Port of Call

Visiting Eric Bechard's excellent new tavern in Astoria.

Eric Bechard is from Quebec, a fourth-generation Montréalais. This explains a lot—about the chef, his now-shuttered Southeast Portland restaurant Kingdom of Roosevelt, and his preference for Astoria over the Rose City.

As with Bechard's lauded McMinnville restaurant Thistle, Roosevelt drew upon that time-honored French-Canadian tradition of using foraged produce and game, with dishes like deer heart tartare. It was ambitious, but perhaps not economically viable here in the mac-'n'-cheese capital of the world. "I don't think Roosevelt was too progressive, and I know it would have been successful," Bechard says. "It just came down to the fact that I wanted to live in Astoria more than I wanted to run Roosevelt and live in Portland. A historic building that I've wanted came up for sale, and I put an offer in and it was accepted. At that point, I had to figure out what to do next."

It's no surprise that he felt at home in Astoria. Starting with John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company in 1811, Québécois trappers were instrumental in turning the outpost into a major port city. And unlike Cannon Beach, Astoria is still a working town. Instead of taffy stands, the downtown has markets and banks. The sardine canneries are still running, and you can still watch bar pilots climbing off ships from the pier.

Any incoming business, then, has to walk a fine line between feeding tourists carrying vacuum growlers of Fort George beer back to their rooms in the stylish Commodore or Norblad hotels, and longshoremen getting a drink before Meat Bingo at Mary Todd's. And Bechard's new spot, Albatross & Co., stands a good chance of doing just that. The frontage is small and dark, the glass panes uninterrupted except for a sign up high and a paper menu down low. Throughout the evening, we saw multiple patrons look up and down before taking hold of the door handle to come inside.

Inside the narrow bar, you can sit on a pew next to a wall of exposed brick, at one of several small tables, or at the bar. Bechard is the bartender and server, opening bottles from a wide-ranging beer list (Mikkeller and Duchesse de Bourgogne, next to Logsdon, Fort George and Iron City) or mixing pre-Prohibition cocktails, which were accurately described as "whiskey, with some whiskey."

The menu is bar-style, with a selection of sandwiches and small plates. Although you might expect overloaded plates, slick with grease, the food is characterized by a remarkable sense of restraint. It seems weird to describe a burger as "light and airy," but the Anchor ($9) is exactly that. With each bite, the entire construction—juicy patty, soft bun, cheddar sauce, caramelized and fried onions—melts in your mouth.

A local recommended the sloppy fries ($9), which were similarly not sloppy, but served with perfect proportions of cheddar sauce, pork bits, onions and hot peppers. The only item that went overboard was the Ol' Ironsides ($10), a Reuben variant that piles pork on pork to go with your whiskey on whiskey. Bacon, braised pork shoulder, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and "1001 island" dressing might be a little much for anyone not used to rejoicing in the slaughter of six or seven Wilburs with every meal, but the sandwich itself could give anything from Lardo a run for its money.

The fact that sandwiches don't come with a side makes the price tag seem a little steep. But with plans to expand next door—along with talk of live music and an oyster bar—plenty are happy to pay it. Hopefully by the end of June, tourists and locals alike can clink whiskey glasses. I'll be on a stool next to them. 

  1. Order this: The Anchor ($9) is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.
  2. I’ll pass: The simple greens ($5) won’t cut the buzz from that cocktail, my friend. 

EAT: Albatross & Co., 225 14th Street, Astoria, 741-3091. 5 pm-late night Tuesday-Sunday.