Matthew La Piana didn’t always like hot sauce, but 12 years in Buffalo cured him of that. He went from a tenderfoot who requested his wings "naked" to a guy who could handle the spiciest wings the city could throw at him.
Now he and his wife Lauri La Piana have put 220 varieties front and center at their new store, Sayville N Spice. "Front and center" is literal, in this case: The sauces are arranged by the Scoville scale* of spiciness, with the most incendiary sauces nearest the front door, the mildest petering out around the store’s center.
Is there any hot sauce aficionado who requires that much choice? "With the spiciest sauces, it’s mostly about heat," Matthew La Piana concedes, "but as you get milder, the flavor profiles become more important. Are you looking for a pear flavor? Cilantro and onion? Coconut and curry? We have three mango sauces at three different levels of heat."
Sayville N Spice opened in November and the season has brought in many customers looking for gifts. "Even people who aren’t into hot sauce know someone who is," he said. Other popular gift items include soup and chili kits (beans and seasonings are in the bag; just add liquid and simmer), dressing kits, cocktail kits (in Mason jars) and combinations thereof, packed attractively in crates and baskets.
The eponymous "spice" also refers to the shop’s vast selection of loose spices, more than 100 of them, from allspice to za’atar and including Hawaiian, Himalayan, wasabi and black lava salts; apple wood-smoked, green, Sichuan and Tellicherry peppercorns; arbol, chipotle, mulato, pasilla and Thai long and short chilies; and spice mixtures from around the world: garam masala, shichimi togarashi, ras el hanout and vadouvan curry, among them. Spices are supplied by the venerable Hicksville Spice Specialist, so freshness and quality are guaranteed. Even better, you can buy as little as one ounce. ("You should have bought one ounce" is the answer to the question "What am I supposed to do with the bag of fenugreek seeds I bought for that one Indian recipe three years ago?")
The La Pianas are accidental spice purveyors. They bought the 103-year-old building in 2018 and maintain offices on the second floor — he’s an architect; she’s a court stenographer. The original plan was to lease the storefront but there weren’t a lot of merchants looking to open during a pandemic. Matthew’s specialty is historic restoration and after he had lovingly restored the retail space, he couldn’t bear to leave it vacant.
That retail space had been the village landmark Thornhill’s pharmacy until 2010. Not only did the La Pianas reinstate the old layout (the spice counter is where the old soda fountain used to be) but he kept the old sign: Look for Sayville N Spice beneath the neon-lit "Thornhill’s Rexall Cosmetics — Drugs — Candy."
Sayville N Spice is at 2 Main St., Sayville, 631-589-0005, sayvillenspice.com.
* More than 1.5 million Scoville units puts you in police pepper spray / Carolina Reaper territory; 100-350,000 is where you’ll find Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros; pepperoncini and cayenne fall between 25-50,000; serrano and Aleppo, around 10-25,000; poblanos weigh in at around 5,000; bell peppers barely register.