ALLEN STREET POUTINE COMPANY

Jake Fraser - Co-Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company in Buffalo New York. Serving the classic Canadian dish of fresh cheese curds, french fries, and hot gravy.
Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company Jake Fraser

What’s your favorite comfort food? Is it homemade mac and cheese? Smothered meatloaf? A big breakfast of biscuits and gravy? Your mom’s tuna noodle casserole? When I’m craving something that’s filling and bad for me after a night at the bar or a day in the snow I turn to something that reminds me of my childhood in Canada – Poutine.

For those not to speed on this cheesy, gravy drenched mound of Canadian comfort food – here’s an overview. Poutine is a dish that originated in Quebec and at its most basic is composed of three primary ingredients: french fries, hot gravy, and cheese curds. And within that essential structure a million permutations exist – allowing an individual plate of poutine to exist anywhere on the spectrum from late-night heart-attack bar food to fine dining fare featuring a host of luxurious add-ons. The fries should be crispy and in that perfect medium between too thick and too thin – I’m partial to the hand cut kind that leaves the occasional bit of potato skin intact on the fry. The gravy will often be a thin turkey or chicken gravy, though veal and beef-based gravies are also popular. This gravy needs to be served just hot enough to soften but not totally melt the final element, which are the squeaky tangy fresh cheese curds (which, if you live in Canada or any of the US border states, you are probably already intimately familiar with. And for those of you who aren’t, it’s something you should seek to remedy as soon as you can – I suggest ordering some from Western New York purveyor Yancy’s Fancy or even trying to make your own at home, because when it comes to making the perfect poutine the freshness of the curds is key.)

Prior to opening Allen Street Poutine Company, Jake Fraser owned two chip trucks at Sherkston Shores in nearby Port Colborne, Ontario, just across the Peace Bridge from Buffalo. He spent his summers serving fries to tourist crowds on the beaches and hitting the bars with friends at night, nights that often ended with a late night plate of Poutine. He wanted to bring that experience to a more permanent venue, so he teamed up with business partner and longtime friend Konstantine Kentros to bring poutine south of the (Canadian) border. “I knew that poutine was the late night bar food of choice in Canada, but was something of a novelty in The States. Despite being known as The ‘All America City’ there are a ton of expats here and there’s a strong connection between Buffalo and Southern Ontario. There’s a great bar scene, the weather is cold, Buffalonians love to have fun, and there was a need for more great late night food options – Poutine is a great match for that culturally. On top of all that, being in the heart of a bar and music-rich area like Allentown is such a natural fit for us.”

The Montreal Smoked Meat Poutine at Allen Strett Poutine Company in Buffalo, New York
My actual lunch on this shoot – Montreal Smoked Meat Poutine

When I first moved from Canada to the US as a teenager it was a rarity for me to come across poutine. What had once been nearly ubiquitous everywhere I went was now mostly relegated to a rare treat that I got to indulge in on family trips back to the homeland. I spent a lot of time trying to explain to my friends exactly what this mysterious dish was, and convince them that “no, you’ll love it if you try it” (I also spent a lot of time wondering why so many of my friends, despite living mere minutes from another country, had never set foot in Canada – though that quickly changed when we all approached adulthood and started taking advantage of the fact that the drinking age in Ontario is 19, at which time poutine became everyone’s favorite post bar food). Thankfully, Jake and Konstantine are changing that perception – Poutine is becoming less of a here-and-gone trend as it has been in the US in the past and becoming a true fixture of the WNY late night bar scene – just as it should be.

As the dish has evolved it’s become something of a framework, much like hotdogs and pizza – a basic structure that’s informed and reinvented by the experiences of the people preparing and eating it. Much as I’ve enjoyed Sonora dogs that capture Southwestern/Mexican flavors, or binged on amazing Georgian Khachapuri, I’ve run into poutine that pulls flavors from all over the world: Indian Poutine with butter chicken and paneer, Trinidadian inspired versions with curry goat, poutines featuring foie gras and foraged mushrooms that would be at home in a fine French restaurant, and Jake even told me of a Korean remix of the dish with kimchi and bulgogi that he’s come across. As a dish that originated in a country that often celebrates its diversity and multiculturalism, it’s no surprise that those varied experiences and palettes have had an influence on its cuisine.

Jake Fraser - Co-Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company in Buffalo New York. Serving the classic Canadian dish of fresh cheese curds, french fries, and hot gravy. Allen Street Poutine Company’s menu features both the classic rendition of the dish as well as regularly updated offerings based on a variety of regional and international influences. Among the highlights are Buffalo-centric versions like a Buffalo chicken poutine and a beef on weck variety featuring slow roasted beef, caraway, and coarse salt as a topping. Sloppy Joe, Philly cheesesteak, and a pulled pork with red cabbage slaw poutine round out the slate of American inspired flavors. Poland is represented by a poutine adorned with pierogi and sauerkraut, Greece comes strong with a rich poutine seasoned with feta, tomatoes, and oregano. A spicy General Tao’s chicken represents the Asian flavor profiles, and a nacho-style poutine brings little Tex-Mex heat to the party. And of course Canada brings it strong with what, in my opinion, is the restaurant’s signature dish – a Montreal smoked meat poutine covered with the restaurant’s signature cured brisket and pickles (and it’s one of the few places in the States I’ve come across that you’ll even see Montreal smoked meat on menu). There’s even a vegan poutine available to make sure no one is left out of the fun.

After a few rounds of drinks on a cold winter night in Buffalo, it’s comforting to know that there’s somewhere me and my friends can go that hits all the right notes: open late, warm, welcoming, and with great food and beer. It doesn’t hurt that for me it’s like having a little slice of Canada sitting right there inside one of my favorite Buffalo neighborhoods.

THE CHOCOLATIER: BLUE TABLE CHOCOLATES

 Ben Johnson of Blue Table Chocolates - An Artisinal chcolate maker from Buffalo NY who hand crafts unique and colorful chocolate truffles in a variety of flavors, both exotic and classic

I often seem to get dragged along to local markets on mornings when I have no business being awake or even attempting to interact with others, but these always seem to be where I find really interesting small businesses that end up fascinating me. This was definitely the case one morning last year while visiting the Horsefeather’s Market on the West Side of Buffalo. Amongst the produce vendors, small shops selling coffee and handmade dumplings, and an interminably busy brunch spot — was a small table piled with tiny boxes hiding treasures. You could have easily walked past it if it weren’t for the electric colors of the actual product drawing you in. These simple and unassuming cartons were filled with selections of glossy Technicolor chocolate truffles — bright blooms of gold, red, and purple, bisected asymmetrically by a single bold line of color. A metallic dusting leaving them looking a little a starry midnight sky. But don’t for a second think that these truffles are too precious or delicate to eat, their intensity of flavor and uniqueness demands that they be sampled. And honestly, all this romanticized and pseudo-poetic language about chocolates is coming from someone like me — WHO DOES NOT LIKE SWEETS — so you know they have to be pretty good.

The man making and selling these chocolates is Ben Johnson, the owner of Blue Table Chocolates, and he got his start in chocolate as a way to fill his days while looking for a job. Ben came to Buffalo from Boston, MA, where he had been working for over a decade in the non-profit sector with an initiative focused on building affordable housing. Ben’s wife was the catalyst for a move when, as an academic, she was offered a job teaching at the University of Buffalo. “I started looking for the same exact thing here and it wasn’t coming up. So just to fill the day I got a job working at Choco-Logo on Broadway downtown, worked there for about three months, just working the line along with Buffalo’s Burmese community and just got hooked, just got totally hooked until I got another desk job, and you know, ‘say good‑bye, this was fun, you know, take care, guys, I’ll see you around, but I have to go back to my real life now.’ But I never really stopped.” Ben told me.

“So I would be working sixty, seventy hours a week in the non‑profit world and just be completely stressed and burnt out. After work I would get home at nine o’clock at night, say hi to the wife, put the kids to sleep, walk the dog, and then just be all amped up and would make chocolate until two or three in the morning. And I just did that in our kitchen for about four or five years and it got to the point where we would go to dinner parties and bring stuff I’d made along and our friends would ask ‘This is great, where can I get some?’ And there was no answer — like ‘Oh, no, this is just for fun’. The job I was in just got more and more demanding as time went on and I started thinking ‘Why are you doing this? You never see the kids, you never get to go to soccer games, you have no summer breaks.’ So we sat down, had a hard talk about what happens if I do this, what happens if I actually do what I enjoy doing — and the whole conversation was ‘well, what’s the next step, what do you do five years down the road? What do you do ten years down the road?’ And I thought ‘let’s just put that aside, let’s forget about five years, ten years — what do we want to do now? And then it will figure itself out’ So I said my peace and gave two months’ notice so they could start another search to fill my position. I think it was about two and a half years ago, I just started do this real small, some private events, online sales, and it’s just been taking off since then.”

Aside from the immaculate taste, the aesthetic of Ben’s truffles are a big part of the appeal. These chocolates are gorgeous, and not in an overly baroque or ornamental way. The simplest elements of design done well are on display here: line, color, and shape. There aren’t any fancy ornaments or overlaid patterns, just a clean and perfect structure to convey delicious chocolates to your taste buds. A simplicity that is perhaps owed to Ben’s own education in design and architecture. “I studied at UVA for four years. I had a lot of fun. The thing is, and I didn’t even think about this until long after it happened, but every architecture school has got its own assets and quirks, I think. UVA was known to not rely on color in renderings and the models and all that, because that was seen as something of a cheap out. It should be about the design proportions. At most you might add something like a single red line to define a section because it’s that single restrained moment that makes everything else pop more, and that kind of ended up as the aesthetic of Blue Table — don’t get all crazy with fifteen different colors, the rainbow tutti fruity, just have one clean line, and that’s sort of the become the look.”

Ben Johnson of Blue Table Chocolates - An Artisinal chcolate maker from Buffalo NY who hand crafts unique and colorful chocolate truffles in a variety of flavors, both exotic and classic

Much like the architecture he once studied, there is a language to the design of the truffles that Ben makes — a syntax of colors that imply flavor and define expectations. Sanguine crimson with a splash of eponymous color for blood orange, passionfruit is the color of a tropical sunset crossed with a cream color that reminds one of sand. Salted caramel is a regal purple shot though with pure white — royal colors for Blue Table’s best seller. Boxes are accompanied by a flavor guide that explains all this, but it’s much for fun to eat your way through a collection, learning to recognize your favorites by sight. And there’s always the surprises — monthly flavors that are based on the season, ingredient availability, what experiments Ben has ben toying with — sometimes for years. The current monthly offerings are french toast and maple bacon, while past months have included flavors like St. Germain, pumpkin caramel, blood orange, lavender, rosemary pine nut, banana rum, yuzu-ginger, and Pop-Rocks

As a fledgling business, gaining a foothold in the community was important for Blue Table Chocolates, especially since their creative approach to truffles is a little out of step with the ubiquitous presence of sponge candy and chocolate pretzels in Buffalo. Rather than be slavish to tradition or trends, Blue Table has decided to embrace other elements of Buffalo’s shifting culture, including its growing immigrant and refugee community. One of the first major events that Ben got to flex his creative muscles on was a fundraiser for The International Institute of Buffalo — called Buffalo Without Borders – an opportunity that found him creating chocolates with flavor profiles al little outside of what you might find in any of Buffalo’s more traditional chocolatier’s catalogs. ”The idea was to find some sort of bridge between local Buffalonians and the refugee population. There are Burmese families all over Buffalo, as well as refugees from other areas, but it’s really segregated and there’s not much crossover between the communities. So the point of this event was to offer something that was influenced by the Burmese or the Bhutanese community, but was accessible to local Buffalonians as well, and the thought was that chocolate could be that medium.”

“I worked with three families, one from Burma, one from Bhutan, and one from Iraq — and over the course of three of four months of meetings I got to know their stories, their history, and what they like to cook at home. I would go back with a few small Tupperware containers that had samples of ganache — perhaps something like a date and white chocolate ganache with a touch of tahini for a Baklava inspired truffle. And these families were brutal, which was great. Sometimes even if they liked it they would feel the recipe had no real connection to their lives in Buffalo or back in their previous homes — so I had to start over and rethink what I was working on completely. So these families were incredible and really let me know when it wasn’t working. Ultimately I went through four or five versions before settling on something they really liked. For the Bhutanese family I created a toasted basmati rice pudding truffle that was similar in concept to an India rice pudding, but they toast the rice first in peanut oil which gives it a brown color and a great nutty aroma. We also added some toasted cardamom and golden raisin to round out the flavor a bit — which ended up being so specific and unique — but it totally nailed the flavor of this dish.”

“The Burmese truffle was an interesting process because the Burmese culture doesn’t really have a set dessert course in its meals — so instead we based it off a traditional Burmese tea salad, which is a communal event that brings together a lot of small dishes to accompany tea, and guests just sort build their own thing from what’s available. So we worked with coconut milk, chilis, and tamarind paste while omitting other elements of the service like the preserved fish and dried shrimp. It’s a truly unique truffle that’s a little more bitter than what we normally create, and certainly a lot hotter, but It appealed to the palettes of my hosts who kept pushing me to build stronger hotter flavors that they were accustomed to. We’ll be doing that event again this year, so I’m interested to see what I get to create this time.”

It may be a harder road to walk, but by eschewing trends and chasing what interests him, Ben has begun to carve out a loyal following — amongst both fellow obsessives and casual fans. Each season brings a constant evolution and refinement of Ben’s truffles, which he still produces by hand himself. Blue Table Chocolates have become something of a treasure to those that love them — something they will gladly seek out as they follow Ben’s market schedule, order directly from him, or even by opting to one of the subscription plans that Ben offers that featuring both his classic and special monthly flavors. Speaking for myself, it’s the uniqueness of the flavors that Ben creates that drew me to his chocolates — And while you won’t find sponge candy or other classic local favorites amongst his wares, you can be sure that Ben is awake, probably much later than you are, and working on something even cooler to excite you.

SARAH SCHNEIDER OF HANDLEBAR

Sarah Schneider is the Owner of Handlebar - a bicycle themedbar and pub located in The Hub development center in Buffalo, NY
Want to get on your bike and meet somewhere for a pint? I know the perfect place.

Sarah Schneider is the owner of both Merge and HandleBar in Buffalo, NY – the later location being both her most recent venture and her gastronomical ode to bikes, beer, and simple but delicious food. This cycling themed pub has fixed its sights on Buffalo’s two-wheel set, and in a city that embraces events like the Skyride and becomes more bike friendly all the time – that’s a growing crowd.

With gears embedded in the bar, stools adorned with pedals, bike chain chandeliers, and the Penny-Farthing inspired logo that never fails to remind me of The Prisoner, HandleBar creates an environment that is equal parts industrial and organic, vintage and modern – a bright and inviting space for riders (and occasional enthusiasts of alternative forms of locomotion) to meet up and refuel. I’d be decidedly happy having some post-shoot drinks with crew and clients anytime.

Sarah is an avid gardener, raises fowl, and has a strong interest in sustainable food that has always been reflected in her hospitality ventures, so the crew and I were truly excited when we found out that she would be bringing one of her beautiful birds to the shoot. I’m used to having animals make an appearances in my images but I think this is the first time a chicken has made a cameo in one of my portraits, thankfully it was a quiet summer day with wonderful morning light coming in through Handlebar’s windows, so our feathered friend was a well-behaved and welcome addition to the images we were creating.

I’m excited to visit HandleBar again soon, the place has a cool and relaxing vibe that pulls you into the culture it has built itself to serve. Whether you are coming for the food, drinks, or to meet up with like-minded riders, HandleBar should be a regular stop on your route – and frankly, knowing there’s a cold one waiting for you at the end of a ride is a great motivator to start cycling more.

Sarah Schneider is the Owner of Handlebar - a bicycle themedbar and pub located in The Hub development center in Buffalo, NY

STEVE GEDRA OF THE BLACK SHEEP

Chef Steve Gedra of the Black Sheep in Buffalo, NY.

For a long time Steve Gedra has been my favorite chef cooking in Buffalo.

With the two restaurants he’s owned in the city alongside his wife Ellen – their former Elmwood Avenue spot Bistro Europa, and their current restaurant The Black Sheep, Steve has cemented himself as one of the most exciting figures in the Buffalo dining scene, and I’ve got a lot of reasons to appreciate what he does – some culinary, and some a little more personal.

I love the fact that his menus often reflect things that I grew up with that tend to be a little harder to find on most local menus: head cheese, pig ears and pork liver aren’t uncommon things to see when you look over the menu at The Black Sheep. A lot of these are things that remind me of meals I shared with my dad before he passed way (coincidentally – I think he would have really liked Steve’s food).

I love that he works so closely with local producers to pass on the area’s best to his customers.

I love that Steve constantly mixes it up, often inviting other local chefs into his kitchen to collaborate as part of his monthly Midnight Mass events.

I love that Steve can convert some of the pickiest eaters I know – namely my fiancée. As an avowed pork hater she gets mad if I even cook bacon in the house, but she will gladly chow down on any number of porcine goodies if Steve is serving them.

I love Ellen’s deserts – even if for some mystifying reason you don’t eat anything else on the menu, just order dessert and you’ll be happy.

And I love that when I was recovering from a really nasty surgery that kept me from working for quite some time Steve invited Erin and I to Bistro Europa for what was, at the time, the most relaxing and stress free meal we had been able to enjoy in a while – he’s a genuinely welcoming and caring person who wears his love for his customers on his sleeve.

It was amazing to finally have a chance to create this portrait of Steve in the front bar of The Black Sheep. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon before a weekday dinner kicked off, so we had some wonderful light coming in through the windows while we set up this shot and enjoyed some of the fantastic Chemex brewed coffee Steve made for us. Steve and Ellen put a lot of care into the design of the restaurant, including the intimate front bar that then opens up into the larger rear dining room, which is where we decided to photograph Steve enjoying a coffee and a few seconds of quiet prior to service.

THE CHEESE SHOP: NICKEL CITY CHEESE AND MERCANTILE

Jill Gedra Forster of Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile

There’s a strong probability that if you ask me what I want to eat at any given moment, one of the myriad examples of a specific intersection of milk, bacteria, and time is going make an appearance on the list – In other words, to take a cue from Monty Python, I love me some cheesy comestibles.

Cheese is one of those foods that is both simple comfort and elegant luxury – the variety of milks, styles, additions, and ages create a universe of flavors that accompany us through so many moments in life from quiet and simple dinners to ravenous post-bar snacking to romantic interludes and fancy parties  (this is all starting to sound a bit Suessian – I would eat cheese in a boat, I would eat cheese from a goat..). But if you want the really good stuff you have to go a little further than your local mega-grocery – that’s where Jill comes in. Continue reading “THE CHEESE SHOP: NICKEL CITY CHEESE AND MERCANTILE”

THE BREWERS: COMMUNITY BEER WORKS

Rudy And Ethan - Partners in Community Beer Works nano -brewery

There’s a giant Mogwai tour poster hanging on the office wall at Community Beer Works when I sit down to interview Ethan Cox and Rudy Watkins that serves as a reminder that these guys have great taste in music as well as beer – which is fortuitous because it was primarily the relationship between beer and music that first brought this young Western New York Brewery to my attention. The first of their brews that I tried was More Information, a special one-off batch that Rudy had made for a Swans show at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall (their first concert specific brew was Preacher Man, a Godspeed You! Black Emperor inspired American Black Ale). I love beer and loud music, and when a bartender is telling you about a new local brew made specifically for one night and one particular show, it’s hard to say no. Continue reading “THE BREWERS: COMMUNITY BEER WORKS”

THE PIE MAKER: DAMIAN PARKER

Damien Parker, owner and lead creative of Pie Mad and the English Pork Pie Company.

The first thing I learned from Damian Parker is that pies are sexy.

He’s not the only one who thinks so either: Disney, Google, and the US Military are just some of his customers.  The Telegraph named The English Pork Pie Company the Best British Shop in the World three years in a row. Even Gordon Ramsay is a fan of Damian’s products.

Not too bad for an English expat making meat pies in South Buffalo. Continue reading “THE PIE MAKER: DAMIAN PARKER”

THE ICE CREAM MAKERS: LAKE EFFECT

Lake Effect Ice Cream owners Erik Bernardi and Jason Wulf

Pumpkin Gingersnap Cognac, Honey + Blue Cheese, Lime Cardamom, Blood Orange and Angostura Bitters, Farmstand Corn and Blackberry, Whisky Brown Sugar Bacon, Gin and Juice Sherbet, Fernet Branca, Red Velvet?

Hell yes. I’ll have one of everything and a pint of chocolate to go. Continue reading “THE ICE CREAM MAKERS: LAKE EFFECT”

Personal Record 3.1.2012

diner image by buffalo ny photographer luke copping

Personal Record is an ongoing stream of the images I make outside of my professional career. The personal images, mobile images, outtakes, and random candid images that I take on whatever camera I happen to have handy at the time; a documentation of my day-to-day life and the things I come across that interest me visually.


diner image by buffalo ny photographer luke copping ketchup by Buffalo photographer luke copping gas refinery by Buffalo commercial photographer luke copping Black rock kitchen and bar by buffalo ny photographer Luke coppinglouie's red hots by t Buffalo photographer Luke Copping

Scenes from this weeks adventures which have taken me through a variety of diners and eating establishments.

My Mini Vacation

my-mini-vacation-toronto

my-mini-vacation-title

Never underestimate the effect that twenty-four hours can have on your outlook and attitude. After a grueling week a sudden decision was made by me and my girlfriend Erin to jet up to Toronto for an overnight respite from our respective work. Being that we are both freelancers who have schedules that can be difficult to synch these mini vacations and day adventures become more common diversions for us than long overly planned vacations, we are just up for a good spontaneous adventure. Armed only with my iPhone we left on friday afternoon to de-stress, have fun, and go on a short notice adventure before returning to Buffalo and jumping right back into a busy week before opening the new studio. I feel recharged, renewed, and am bursting with new ideas from such a short trip. I sometimes forget how important it can be to just step away for a few minutes, especially during times when I am juggling many projects, both personal and professional.

my-mini-vacation-boat

Driving down the QEW from Buffalo to Toronto and other destinations north, I have always been fascinated by this replica of Jacques Cartier’s Grand Hermie that has been sitting in the water just off the highway for years. It used to be more substantial, but the main hull of the ship has been reduced by rust and fire to little more than a shell, still, the masts rising up over the tree line have long served as a marker for those making frequent trips back and forth from Toronto to Buffalo like we do. I even used to use it a location for some more unorthodox engagement and bridal shoots  back when I regularly shot weddings. It is one of those great roadside quirks can easily spark imagination.

The last leg of the trip, coming into downtown Toronto, is the point where I could feel like our mini-vacation had truly arrived. Some of the quick hit highlights of the trip follow:

• Checking into the hotel and standing in what felt like the longest check in line in history (Note to all – always a good idea to not check in at the same time that two entire conventions worth of people in town that weekend are trying to do the same)

• Walking, and just being out in the open air, wandering the streets, taking pictures, and laughing our asses off at inside jokes just melted away weeks of over-focus and living by a schedule. This is where I re-centered myself the most.

• Taking tons of pictures of me and Erin at her request ( The dreaded mirror shot, everyone loves/hates them, but I will acknowledge how much fun they can be)

• Spending time with my cousin Ryan on our second day there (an older photo above that I took of him a few years back, one of my favorites)

• The food!!! Toronto in always a gastronomic wonderland for us, we have our favorites we always like to drop in on, but are always looking for new spots to get great food and hang out. Toronto has some of the best Indian food I have ever eaten, so friday night we managed to drop by a restaurant close to our hotel for a very late and very relaxing meal. Saturday on the other hand, was all about sitting out in the sun and taking in a long… long lunch. My cousin took us to a Portuguese restaurant with an amazing patio where we spent most of the afternoon drinking beer, eating whole grilled sardines, sausages, great bread, and the most delicious grilled chicken.

Even just one day away from in a different place, a brief change of scenery at best, can be an amazing change for your outlook. Get out there and just go somewhere… anywhere. Even if it is just for a few hours, go have an adventure, eat at the restaurant you always wanted to, get in your car and drive for an hour in any direction, then spend 2 more hours just walking around and exploring where you arrive at, the destination doesn’t really matter, it’s about making the choice to break your routine and just go. Take that same thought process and apply it to the project or image you have been thinking about creating. Just get out there are do it!

Coming Soon

The studio is almost done. We will be holding our opening reception this week, As the image above illustrates – I am sure that Scott will be glad to be finished with the painting.


We have finished the final retouching and post-production on the project for Anatomy, and you can expect to see the finished images in just a week or two.