The kingdom of hot sauces
By Michael J Melville
On Florida’s sunshine coast, not far from the bustle of Sarasota sits a place called Lido Key. On the north end of this placid water encircled key, and surrounded by condos and mostly high-priced homes sits a place called St. Armand’s Circle. This area is a foodie and shopping lover’s dream especially if you like higher end merchandise but it also has its fair share of every man and woman shops. These range from the classic souvenir stores to soap stores and even Starbucks. You can get pretty much anything a vacationer would want from shirts that shrink after one wash to opulent items from GUCCI and Pandora while sipping wine or ice cream in-between.
On my trips to Sarasota over the last 7 years, I have been to St. Armand’s many times. Shops come and go, some that were there on my first trip amazingly survived the economic crash and are still there while some, have sadly folded or moved. I really miss that wine shop. I won’t go into great specifics about the whole shopping center but you can read more on it in a travel blog I wrote a few years back by clicking here.
Anyways, in St. Armand’s circle lies a little shop that is a haven and a necessary destination for anyone who likes the spicier side of food life. It’s called The Pepper Palace. Now, it’s not filled with generic shelf brand sauces like you would find on the grocery store shelves but they do a have a few harder to find and niche brand options. Stacey, my spicy food loving beauty was all too eager to go in and see what she could find and we left with a large a bag and burning mouths (at least I did).
The awesome and unique thing about this shop is that nearly everything they sell is made in house. It’s not just a few options either. When I saw the variety of salsas, hot sauces, rubs, steak sauces, dips and even jelly’s I was just blown away. I didn’t think Habanero strawberry jelly was a thing!! I would say there had to have been around 100 unique homemade recipes.
Each section either has free tortilla chips to put the sauces on or plastic spoons and I’ve never tasted so many spicy shenanigans in one place in my life. I’m really glad I picked up that Coke in the previous shop. The nifty thing is that each creation has a number rating indicating the level of hotness from 1 to 10 with 10 being the hottest. Stacey is the queen of spicy where I am in her words “a baby” which is totally true. A decade ago I would have been all about trying a 10 but now I’m around a 5 or 6…..or a 4. She was more than willing to try the scorpion pepper sauce at 10 on heat scale and I was just like NOPE.
Honestly, I’ve never been in store this thorough when it came to this sort of product. I was amazed the knowledge of the salesmen who was working as well as his friendliness and helpfulness despite the fact they were busy. We were buyers though not hit and run “taste testers”. I was thrilled about my mocha/coffee BBQ sauce rated at a 6 which currently is causing my body to implode. I used it tonight as a dip for my steak for dinner. I loved the subtle smokey coffee flavor and the little bit of burn 15 seconds later. I kept getting more I couldn’t help myself.
Another nice thing about this shop is that they ship to all 50 states from that store via their website. If you are in the area and are visiting St. Armand’s or passing by on your way to or from Longboat key to the north, I highly recommend stopping by and have fun tasting the spicier side of food.
Here is a link to their Facebook Page for more info