At the Nine-Eleven Tavern, owner Mark Gress has a motto: “Simple is good and it works for us.” There are only four options for wings – hot, medium, mild and plain – yet this workingman’s tavern tucked away on a quiet street in South Buffalo has carved out a reputation as one of the city’s best options for its signature food.
That may be because Gress has literally been behind every plate of wings served at the tavern. He mans a small, two-fryer kitchen nightly and personally cooks and assembles every wing order, just as he has since he first opened the watering hole in 1981. The homemade sauce – prepared by him daily– remains a closely guarded secret that he hasn’t divulged to even close family members.
Gress’ presentation – carefully placed wings and celery revolve like clockwork around a bowl of blue cheese adorned with celery leaves – is without precedent locally. And the wings themselves are large, crispy, and saucy. Order the hot wings to try Gress’ sauce – one of the most flavorful in town – in its purest form. It starts sweet and tangy, then builds towards a robust, fiery finish.
Wait times at Nine-Eleven during peak hours can be lengthy, and Gress understandably needs an occasional day off from cooking over the course of the year, which closes the tavern. But the Nine-Eleven’s mystique transcends these quirks. This may be the last opportunity to sample wings directly made from one of the forefathers of the Buffalo wing, a first-generation pioneer of the city’s culinary classic whose contribution to the scene is finally getting its due.