“If I had a nickel for every time someone comes up to tell me I’m wrong about the weather,” says News12’s rising meteorological star, Pat Cavlin, “I’d be a very rich man.”
Today — sunny, 71 degrees, but showers expected later in the afternoon — Cavlin is my guest for lunch at Sam’s of Gedney Way, a White Plains institution since 1931. No song, no dance, no hype. Just Acker Bilk on the sound system and the hum of a brisk lunchtime trade, but Sam’s seems as fresh today as ever. In an age where noise seems ubiquitous, Sam’s is an oasis of calm, with sympathetic acoustics, which mean you can hear yourself speak, vibrant contemporary art and properly dressed tables — white paper squares over white tablecloths and dinner napkins the size of pillowcases.
Cavlin is not a noisy type either. A certain nervous energy comes across as utterly charming. Amazingly grounded for one whose living is, so to speak, in the clouds, he is assured and down to earth. He has a pilot’s license too, which he got four years ago, though he doesn’t get to fly as much as he would like.
Ordering from Sam’s menu is straightforward. From the signature starters, classic onion soup — properly made with fresh herb crostini and melted Jarlsberg cheese — is hard to beat. Rhode Island crispy calamari also hits the spot.
Cavlin grew up in Brooklyn and on Long Island and now lives in East Meadow, in Nassau County. He has been at News12 for two years and is a standard-bearer for the brand. “News 12 was the first local news service in the country,” he tells me, “and it’s still hyperlocal.” Hyperlocal is something Cavlin says a lot, so much so I ask him if he gets paid a royalty fee every time he does so.
It’s a word that could be applied to Sam’s, too — a hyperlocal bistro, as local as local bistros get, to murder the News12 catch-line. Then again, Sam’s is so sharp, so professional, it would not feel out of place right in the big city.
While we wait for our entrées, I ask Cavlin how it feels being recognized in public. “Here in New York, people say ‘Hey — nice to see you,’ if they say anything at all, and then leave you alone.” Down in Macon, Georgia, just out of college and in his first weather job, it was another story. People wouldn’t leave him alone. “It was like I was Brad Pitt,” he says with a smile. “They’d want pictures, autographs, everything. I would say to them, “Look, I pull my pants on in the morning the same way you do.’”
Like Sam’s smiling waiters, he must as a weatherman appear cheerful and unruffled on duty. “There was this one time in Georgia,” he recalls, “and I was in the middle of a really bad breakup. I’d taken my car to the garage for repairs and this guy comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Mr. Weatherman,’” — he does the Southern accent with almost spooky accuracy — ‘what’s the weather going to be like today?’ I wanted to say to him, ‘Watch the freaking news, look at the freaking sky.’ But of course you can’t do that. You can’t have a bad day in public.”
In the many times I’ve visited Sam’s over the years, they have never had a bad day, or an “off” service either. Today, the seared, sesame-crusted tuna with its mango salsa and chilli lime sauce is as tangy as ever, a beautiful tranche of tuna cooked just right. And the weatherman loves his grilled chicken and brie sandwich, with sliced pear and onions. To me, the components sound like strange bedfellows, but at Sam’s the whole is often greater than the sum of the parts. Cavlin likes the look of it so much he takes a picture of it. “I’m so millennial,” he says wearily.
Sam’s hardly ever changes, which is its strength, but what about climate change, I ask? “My golden rule is I never talk about it. When people ask me, I say I’m a meteorologist, not a climatologist.” By this account, I tell him, he’s also a diplomat.
Cavlin is neat and punctilious. Clothes are a particular interest. When it comes to dressing well, his secret weapon is Macy’s, “where everything is always on sale.” He buys good, inexpensive suits and gets them tailored. He believes in the importance of clothes in the workplace and laments how badly people dress in general. He gets especially irritated, he says, by the college kid looking for a job who wears an ill-fitting suit and a clip-on tie. “It makes a very poor impression,” he sighs, an old head on young shoulders.
His dad is a retired police officer and the family has a home in the Adirondacks. But Cavlin is not a mountain person. “I prefer humidity to cold,” he says. “I must be the milkman’s son.” He’s a cities and beach type of guy. He loves Florida and just spent time in Miami. Bucket-list destinations include Greece and the Amalfi Coast.
Does he use the weather app on his iPhone? “No,” he says. “Actually I deleted it.”
Cavlin loves extreme weather but sees his role as managing viewers’ expectations. He strives to be accurate. “People are so graphic,” he says. “If they see a shower icon, they assume the whole day is a washout. I try to get across that it’s just a shower. It won’t last the whole day. People also want quick and simple forecast, not a great long spiel. Attention span is short.”
In no time at all, lunch is drawing to a close — an elegant Westchester lunch, old-fashioned in the best sense, with attentive and thoughtful service. I’m heading back to work and Cavlin is heading to the studio on Long Island, though without a cloud in the sky and no sign yet of the showers that have been forecast, it looks like being an uneventful afternoon.
As for Sam’s, it has been calm and comforting, just animated enough to be interesting and with lots of natural warmth. One could ask nothing more of a restaurant, and certainly nothing more of the weather.
For more, visit samsofgedneyway.com.