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Sunnyside’s New Bistro, Old Pal, Pairs Tinned Fish With Oregon Produce

Old Pal, from an alumnus of Portland legend Ken’s Artisan Pizza, is entirely pescatarian, focusing on seafood and seasonal vegetables

Shelves of liquor can be seen behind a teal colored bar lined with stools and a few tables in the foreground.
The bar at Old Pal.
Tom Schaller

Around the corner from the Belmont bustle of restaurants and bars like Taqueria Los Punales and Sweet Hereafter, a new restaurant sits in the Sunnyside neighborhood. Old Pal isn’t trying to be the flashy new spot in town; instead, it’s meant to be a stylish respite, a neighborhood haunt that feels like an old friend. The seafood- and Oregon-produce-heavy restaurant Old Pal opened on June 29, with a team featuring alumni of Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Bistro Agnes.

Responsible stewardship of the land and sea is a central focus of this European-style bistro from husband-and-wife team Jeremy Larter and Emily Bixler. Vegetables, Pacific Northwest oysters, and tinned fish dominate the menu, served alongside cocktails and old world and natural wines.

Larter, who was part of the opening staff at Ken’s Artisan Pizza and also worked at DOC, owned and operated a catering company called Field Day before the pandemic upended his business. “It gave me a chance to pause and make some mindful choices about what I was doing,” Larter says. “When you’re feeding 150 to 200 people, you have to make sure there’s enough of everything, but it got to the point where on a regular basis we had a decent amount of leftovers and our carbon footprint was bigger than I was comfortable [with].”

The biggest transition he’s made at the new restaurant is deciding not to serve any land animals; instead opting for sustainable seafood and smaller fish, specifically. Wanting to cater to diners of all stripes, Larter didn’t want to open a dedicated vegan restaurant, although about 30 to 40 percent of the menu is vegan or can be made vegan.

“A lot of people are being aware of the impact on the planet and healthier ways to eat. We want to be part of that movement, part of that community,” Larter says. “We’re trying to not draw a hard line with anything, but just move the culture and conversation towards making better choices.”

Standards like gougeres and a vegan cultured-cashew pub cheese fill out the menu, along with dishes packed with peak-season ingredients from Oregon farms like Groundwork Organics and Gathering Together. For instance, last week, a plump ball of Narragansett burrata sat atop a pool of lacto-fermented rhubarb and Seascape strawberry. This week, the burrata is accompanied by stone fruit and pickled blueberries. Larter is already preparing for the leaner winter months, pickling and fermenting summer produce.

Over at the bar, Larter’s pal Beau Burtnick — currently working at Bellwether Bar and formerly of Bistro Agnes — has put together a tight menu of cocktails, all designed for efficiency. There’s ice cold, pre-batched martinis; classic stirred cocktails; and of course, the restaurant’s namesake, a blend of rye, vermouth, and Campari. In this house, the Old Pal also goes by the Eponymous Tattoo, a cheeky name (“Like you’d have a tattoo of yourself on your body”) that stuck with Larter from a coworker’s band at a catering gig he worked when he was only 16.

Larter’s wife, Emily Bixler, owns a sculptural jewelry and accessory line called Boet. Prior to starting Old Pal, the couple had never really worked together on a creative endeavor. Bixler lent her artistic eye to the restaurant’s interior design, working with design-build firm Owen Gabbert to give the space a classic European feel. She also tapped friends to handle finishing touches: Sage Corson designed the logo and menu, and custom pendant lights by ceramicist Michael Newsome now hang overhead where large screen TVs from former occupant Hobnob Grille once drew eyes. Drawings by Bixler herself grace the walls, and a gallery section within the restaurant will feature monthly shows.

Although it’s positioned itself as a neighborhood spot, the restaurant has also quickly become a destination for its daily happy hour, offering $2 oysters and beverage specials.

“Part of the inspiration for the name of this place is just where we are as a society right now,” says Larter. “I want this to be a gathering place for everybody to come together and do what we can to make the world and our community a better place.”

Old Pal is located at 3350 SE Morrison Street.

Correction Tuesday, July 26, 2022 at 11:09 a.m.: This story was corrected to show that Beau Burtnick is still working at Bellwether Bar.