Known and loved for its green space and incredible views of Manhattan, East River State Park was used as the venue for the first annual New York City Hot Sauce Expo on April 20th and 21st. With vendors from Brooklyn, Manhattan and other outer boroughs, this two day event gives artisans and foodies the opportunity to present and sample the art of hot sauce and spicy foods. In only its first year, the notable vendors and offerings at this festival show its potential for a bright future.
Based only on flavor, the star of the festival was Bonfatto’s Wing Sauce & Marinade from Pennsylvania. While each sauce had its own unique flavor profile, the top pick was the sweet and spicy apple pepper jack. This highly touted sauce had a great balance of sweetness from the apple and spiciness from the pepper and can be paired with anything from grilled chicken and baked beans to sweet dishes such as pancakes and desserts.
Also drawing rave reviews was the hot pepper sauce from Massachusetts-based Dirty Dick’s. Like the apple pepper jack from Bonfatto’s, this sauce also had a nice sweetness, but its overall flavor was more akin to what is expected from a traditional hot sauce. Useful both in cooking and as a dip or condiment, this sauce can bring out the heat and enhance the flavor of almost any savory food.
Although their selection of sauces, popcorn, and spicy mustard are intriguing and full of flavor, the PuckerButt Pepper Company’s claim to fame is the world’s hottest pepper. This Carolina company is home to the “Carolina Reaper,” the current record holder for “World’s Hottest Pepper.” In addition to their other items on display, PuckerButt also had on hand a sample of this record holder for those brave enough to have a taste.
While not a hot sauce, one of the best items offered at the festival was spiced Bloody Mary mix sold my Murph’s Famous. Like some of the sauces on display here, this mix is quite versatile and can be used as the base of a drink or in cooking. Unlike most Bloody Mary mixes, this version has a touch of spice and a flavor that is similar to a savory tomato sauce.
Hot sauce is the theme of this festival, but two of the best offerings were pleasant surprises. Dana’s Bakery offered a selection of macarons, including a ghost pepper version created for the occasion. This sweet treat fit in perfectly, as it had a touch of spice that was cut by the chocolate and cream cheese filling. Another welcome and well-placed treat was a selection of small ice cream sandwiches sold by melt bakery. Melt clearly had the right idea since ice cream is quite effective at cooling the burn from spicy foods. Among the choices at this cart was a specialty flavor and an unusual combination of beer ice cream served between two peanut butter cookies. This and the other offerings were very surprising and contrasted well with the heat of the hot sauces on display.