Ben Gable Savories, Chatham’s New Hotspot
By Marilyn Bethany
“People kept telling us we were moving to the wrong end of town,” says Ben Gable, co-proprietor with Michael Gray of Chatham’s new eat-in, take-out specialty food boutique, Ben Gable Savories. Upon closer examination, it seems fair to say that whichever end of town Ben Gable Savories occupies ipso facto becomes the right place to be.
A year ago, when they bought the then derelict building in anticipation of a move from the heart of hippest Brooklyn, the couple no doubt observed that the location on the recently reconfigured Central Square was amidst some of the village’s best old buildings (including the eccentric charmer occupied by the Blue Plate Restaurant). They also may have noted that the municipal plantings in the square out front (then the handiwork of landscaper Wendy Carroll who, alas, has since departed to ply her trade full time at Steepletop, the Edna St. Vincent Millay historic property in Austerlitz) were terrific—a cut-far-above-the-norm. But to hear Ben and Michael tell it, it was the building itself, a two-story board-and-batten late-19th-century vernacular, that stole their hearts.
Now, after a top-to-bottom rehab, it is stealing ours too, though it’s the wares served therein that are the real draw—tarts, salads, soups, baked goods, and (hallelujah!) world-class coffee—Stumptown’s Hair Bender, either brewed or put through the paces of a dazzling La Marzocco espresso machine.
“We opened the week of the Chatham Film Festival,” says Ben, “It got kind of crazy but it was a good introduction.” With the paint on the wainscoting barely dry, the place suddenly was packed with the very sort who most enjoy the bragging rights that go with being the first to know. Drawn by the festival from near and far, they stood five deep at the counter, demanding sustenance, and fast, lest they miss a frame of the next film. Like the proverbial unknown suddenly thrust into the spotlight, Ben Gable Savories became a star overnight.
Fortunately, nearly a decade of practice, practice, practice preceded that fateful October 2013 debut. Back in 2005, Ben, fed up with selling fabric to a dwindling Manhattan-based garment-manufacturing industry, was eager to plot a new course.
“I’d always loved cooking and entertaining,” he recalls, “so I looked for an item that I could make in the kitchen of our garden apartment in Carroll Gardens [Brooklyn] and sell to restaurants and specialty food shops in the neighborhood.” A self-described “not a sweet person,” Ben settled on savory tarts, pairing Julia Child-inspired fillings with an Alice Waters-influenced crust. The results were outstanding and word quickly spread through artisanal-anything-obsessed Brooklyn. “Eventually, I was making and delivering 120-dozen tarts per week, all out of our home kitchen,” he says. “That situation had maxed out. I could not do any more than that from home.”
Meanwhile, Michael Gray, who at least in theory shared that “home” kitchen, watched his own world at Rizzoli (“I opened their Soho store in 1984”) falter, along with that of the entire book-publishing and -selling industry. The time was ripe for a co-adventure. But what and where? They had often visited Chatham to see old friends, Bob and Kaarin Lemstrom-Sheedy, both of whom have shops there (Bob, a former colleague of Michael’s at Rizzoli, owns Berkshire Books, while Kaarin is the eye behind PookStyle, an exceptionally gifted gift shop). In the almost random way that momentous decisions often get made, they spun the arrow and when it stopped, it pointed toward Chatham.
How lucky for Chatham and, it would appear, for Michael and Ben as well. The film festival crowd has long-since dispersed, yet the couple are pleasantly surprised by how busy they still are and, even more so, by the community they find themselves serving. “These hip young people come in,” marvels Ben, “and I ask, ‘are you just visiting or are you, like, here?’ And they reply, ‘Oh, we’re here. We’re definitely here.’” For upstate hipsters and many of their elders, the easy sophistication of the food and ambiance at Ben Gable Savories hits just the right note. A sandwich of fennel salami on an excellent baguette is topped with roasted fennel, slivers of parmagiano and a smear of orange aioli ($7.50). Tomato soup comes with a dollop of mascarpone and a swirl of basil pesto ($6.50); a delectable, butter-crusted broccoli tart is accompanied by a mixed green salad ($9.50) whose dressing (wonder of wonders) has first-rate olive oil as its principal flavor note. As with many other dishes on the menu here, this last is served with a side of “couture ketchup”—one of the sweet/savory jams by “Three Little Figs” that they also sell by the jar ($14 - $16).
“Some dreams just stay inside the head,” says Ben. “Or you think, ‘maybe we should have done it when we were younger.’” Lucky for us, Michael and Ben took a leap and landed in Chatham, in what now turns out to be the most savory part of town.
Ben Gable Savories
17 Central Square
8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday
8 a.m. - 7 p.m. Friday
8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sunday
Closed Monday & Tuesday