"Why can't gin be something you drink in front of a fire at a ski lodge? Why can't it be grounded and ruminative and spicy?" asks Portland, Oregon, restaurateur Michael Hebberoy. Just 29, with blond hair and the delicate features of a boy, Hebberoy has made a life's work out of flouting culinary convention. In March he will launch what may be the world's first line of seasonal gins, which he created with Medoyeff Vodka, an artisanal distillery in Portland. He'll start by introducing the herbaceous GBT Summer Gin—named after his gastropub Gotham Bldg Tavern—at top restaurants across the nation. Then, in the fall, he will unveil GBT Winter Gin, flavored with black tea, dried cranberries and carob root.
The gins are just another unorthodox idea from a young rebel, a real estate developer's son who began his career four years ago, bent on changing the way Americans think about food, wine and spirits. In 2001, Hebberoy and his wife, Naomi, a chef, opened an illegal restaurant they called Family Supper in their rented Portland bungalow. Sans business license, the Hebberoys fed friends and friends of friends by invitation only. The meals, all served family-style, cost at most $20 a person, paid on the honor system. The 20 or so chairs were mismatched, the carpet was a shabby white shag, and the whole thing exuded such outré charm that the Hebberoys soon became the It couple of Portland's avant-garde dining scene. In 2002, reluctantly licensed, they moved Family Supper into a commercial space where today 40 or so strangers pass earthenware platters down long wooden tables. There is one set three-course menu each night, with dishes like braised lamb shoulder with roasted broccoli and squash.
Soon, the enterprise grew into a mini empire. When chef Morgan Brownlow moved to Portland from Oakland, California, where he'd been working under Paul Bertolli at Oliveto, he instinctively sought out the Hebberoys. Brownlow immediately became a cook at Family Supper, stayed for a year, then went on to stints at other restaurants. He took a hiatus and, lacking a job, threatened to leave town. "We opened Clarklewis," Hebberoy says, "basically to keep Morgan in Portland. We didn't want to stop eating his food." The Hebberoys built Clarklewis on a 1910 loading dock amid a maze of train tracks several blocks from the nearest developed neighborhood. Now, candles flicker in the semidarkness of the dining room as the kitchen butchers its meat in-house and serves dishes that look as though they're straight out of a Brueghel painting. Pork cutlets, sliced from a whole hog that hangs in the kitchen, are layered with sage and prosciutto and then pan-fried. Instead of offering a prix fixe or tasting menu, Brownlow creates a looser vibe: "if you don't want to make any decisions at all..." the menu reads, "morgan will cook three or more courses for you for thirty-five dollars...enjoy."