Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Trader Joe's Mini Gingerbread Men

In the South, they say "y'all." In Pittsburgh, they say "yinz." Here in Jersey and most other places, they say "you guys" or some variation of that. Let's face it: "you people" is somehow offensive. But every once in a while, when I use the phrase "you guys," I get criticized for leaving out the women folk. So let's just agree right here and right now that "you guys" currently means "you persons," "you humans," or "you (plural)." Just as Spanish words like "niƱos" can mean both male and female children together, or it can mean just boys.

In that same vein, Sonia wonders why there can't be gingerbread women included in this box of merry holiday cookies. Why is it always gingerbread men? Or are we to assume they're genderless gingerbread persons? 

Sonia's whimsical musing isn't necessarily out of a desire for political correctness. It's more because she wishes to see happy cookie couples pairing off with one another to face the excitement and uncertainty of being consumed together, rather than solitary male cookies heading off to the great beyond all by their lonesome, like so many brave soldiers being whisked away to war. However, I sense that this metaphor will very quickly devolve into absurdity within the next few sentences here, so I'm going to abruptly transition to the actual food review. Ready?

Here goes. The cookies are covered in white fudge icing. I like that. Finally, something NOT covered in dark chocolate. They're not too hard and not too soft. I like that, too. Their flavor is gingerbready, sweet, and spicy. There're enough gingerbreadish spices to warm the back of your throat slightly, thus prompting you to clear your throat excessively, which in turn may cause some slightly awkward social situations. Yet the cookies are good enough that you'll continue eating them, which may cause said awkward social situation to escalate into a nightmarish episode of outright public embarrassment. Not really. I'm exaggerating. But no seriously though, they really do kind of tingle at the back of your throat a bit.

I'm not sure what it is about cookie butter that makes it so amazing. It tastes very much like gingerbread, but so much better. If we had any on hand, I would definitely try making gingerbread sandwich cookies with two of these little men and some cookie butter in between. As tasty as these cookies are, I can't really even put them in the same ballpark as most of those cookie butter products, score-wise. They're good, but they're not that good. Plus, I get hyper when I have too many cookies. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia. 

You guys excited Santa is coming next week?

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Trader Joe's Embrace Your Inner Bean

Straight from the folks who previously brought you oddly inspired snack sticks with groan-worthy puns for names comes....Trader Joe's Embrace Your Inner Bean! What's next in this line of veggie tranquility inspired munchies? Some Lettuce Be? Romaine Calm? Bay Leaf in Yourself?

Why can I come up with only puns for shrubbery-esque veggies? I dunno, leaf me alone!

Regardless, before branching out to any other snacks of this ilk, TJ's really needs to buckle down their craft. Just like those Inner Peas were borderline good but missing a little somethin'-somethin', so do these beanie bad boys. They're just on the cusp of being really darn tasty but just don't get there. It's not the texture - a little foamy, but reasonably crunchy but it's the taste itself. First, they're made with rice flour, which doesn't have the same supporting flavor of a regular corn or tortilla chip. I'm not a fan of rice flour at all, I guess, despite its gluten-free properties....wait a minute...these aren't gluten-free? Well, let's read the ingredients...no gluten in any of that...hold on..."May contain traces of wheat, milk, soy, fish, and shrimp"???? What the heck kinda of cross-allergen control polices are in place at that manufacturer? Bad enough that their product cannot reasonably be labelled as either gluten-free or vegetarian/vegan? This is a snack whose main ingredients are beans, rice, and salt. Ay-yi-freakin'-yi. That's some serious point dockage there.

In case you can still ingest these, like I can, the flavor profile also kinda lacks. Silly as it sounds, these sticks might taste too much like black beans (over 60%, says the blurb on the back) and black beans, taste like, well, not much. That's why if we're making them up for some tacos or making a black bean soup, we're sure to add lots of stuff like cumin, which perhaps tricks us into thinking we like black beans more than we actually do. There's a little salt here, which is kinda boring tasting - really, a little cumin or paprika or slight chile powder dusting would have been better, in my opinion.

Anyways, these Inner Beans make an okay dip stick - I dunked some of them into a little homemade guacamole I made and was reasonably happy with the results. Yet, after a few bites, the flavor just kinda goes back to the rice flour more than anything, and I can't shake that lingering essence off my molars. Meh.

Sandy enjoys these kinda things more than I do, usually, and this time was not an exception. "I'd get these for a car trip or something for a light snack," she said. But I can tell she's not overly enamored, especially when she gave them a half-hearted three.That's more generous than I can go. As is appropriate for their buck-fifty price tag, I'm going 1.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Embrace Your Inner Bean: 4.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trader Joe's Jingle Jangle

I thought $7 for Cookie Butter Cheesecake was pretty steep, even though, admittedly, it was worth every penny. Well, this stuff was $9 at the Marlton TJ's. You'd think for that price, they'd at least give it some highfalutin name like "Extra-ordinary Random Chocolate Covered Nonsense of the Finest Collection," like that weirdness that Russ checked out recently, or something pretentious like that. Nope. Just Jingle Jangle.

There were milk and dark chocolate covered pretzels, mini peanut butter cups, Joe-Joe's, M&M-like things, and dark chocolate covered caramel corn—the latter of which was about the only novel element in the mix. Everything else felt like something I'd had before. To my great disappointment, there were no white chocolate covered items, although some of the pretzels had a wee bit of white chocolate drizzle on top. It was practically untasteable, though—more for decoration than anything else.

The tin was filled to the brim with the aforementioned goodies and was actually quite heavy. If you're battling rain or snow as you carry it out of the store in one of TJ's famous paper bags, be wary that the bottom doesn't drop out on you. It's a good bit of food and a great lot of calories, but in my opinion, the five species of candy in the tin still aren't enough variety to justify the price. They get old pretty quickly. It's definitely a product you'd want to consider for large office parties, big family gatherings, and grand soirees. It's not to be shared by one lonely couple and two pets who can't have chocolate. Thank goodness we'll have some company later in the month to help us finish it.

As someone who's not a huge fan of dark chocolate, I'm just not sure this is the best way to spend $9 at Christmas time. The quality of the ingredients is fine. I wouldn't call that into question. But hey, you dark chocolate fans, wouldn't you rather enjoy the flinty undertones of your sophisticated candy alone in a bar form, rather than coated all over a generic Oreo? There was some milk chocolate, but not nearly enough to suit me. If it weren't for the joyous holiday spirit soothing my cynical soul right this moment, I might have snubbed this product even worse, but I'll be Christmassy and throw out three stars. Sonia likes dark chocolate, so she'll muster enough enthusiasm for three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.