The Well-Seasoned O.C.—Savory Spice Shop, Corona del Mar & Costa Mesa

In Denver visiting her best friend seven years ago, Laura Shute returned home with a fragrantly full suitcase—$150, give or take, in herbs and spices. She’d discovered Savory Spice Shop, and couldn’t help a little impulse shopping. Though the name sounds a bit like the sixth member of a 1990s British girl group, Savory Spice is in fact a bulk-boutique purveyor of all things herb and spice, sort of like Penzeys. Surveying her haul, Shute said to her partner, Randy Morton, “We need something like this here.” 

Shortly thereafter, when Savory Spice branched out from Colorado, Morton and Shute secured a franchise for Orange County, opening a year ago in Corona del Mar. A good fit in a center already catering to cooks with Sur la Table and Bristol Farms, Savory Spice has more than 400 everyday-to-exotic seasonings, sold in any amount from a fraction of an ounce on up. Shute’s a friendly ambassador for her inventory, happy to chat about different curry blends or point a grateful cook provisioning for an Italian recipe in the direction of the big jar of fennel pollen. There are also recipes all over the store, illustrating how to use various herbs and spices.

I was glad to see salt, my favorite seasoning, well-represented. There’s a truffle salt with loads of actual truffle bits—a much better way to introduce essence of truffle into a dish than common, patently fake, not to mention bad-tasting, truffle oil. I couldn’t resist a new-to-me very pale pink, flaky Australian salt after trying a few grains in my hand. Just about everything can be sniffed, or shaken out for taste-testing, and Shute cheerfully insists that any remaining in your palm gets brushed onto the glossy, dark-finished floor as you move on to the next. She’ll provide water to rinse your palate, and coffee beans to reset your olfactory sense, so that it’s possible to process quite a few tastes and aromas without fatigue.

Of course, if you’re only in need of some very good Tellicherry black pepper, or a paprika refill, that’s a simple errand… you just have to decide which pepper grind, from super-fine to whole corns, and whether you want smoked or not, hot or mild, Spanish, Hungarian, or California paprika. The beautiful thing about taking a quick sniff and chatting with Shute (or Morton, who often works the floor as well) is, you’ll know which one is right. And leave with lots of ideas for the others, as well.

You’ll be in good company, too. A few weeks ago, Savory Spice was visited by two well-dressed British men, who inspected the stock quite closely. They were affiliated with Tamarind, the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in London that’s opening its first satellite operation in Corona del Mar next week. One, in fact, was the Michelin-starred chef. Satisfied, he told Shute, “Now I know I can get my spices”—meaningful affirmation from a professional working at the high end of sophisticated, seasoning-intensive Indian cuisine.

Like Tamarind, Savory Spice has a new sibling—Shute and Morton’s second location, Savory Spice Stop, opens today in Costa Mesa’s O.C. Mart Mix. And, I’ll have a recipe from Laura in Taste of Orange County soon.

Savory Spice Shop, 928 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, 949-717-7776; Savory Spice Stop, 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 949-284-0576; savoryspiceshop.com.

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