At the Bar / Buffalo Proper
Smoke Break and Ginger Baker
All photos by kc kratt
Since its opening in 2014, Buffalo Proper Plate & Pour has established itself as a cornerstone of Buffalo’s craft cocktail culture. The bar program, headed by manager Jon Karel, is imbued with equal parts creativity and classic chops. On the plate, seasonally focused eats conceived by executive chef Nathan Washburn showcase great Western New York purveyors. The two-story bar on the corner of Franklin and West Tupper exudes the rustic charm so many other hip spots have adopted in recent years with rough-hewn tables, weathered copper back bar, Edison bulb lights, exposed brick, and ceiling-height bar shelves the bartenders regularly climb to retrieve bottles. A mounted deer head keeps an eye on the sometimes rowdy barroom, and the wrought-iron upper balcony provides one of the best downtown dining views around. If you haven’t stopped in since Laughlin’s occupied this spot, it’s high time for another visit.
Karel's signature style shows in every drink on the list. His hospitality makes every patron feel like the only one at the rail, and he and his staff will graciously tailor any drink to individual taste. With a menu curated this carefully, though, it pays to order on the book. Selections rotate seasonally, but the Ginger Baker has been popular enough to feature prominently since Buffalo Proper’s opening day. The drink marries caçhaca, jalapeño-ginger cordial, lime, and red grapes. Caçhaca is a Brazilian distilled spirit made from sugar cane, with a flavor somewhat similar to white rum. Buffalo Proper’s Ginger Baker is similar to the classic Caipirinha, which is made with lime and sugar. The addition of the cordial adds a spicy-sweet heat, nicely balanced by zesty lime juice. It’s a lovely summer sipper fans of mojitos and margaritas will especially appreciate.
The Smoke Break ($12), another longstanding creation, features scotch, mezcal, sweet vermouth, coffee liqueur, orange bitters, and cinnamon. This rich, smoky drink brings out earthy peatiness in the scotch, accented by the mezcal. Sweet vermouth and coffee liqueur lend an undertone of chocolate sweetness with just a hint of citrus and spice. For Manhattan or Old Fashioned drinkers, Smoke Break offers a welcome alternative.
On the culinary end, the menu sees specials and updates regularly, although its focus is always on quality local ingredients used creatively. Many of the small plates are meant to be shared or eaten as snacks at the bar, and the large plates are equally at home tableside or bartop.
The Proper Burger ($17) is one of the restaurant’s most popular plates, perfect for bellying up to the bar. It’s a regular “chef’s feature,” so if it doesn’t appear during your visit, catch it the next time around. A juicy prime beef patty is accented by blue cheese mousse, caramelized onion, arugula, mustard, and bacon for a finger-licking combination. It’s all piled on Toad-in-Hole Texas Toast, in case the toppings weren’t indulgent enough.
Since its opening, terrines have appeared as standards on the Proper menu. These cold dishes usually comprise chopped or pate meat formed into a loaf, often served with toast and other accoutrements. At Proper, the smoky salmon terrine ($13) comes with Breadhive pumpernickel, sliced caperberries, smoked creme fraiche, and pickled red onion for a delicious Nordic feast. During a recent visit, the chicken liver torchon ($13) featured a rich and creamy chicken pate with nutty pistachio butter, cherry mustarda, thick toast, and radicchio for a little peppery crunch.
It’s impossible to go wrong at Buffalo Proper, whether you’re there for dinner or a pretheater bite. Grab a few plates to share and place your experience in Karel and Washburn’s capable hands.
Novelist and freelance writer Lizz Schumer contributes frequently to Spree.