As I've grown older, I've found that ketchup simply doesn't cut the mustard. I don't want a light garnish to add a comfortable little flavor assist to my fries. I want my eggs to pop. I want to taste my steak long after it's been swallowed. I want to not simply eat my food, but to experience my food. It is this longing that has prompted me to reach for sauces of a spicier variety. Frank's, Sriracha, Tabasco; these hallmarks of the hot sauce hall of fame have all graced my plate. But as any eater who truly appreciates heat knows, there's more out there than just these seasoning stalwarts.
It was these savy spice-lovers who found themselves at the 1st Annual Hot Sauce Expo this past weekend at the Williamsburg Waterfront. With a commitment to curating one-of-a-kind eating events for discerning palates all over the city, Food Karma Projects, Jimmys No. 43, & Underground Eats put together an expo celebrating the finest in chili, pepper, and spice sauces from all over the country.
The two-day event included everything from a Chicken Wing Cook-Off to a Spicy Cookie challenge that left its participants sweating and red faced (in the best kind of way).
But this event wasn't simply an exercise in culinary masochism. The most amazing thing on display (besides the sheer number of hot sauce fans in attendance) was the dynamic range of the different vendors and sauces. Rather than just different riffs on the same similar formula, attendees of the expo could sample sauces where the vendors could literally time, to the second, when the taster would experience the different flavors contained in their products. While some vendors appeared to have their focus on image and flash, the real standouts of the expo let the sauces speak for themselves.
After sampling around, I found myself returning to two vendors; Puckerbutt and Baron's International Kitchen. Baron's, based out of Hudson Valley, won me over with a Caribbean Hot Sauce made with habañero peppers, chili powder, and cucumber for a smooth finish. It was light, bright, and distinct. Puckerbutt offered a variety of sauces, but the one that stood out was the Yellow Fever, which combined seven different kinds of yellow peppers from Africa & South America to create an incredibly unique sauce that tasted unlike anything else at the festival (and which I assume would taste fantastic on seafood). I ended up buying a bottle from both vendors.
If a guest opted for being labeled as a Very Important Person, they were treated to exclusive vendors, liquor samplings, and a good deal of delicious biscuits.
While there was a good deal of tasty tacos, bahn mis, and burgers available at the expo, the best bites were available in the VIP section at the Empire Biscuit booth. Flakey, buttery, and baked to perfection, the samples at this table were the ones that I found myself reaching for throughout the entire day. With a location popping up in an Alphabet City near you, this twenty-four hour Southern biscuit shop is one to watch.
All in all, the 1st Annual Hot Sauce Expo was a spicy success. Although my mouth is still burning, I don't regret sampling any of the sauces on display. The event organizers put on a fantastic showing, with things like eating competitions, live music, and a fantastic setting that gave me my first sunburn of the season. Keep your appetite underground, and keep your meals hot!