Rumors that Clarklewis (1001 S.E. Water St., 503-235-2294) would close have dogged the restaurant ever since last April when its original owners, Michael Hebberoy and Naomi Pomeroy, suddenly shut the doors of their other restaurant, Gotham Building Tavern.
Anyone interested in Portland's restaurant scene is familiar with (and possibly tired of) the story by now.
Hebberoy ditched his responsibilities and skipped town, leaving then-spouse Pomeroy holding the sadly deflated bag. Enter investor David Howitt, who kept Clarklewis afloat by taking over its ownership and assuming its debts.
Then in December, Morgan Brownlow, the restaurant's much-lauded chef and former co-owner, departed for good, and speculation that Clarklewis would swim with the fishes intensified.
Now there's a new, intriguing development to the story. Last weekend, Bluehour, Saucebox and 23Hoyt owner Bruce Carey sent out an e-mail to 'friends and restaurant family' announcing that he's becoming the new owner and operator of Clarklewis.
According to Carey, Howitt approached him a few weeks ago with a proposition that would allow Howitt to assume a silent partner role while Carey takes over the operation of the restaurant.
The plan demonstrates Howitt's business savvy. Carey's the only guy in town with the restaurant chops and the cash to make Clarklewis a true success. And he's been poking around the east side for more than a year, looking for potential restaurant locations.
I asked Carey how his first staff meeting at Clarklewis went. 'That group is pretty resilient at this point,' he said. 'They're the ones who've been holding it together. There's a strong family atmosphere among the staff there.'
Carey insisted that the only immediate change he'll make at Clarklewis will be to replace the famously ugly and uncomfortable chairs. 'Joe (Rogers, Carey's personal and professional partner) and I sat in chairs today, and we think they're the ones.'
Except for the new seating, Carey intends to get to know the restaurant before he makes any other significant changes.
He's going to get Christopher Israel's input regarding the Clarklewis menu. Israel is the hands-on executive chef at 23Hoyt and the executive chef at Saucebox.
Carey said 23Hoyt will remain Israel's primary focus but 'he'll look at the Clarklewis menu and help decide what could use improvement.'
Carey also confirmed the rumors that Jehnee Rains, former pastry chef at Balvo (Carey's one, brief restaurant failure) is returning to Portland and to Bruce Carey Restaurants.
And, at least for now, Pomeroy will continue to produce her Family Suppers at Clarklewis on Sunday nights.
Finally, after joking that he and Rogers were thinking of changing the name of the restaurant to 'Squiggles,' Carey said that they'd keep Clarklewis.
'I always liked the name,' he said. 'It's a good name.'
Look for Bruce Carey Restaurants to officially take over Clarklewis early next month.
Clarklewis is open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and for dinner 5:30 to close Monday to Saturday.
A first-time restaurant owner has finally opened his new restaurant on the east side. Western Culinary Institute graduate and former Viande Meats employee Gabe Rosen opened Biwa (215 S.E. Ninth Ave., 503-239-8830) two weeks ago.
Biwa is a Japanese-style restaurant serving a variety of handmade noodles and meat, fish and vegetables grilled on skewers. I spoke to Rosen last Sunday after the restaurant had been open a week.
'We're closed today, but of course I'm here,' Rosen said. 'This is the most at peace I've been in a week. Every night it's been a race against the clock to get everything done before opening, then after 5 I can actually relax a little and do my thing.'
Rosen adds that the crowds have been good and he has 'an amazing staff.' I can't wait to check it out.
For information about Biwa and to see the menu, visit www.biwarestaurant.com.
Biwa is open 5 p.m. to close Monday to Saturday.
Back across the river, starting this weekend Hurley's (1987 N.W. Kearney St., 503-295-6487) will open for brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Some of the brunch menu items sound irresistible -like the omelet with diver scallops, prawns and crème fraîche and chicken-fried steak with country gravy.
Personally, I'd rather starve than order a $28 hamburger, even if it is made with ground Kobe beef short ribs with truffle mayonnaise and house-made chips. But I bet he'll have some takers. And I bet it'll be good, too.
Visit www.hurleys-restaurant.com for information.