Last Saturday, H and I headed down to New York to attend the 2nd Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo.
I was so SO excited about this event. With over 45 vendors giving out hundreds of samples, how could a spicy food lover like me not be?
I can now tell you that it was even better than I had hoped it would be.
The level of quality of both the products and the vendors was outstanding. I mean, really outstanding. Even the hottest sauces and foods I tried were absolutely bursting with flavor. The freshness of the ingredients and the care put into making the products was readily apparent at every turn. I can’t recall consuming even one sub-par product the entire time I was there.
Horseshoe was one of my favorite brands at the event. Their kiwi jalapeno hot sauce might be the best thing I tried the whole day. They also had the prettiest display!
H and I purchased the Sweet Spot level tickets, which give you access to the vendors plus a free bottle of a sponsor’s hot sauce and 6 drink tokens per person that you can redeem at the bar for wine, Lagunitas beer, or cocktails. These tickets cost $35 each. I don’t think I need to explain why this is an absurd value, especially in New York City.
Throughout the day you can try as many samples as you can handle (and that is included in your ticket, obviously), but each vendor also has bottles and bottles of product for purchase as well. Fair warning that this can become expensive quickly, especially if, like me, you simply have to have every sauce that made you say “Mmm!” to take home.
The vast majority of the sample sauces are vegan, and sampling is done either on tortilla chips or with a small spoon. So as far as the sampling goes, it really is a vegan-friendly event. A few of the vendors (though fewer than I would have thought) had sauces containing bacon and a few more have sauces with honey (but again, fewer than I would have thought). Another thing to watch out for is Worcestershire sauce (which typically contains anchovies), but outside of the Bloody Mary mixes this didn’t seem to crop up very often.
OTHER FOOD AND DRINK
Several of the vendors had food available to sample, some of it vegan (like spicy pretzels and sriracha popcorn) and some not (like beef jerky and Cabot cheese). There was also some food available to purchase, the majority of which was not vegan (pulled pork sandwiches and tacos…although they did have a vegetarian taco option). They had soft pretzels which looked pretty good (I didn’t try them), although some of them were wrapped in bacon or stuffed with something non-vegan.
They also had a number of stations selling (and also giving samples of) ice cream. Imagine my utter shock and delight when I saw this:
I will have much more to say about this company in a future post. For now, all I need to tell you is that the almond marzipan flavor is out of this world. H couldn’t stop raving about it.
LENGTH OF EVENT
The length of the event (10 a.m. – 7 p.m.) seemed like a lot but was actually perfect, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, you really can’t just sample hot sauces for 9 hours without a break [well, maybe you can, but I sure cannot!]. There were times when I felt like my face was actually melting, and it took me a good 20-30 minutes to cool back down, so having a nice long event meant that I still had plenty of time to get around to most or all of the vendors.
Second, the Expo got increasingly crowded as the day wore on, and the lines for the bathroom and bar lengthened accordingly (although this did correspond nicely with that 20-30 minute cooldown).
Third, as the event winds down, it is nice to have a little time to revisit booths that you particularly enjoyed and to chat with the vendors. I met a lot of really interesting, passionate individuals and was grateful for the opportunity to learn a good deal about the art of hot sauce making and flavor development as well as their sourcing and production.
The expo took place at the Penn Plaza Pavilion, which is on 7th Ave at 33rd Street, directly across the street from the train station. It’s a fantastic, central location and very easy to travel to.
The space was definitely big enough to accommodate all of the vendors and attendees, but I thought the layout was kind of strange and a bit maze-like. It seemed like there were several nooks and crannies where you’d unexpectedly encounter a vendor you hadn’t seen before, even though you’d already spent 4 hours walking around. I’m not sure the layout was *bad* necessarily , but it was different from other expo-type events that I’ve been to.
I should mention that there was nowhere to put coats. H tied his around his waist, and I had to carry mine over my arm the whole day, which made sampling a bit awkward at times.
There also was nowhere to sit down (although possibly there is if you buy the VIP tickets…I didn’t have one so I didn’t see if there were seats in that section), which I know might deter or, frankly, prevent some people from attending. An old friend of H’s came to the event and the two of them ended up just sitting on the floor against a support beam to be able to chat and catch up.
[But none of this took away from the] FUN FACTOR
This event was SO much fun. It’s full of an offbeat, niche crowd of pepperheads that really gets into the whole thing. The vendors also appear to be having the time of their lives, and there’s plenty of silliness and puns to go around.H and I couldn’t stop talking on Sunday about what a great time we had. We already can’t wait to go back next year! In the meantime, we will not lack for hot sauce goodness, as we came home with and outlandish amount of hot sauce (THREE tote bags full) in every flavor imaginable.
In the coming weeks I will have posts highlighting some of the companies that stood out to me, including recipes/uses I’m inventing with some of the wonderful stuff we bought. Stay tuned!