll post our hours; we gave it a deadline of Monday – on exactly what days we’re going to be open. What we’re thinking is open seven days a week, and just try it out – because obviously spring’s coming, summer is coming, so we might as well just do it anyways. And we have a good amount of staff now. We’re thinking we’ll be able to accomplish that.”
As to whether the restaurant will offer just dinner, or both lunch and dinner, Hibbard said, “Right now, we’re kind of tossing that around. What we had originally said, we were going to just do 4 to 10 on the weekends, 4 to 9 during the week; but we’re almost thinking now, Saturdays and Sundays, that we’ll do lunch here.”
Patrons can check out the Gallo social media pages for updates.
Hibbard is in the process of updating his original restaurant’s website to include all locations.
A look at the interior of Gather American Eatery.