Destination Larkinville: From food trucks to micro-farming, Larkin Square offers new ways to dine downtown
On Food Truck Tuesday in Larkinville, find a wide variety of culinary options, and enjoy drinks, live music and more.
On any given Tuesday evening this summer, a delicious party is in full swing at the corner of Swan and Seneca streets, and there’s plenty of free parking. Larkin Square, a pocket park tucked along the northern side of the rehabbed Larkin Exchange office building, is a unique multi-use space launched in 2012 by Larkin’s CEO, Howard Zemsky and his wife, Leslie, along with a group of forward-thinking, collaboration-minded business owners, activists, artists and preservationists.
A year later, in May 2013, the Zemskys and friends launched Food Truck Tuesdays, inviting six of Buffalo’s first food trucks to serve dinner outside this tiny town square. A week after that first Tuesday, several more trucks joined in and the event began to grow organically, as the Zemskys had hoped. Like its nickname, “Larkinville,” Larkin Square has grown into one of downtown Buffalo’s most diverse and eclectic summer destinations.
“We wanted to create accessible, family-friendly entertainment that supported the local neighborhoods as well as the businesses who participated,” explains Harry Zemsky, 25, Howard and Leslie’s son and the next generation of Zemsky entrepreneurs to help manage the Square.
There are many kinds of low-key fun here: pickleball courts for kids and adults (a kind of hybrid between tennis, badminton and ping pong), brightly colored Adirondack chairs for lounging and hula hoops for the young at heart. Every Wednesday, area bands of all genres play rock, blues, jazz and more at the “Live at Larkin” series. A wide, covered stage near a convenient (and free!) parking garage serves as bandstand as well as a shelter if raindrops fall, and with its cushioned chairs and picnic tables it’s the perfect place to take a load off and enjoy a cold beer and a burger.
And the trucks: Now numbering at 30 and counting, the food trucks are the main draw for hungry people of all ages, offering classic summer treats (ice cream, wings and hamburgers) to more creative cuisine (Pad Thai, gourmet meatballs, even lobster mac and cheese). Joining Buffalo pioneers like Lloyd Taco Truck, Roamin’ Buffalo and Sweet Hearth are many newer trucks offering Greek dishes, paninis, wood-fired pizza and more with names like The Knight Slider, The Whole Hog and House of Munch. And close to 10 Rochester trucks make the hour journey to dish up clam chowder, gourmet meatballs and poutine, among many other dishes.
New to Larkin Square this year are local farms, such as Arden Farms, who sell fresh produce. On four Thursdays this summer, a limited-run “Lunchtime Live at Larkin” will offer live music and food for the downtown office crowd.
The most significant new attraction is the Larkin Market, running from mid-July through mid-September and featuring a variety of vendors selling artwork, home and personal goods, and of course, food. Market nights will be food-truck free, and will instead offer products from Buffalo-area farms, food artisans and local restaurants. It will have a distinct barbecue vibe: jerk chicken sandwiches from Curly’s, a guy selling hot tamales, and ribs and clams on the open bar grill. Look for homemade pies and lamb burgers, and Mineo and Sapio selling and cooking sausages. Public Espresso and doughnuts will round things out — and that’s just the start, says Zemsky.
Harry has developed an interest in food and hospitality while working at a restaurant after graduating from the University of Vermont. What drew him back home to Buffalo, he says, was the opportunity to run his own truck—in this case, a vintage Airstream trailer, Square One Sandwiches, stationed near the open-air bar that sells beer and wine during events (you pay for food and drink, but all Larkin entertainment is free and open to the public).
After a year at Square One, Harry packed up the Airstream to focus on opening Hydraulic Hearth, a brick-and-mortar restaurant across the street. Opening later this summer with a small menu centered around wood-fired pizzas and a beer garden, it will echo Larkin Square’s model of simplicity, accessibility and fun. Bar manager Chris Guilmet, who has mixed drinks in L.A. and New York, will oversee the beverages, which will feature custom brews from Community Beer Works and craft cocktails using fresh herbs grown just steps away at the Larkin Farmette, a tiny micro-garden that produces the flowers, tomatoes, zucchini and other fresh produce used for Larkin’s public and private events.
“It’s been a great opportunity to learn the food business first-hand,” Harry says of Larkin Square’s many culinary collaborations, adding that he hopes to re-open the Airstream someday, once Hydraulic Hearth is running smoothly.
After all, what’s old is new again at Larkinville, where good eats help fuel the future.