I don’t think I am going out on much of a limb when I say that Jon Karel makes the finest cocktails in town. And at Buffalo Proper—if you’re lucky/savvy enough to avoid the late-night throngs—he has created the kind of bar that makes you want to cozy up and throw back a few.
The problem is, “a few” at Buffalo Proper packs a punch, and my only major qualm with the place when it opened last year was a dearth of noshable food. When you serve cocktails as strong as they come at Proper, you need to offer something straightforward and hearty, preferably of the absorbent starch variety, to soak up the excess. So as good as the dainty panisse and Brussel sprouts of the original small plates menu were, I too often found myself craving a flatbread, French fries, a couple of croutons—anything to get me to my next round. On occasion, I would find it necessary to head to a competing bar (with lesser cocktails) just to get my fix.
Executive chef Ed Forster must have sensed my frustration. Gradually, he has been introducing more shareable, drinking-friendly items to his menu while staying true to the supper club-like tone he established from the outset. And he has recruited the impressive talent at worker-owned wild yeast bakery BreadHive to help him do it.
Earlier this year, Proper’s standard dinner menu was updated to include a basket of BreadHive’s sourdough take on pain d’epi—a pull-apart, baguette-like loaf formed to resemble a wheat stalk. It is especially good slathered in Proper’s cultured butter, and it serves as a reminder that sometimes the most satisfying food is the most simple. It’s my go-to belly filler when I’m a couple of corpse revivers to the wind.
An open-face sandwich section featuring thick, satiating slices of BreadHive toast was another 2015 addition to the menu. The creamy burrata with charred tomatoes and bitter arugula pesto stands out as a personal favorite. On its own, the pesto is nearly too acerbic, but when subdued by the lactic sweetness of the freshly made cheese, it’s on point. My only suggestion for improvement? A little salt, please, to finish. But when it comes to Buffalo restaurants, that’s a fairly standard quibble.
Forster’s new-found bread game doesn’t stop there. Very recently, the Proper team instituted “Rock & Rye” happy hour, weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Now, within that short, precious time frame, five dollars—that’s right, five dollars—will get you a rye whiskey Manhattan (on the rocks, if you’re staying true to theme), a Rolling Rock with a shot of rye, or—wait for it—a hulking grilled cheese on BreadHive rye. Just the sort of thing you need to power you through a night of revelry. On my visit, the sandwich was built with charred tomatoes and grainy mustard. Like the burrata tartine, it would have benefited from a sprinkling of salt (and maybe a little more time over the heat to take the cheese from melted to molten). But I digress. The important takeaway is that Proper, with vital assistance from BreadHive, has slowly but definitively met an alcohol-fueled demand for gluten-laden accompaniments to its fine craft cocktails.
Don’t you love it when two local businesses can come together for a worthy cause?
Buffalo Proper | 333 Franklin Street | Buffalo, New York | (716) 783-8699
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