by Brandon Fox
Joe Sparatta obviously doesn’t have enough to do. The chef and co-owner of both Heritage and Southbound has a fully loaded E-ZPass, and when he’s not crossing bridges to get to one or the other of his restaurant kitchens, he’s thinking about products he can whip up and sell to diners.
The first to see the inside of a bottle is a tangy, brilliantly red-orange hot sauce called Texas Mike’s. Heritage sous chef Mike Hill is its namesake and the man who spearheaded the project. He also vaguely — very vaguely — resembles the cowboy on the label.
“Mike has no affiliation to Texas,” Sparatta says. “He’s from Harrisonburg, Virginia.”
Why, then, name the product Texas Mike’s? “It was a last-minute thought at a brunch,” Hill says.
The vinegary sauce is reminiscent of Texas Pete hot sauce — a product that also has nothing to do with Texas. Texas Pete originated in North Carolina and is still made there.
Sparatta wanted something spicy and he wanted something to put on tables at brunch, but it had to have a different flavor profile. “No knock to Sriracha, I’m just really sick of seeing it everywhere,” he says. “I love Sriracha — we all love it — but it’s nice to have something we’re producing.”
The Fresno and cayenne chili peppers used in the sauce are grown by Victory Farms. Hill takes those and pulverizes them in a food processor with sea salt and white vinegar. That goes into the refrigerator to sit until the flavors meld.
Sparatta wants to team up with Victory farms to create even more products. He’s thinking of tomato sauce, pickles and whatever else he and Victory Farms co-owner Charlie Collins can dream up. The farm’s extra produce usually goes straight to compost. Canning parts of overly abundant crops would reduce waste.
“It ebbs and flows — there are times when we have excessive amounts of products,” says Gina Collins, Charlie’s wife and co-owner of Victory Farms. “Peppers do really well here and when you get them, you get a lot of them. Customers don’t necessarily want 50 pounds.”
Eventually Sparatta wants to sell onion jam and tomato jam — condiments he already makes to use in dishes on Heritage’s menu.
“Joe is one of those kinds of chefs who really thinks about these kinds of things,” Collins says, “and thinks about unique ways of using our products.”
There a lot more hurdles to jump before Texas Mike’s Hot Sauce is available for retail sale, but until then you can buy a bottle for $8 at Heritage.