Interview: Aaron Knoll

This week’s Buffalo Foodie is Aaron Knoll, creator of the Gin-themed blog The Gin is In and author of Gin: The Art and Craft of the Artisan Revival and co-author of The Craft of Gin. Aaron is also from Western New York, which I found out when he visited Lockhouse Distillery last October. On top of being an all around Gin expert, Aaron is a designer and musician and lives in New York City. After getting a copy of his most recent book and following along his various reviews and postings on his blog (his top 10 Tonic waters list hs improved my G&T game at home), we knew that we had to reach out to Aaron with our foodie questions. Here’s what he had to say about his favorite places to go when he’s back home.

When you are back in town, where do you go to eat?

Aaron: I’ll admit to being an expat with a Buffalo food pilgrimage that I go on as a matter of ritual when I’m in town. I need to get my chicken wing fix, so I start with Duff’s. That’s certainly at the top of the must have list. And maybe a Mighty Taco too.

My sister introduced me to Sophia’s on Military a few visits ago and it’s been a staple of my visits ever since. I really like the Corned Beef Hash and their omelets. Quickly became one of my favorite brunch spots in the city. Betty’s over in Allentown is another spot that I really love and is still doing really great stuff. Their brunch/lunch has been one of my go-to meals to catch up with friends who are still in the neighborhood. It’s always a delight to grab a taco from Lloyd too. It could probably out-compete the lot of the taco trucks we have down here in New York City.

When you are back in town, where’s your favorite places to grab a drink?

Aaron: To see the bar I spent every Friday night in for years [so long Laughlin’s] turned into a top notch cocktail bar is the primary reason why I’m still hanging out on the corner of W. Tupper and Franklin. That building has followed me throughout the last decade plus and has changed nary a bit [it’s the same bar! and shelves!]. But Buffalo Proper does the classics really well [try the Last Word] and then they gave their own variations that I like [The Gin + Carrot shrub one], and of course the non gin drinks are really good too. It’s one of the best places to grab a cocktail in Buffalo. Bourbon and Butter has some fantastic drinks in a great space, and it’s still a wonder to marvel at the renovated Lafayette. Vera was one of the first places I remember getting a really great cocktail in Buffalo and is still doing great work. I missed checking them out in my most recent visit, which I suppose more a compliment to Buffalo’s burgeoning cocktail scene than it is anything about them.

Aaron Knoll Reading at Lockhouse
Aaron Knoll Reading at Lockhouse

If you brought someone to Buffalo, where would you go to show them a good “Buffalo” time?

Aaron: I definitely love the outdoors so I think we’d have to take advantage of the Buffalo winters. There’s the ice bikes, the ice skating,and of course curling. So definitely, we’d go curling over at Canalside. I’d take them to a Sabres game or a Beauts game over at HarborCenter, and show off the house that hockey built.

After that, I think there’s something really exciting about taking people out to try the things which are made in the place you’re visiting. I’d take them over to Pearl Street Brewery for some brews and then Lockhouse Distillery over in the cobblestone for some cocktails made with local spirits.

If there’s still room, I’d dig deep into my Buffalo experience and take them out for some wings at a place they probably wouldn’t find on their own. Bob and John’s La Hacienda on Hertel are among my dark horse contenders for most under-appreciated top-notch chicken wing in Buffalo. They were my go-to for years, when I lived in the Elmwood Village in college, they were the wings (and pizza) I shared with my downstate born and raised friends.

What are some of your favorite food memories from your childhood?

Aaron: Growing up, we didn’t go out too much. I can remember vividly from my childhood the kid’s menu hamburger at the Wellington Pub, where each plate was decorated with a single piece of decorative kale on the edge of the plate.

But we were really about home cooking. My dad used to spend all day Saturday or Sunday in the kitchen, working over his huge 10 gallon pot, perfecting his spaghetti sauce. The way the smell filled the kitchen, and the promise it brought for the coming week: meatballs perhaps were being cooked up too. Or so I’d always hope. And then maybe we’d save some sauce and my mom would make her signature lasagna (which I asked for every year for my birthday).

What would you like to see more of in our local food/drink scene?

Aaron: For too long, it was that you couldn’t find good, unique, home-grown mixology in Buffalo. It’s changing, but I’d love to see more of it, with more restaurants investing in cocktail programs, nurturing home grown drinks talent. It still feels like Buffalo is catching up to where other cities are, but with all of the distilleries and breweries in town, it seems like Buffalo has a huge opportunity here.

We’d like to thank Aaron Knoll for taking time out of his busy schedule and answering our questions. If you are interested in Gin, check out his blog or grab a copy of his latest book. Otherwise you can follow him along on twitter.

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