Over the last couple of weeks, my wife and I have been attempting to expand our lunching horizons, by trying out a few restaurants that have come highly recommended. One eatery in particular, The Nine-Eleven Tavern, has been on our hit list for quite some time. We heard that the wings were spectacular, but that’s about all we knew.
The Nine-Eleven Tavern is located in South Buffalo, just off of South Park Avenue. If you’ve driven down South Park hundreds of times, as we have, you still would have missed it unless someone told you where it was. Once you know where it is, it’s plain as day… and that’s a good thing because it’s a place that you will want to go back to time and time again.
If you’re wondering where The Nine-Eleven Tavern came from, just know that it was founded by owner Mark Gress in 1981 – that’s 35 years! Since that time, Gress has managed to just about perfect the Buffalo wing. Surprisingly, he has also been able to master a magnificent burger. Before we get to the food, let’s talk about the establishment.
The Nine-Eleven Tavern is a quintessential American tavern. On the inside, the tavern is moody, with indirect lighting that includes a number of neon beer signs. It’s wall to wall brick and dar wood, with muted checkered tile flooring and subdued tin ceilings. The walls are covered with Bills and Sabres memorabilia, some of which is pretty interesting. The tavern is reminiscent of an old speakeasy, with ceiling fans that revolve slowly overhead.
The establishment is divided into three distinct areas – the barroom, the dining room, and the patio area. My wife and I opted to eat at the bar. We were tended to by a guy who never strayed far and was always making sure that our beers were full. He was also good about keeping us up to speed with the order that we placed – a burger and wings. When we first sat down, he notified us that the wings would take about an hour to prepare. Since we had plenty of time, we didn’t mind the wait, especially if the wings were as good as we heard they were. As we waited for our order to arrive, we observed the customers coming in and out. The patio was the busiest place to be, and was probably the cause of the log jam in the kitchen. My wife also pointed out that there was a limited number of fryers due to the quaintness of the tavern.
For a hot second we considered playing a game of shuffleboard on the antique table. Instead, we found ourselves simply enjoying the atmosphere and spirit of the bar. The interior was just rustic enough to not look rundown -most everything looked old and authentic. The only bar element that might have been too rough around the edges was the guy’s single occupancy bathroom that had two doors with no locks (from what I could tell). I tried to time a run that would be a quick in and out, but still managed to get a surprise visit before my time was over.
After what seemed to be about an hour, our napkins and silverware arrived in front of us. Shortly after that, the biggest bacon cheeseburger in the land arrived, along with a plate of fiery orange wings. Realizing that the burger was colossal hand formed patty that came with a fleet of different condiments, my wife immediately began to doctor the creation to her own personal specs. She was excited to find thick cut onions and tomato, crisp lettuce and a bun that did not weigh down the burger – it simply acted as a vehicle to handle the burger. As I bit into my third wing, I realized that my wife had completely absconded with the burger. When I confronted her, she sheepishly put the burger down and gave me a great big smile. “The rest is yours,” she said, as she handed me a plate with a couple of scraps left.
Seeing that I had ordered the burger, and she had ordered the wings, I wondered how I had missed out on the majority of the burger experience. What I can tell you is that the part of the burger I was left with was absolutely fantastic. My wife exclaimed that it was one of the best burgers she had ever eaten. I told her that the wings were also top-notch. They were meaty, moist in the middle, crisped on the outside, with just the right amount of sauce. There was also a nice vinegar to butter ratio. As I said, I really enjoyed the wings and had no complaints. My wife thought that they were great too, event though she felt that the sauce was a bit on the sweeter side and were lacking in the heat department. For some reason, we both believe that most Buffalo establishments that serve “hot” wings forget to pack the heat into them. Hot wings used to mean “hot!” – we’re still trying to figure out when the “spice temperature” standard changed. Despite the lack of heat, my wife stated that the wings were probably the best Buffalo style wing around. What she meant by that is that when it comes to comes to Buffalo-style pizza, the sauce tends to be a bit on the sweet side. She felt that The Nine-Eleven Tavern wing delivered a similar hint of sweetness, which for most Buffalonians is like attracting bear to honey.
The Nine-Eleven Tavern tavern has won us over with its burger and the wings. The fresh cut fries? Not so much – we felt that they were soggy and served at room temperature. The blue cheese was chunky and delicious, and made up for the fries. Sometimes its the little idiosyncrasies that can make or break a meal. In this case, the burger and the wings were so good that nothing could have dampened our spirits. Before leaving, we asked the bartender if he was the owner. He told us that the owner was in the kitchen cooking. To us, that was the best thing that we could have heard. We both felt that the quality of the meal was due to an owner being hands on in the kitchen. Although the wait time was longer than normal, the food made it all worth while.
Two more things that you should know about The Nine-Eleven Tavern are… it’s cash only, and you can never have enough napkins. Once again, we have added this tavern to our list of favorite food and beer haunts in Buffalo, and we can’t wait to head back for Bills season (even though they are not open on Sundays!)