Why This Spicy Hot Tomato Oil Is My Favorite Thing at Wegmans
The first thing you should know about Pastabilities, an Italian restaurant in Syracuse, New York, is that if you order bread for the table, it won’t come with olive oil—rather, Spicy Hot Tomato Oil. The second is that once you’ve dunked that first piece of homemade stretch bread into the sweet-hot, garlicky sauce, you’ll have a hard time not grabbing another piece. And another. And another. And before you know it, you’ve flagged down your server to ask for more bread. Yes, you still have pasta on the way, but it’s a crime to let the dish go back to the kitchen without every drop of red sauce meticulously, ravenously scraped clean.
The sauce, which is the restaurant’s top-selling menu item ($5, for an order of it with bread), is made with tomatoes, pure olive oil, sliced garlic, honey, spiced oil, salt, and chili peppers. When Guy Fieri tried it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, he said, with great enthusiasm, “You need a special license to serve that!” He's not wrong. I spent four years studying at Syracuse University, and every time my friends and I craved homemade pasta, we would pile into a car and drive to Armory Square. It might have been someone’s birthday, or a celebration for the end of finals; either way, there was an unspoken agreement that we’d order Spicy Hot Tomato Oil for the table, no matter what we wanted for our main courses.
And yet, should you love the sauce enough to want it for your main, there’s an option for that too. You can pair it with any of the restaurant’s pastas for $14.50, served with Locatelli cheese—or, mix it with vodka sauce, Alfredo sauce, bolognese sauce, or even regular tomato sauce for an added kick of flavor. Pastabilities calls it a “put-on-anything” sauce for a reason, and in addition to pasta and bread, the team also recommends spooning the sauce over eggs in the morning. For the best part about the Spicy Hot Tomato Oil is that you don’t have to drive all the way to Syracuse to try it—in addition to being available on Pastabilities’ website, you can also find jars of "Pasta's Daily Spicy Hot Tomato Oil" at Wegmans.
Wegmans, which is consistently ranked as one of the best supermarkets in the U.S., is another New York institution—it was founded in Rochester in 1916—so it makes sense for the brand to sell this regional classic. During college I'd bring home jars for the holidays and share it with my family, spreading the gospel of Spicy Hot Tomato Oil and crusty bread in New Jersey. As it turns out, stocking up wasn’t necessary. My roommate found jars of Spicy Hot Tomato Oil at her local Wegmans in Maryland; the store that recently opened near me in Montvale, New Jersey also sells the sauce, and it can be found in the pasta aisle, the flaming tomato design displayed brightly on the jars.
Now that the new Wegmans location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is finally open—so highly anticipated, fans waited in line in the rain on opening day—New Yorkers, too, can experience the magic of Spicy Hot Tomato Oil. There’s a lot to love about Wegmans already, from the surprisingly good sushi to the impressive sandwiches and burgers at the Burger Bar. Hell, I spent way too many of my college years camped out at the macaroni and cheese station at the hot bar. But if you can get your hands on a jar of this sauce, do it. The flavor is rich and not too spicy, tempered by the sweetness of the honey. Just make sure you have plenty of napkins on hand, as the oily sauce tends to dribble and spatter everything near it with little red flecks. (Again, worth it.)
I plan on moving to New York soon, so it brings me comfort knowing that Wegmans, and by proxy, Pastabilities’ Spicy Hot Tomato Oil, will be there, like an old friend from college waiting to greet me. It might take a while for the crowds to dissipate, but once they do, I’m looking forward to eating tomato oil and bread in my apartment once more—just in a different part of New York than where I started.