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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Monday, February 8, 2016

Trader Joe's Sweet Onion & Bacon Vinaigrette

Sonia and I both like onions, but unlike our Pittsburghian counterparts, we're not huge bacon fans. Just do a search on this blog for the term "bacon," and pretty much all the results are posts by Russ. I know, I know. Unless you're vegan, vegetarian, kosher Jewish, or dead, what kind of unAmerican commie jerks don't like to eat lots and lots bacon? Us, that's who.
But we loved this salad dressing. Because it's mostly onions. The bacon flavor is very faint, by our reckoning. It's definitely there, but just barely.
Visually, using this dressing is like pouring a bunch of caramelized onions onto your salad. It's surprisingly thick and absolutely full of onion bits. There's actually more solid than liquid in the bottle here, and the dressing literally piles up on your lettuce unless you scatter the product around your salad bowl evenly. Taste-wise, it's not sweet like caramelized onions, but the texture is very similar.
Shockingly, this dressing is pretty subtle overall. It does taste like onions and vinaigrette dressing, but neither one is overpowering. It has neither the full earthy sting of raw onions, nor the sweet acidic zip of other kinds of vinaigrette. I actually wish it were a tad more pungent.
Sonia thinks it's just about perfect the way it is. We both agree it's amazingly unique and adds a lot to our salads. Four and a half from Sonia. Four from me.
Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, February 5, 2016

SHOT O' JOE: Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend

 Listen: I'm not a coffee snoot by any stretch. I mean, I can taste the difference between gas station and coffee shop coffee, between Starbucks and a respectable cup*, and I won't touch the stuff from vending machines at my job...but when I read descriptions on coffee cans, 90% of the time, I can't easily discern the "earthy" or "fruity" or whatever descriptor words get tossed on there. Light vs medium vs dark roast - sure. Much beyond that, dicey at best.

 That is, until I met Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend.

Says right on the front: "sweet caramel flavor." Now, I drink my coffee black, nothing added...and there's absolutely something to this coffee that makes it taste like someone slipped in a small flavor shot. Without any enhancement, it's noticeable enough for a schlub like me. Darn good beans, these are. Most days, a cup or two is exactly what I need to earn the right to go home to the wife and kiddos.

I've been drinking my way thru a cannister at work over the past few weeks, and I'm impressed. If I were to pay something $2 or $3 for a decent-sized cup of it, I'd be happy....and this was pretty inexpensive, probably right around $8 or $9 for the almost-pound. Tremendous deal, especially for it being organic and fair trade. I might have myself a new regular here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* Not all Starbucks coffee is bad - some of their fancier ones are just fine. But a cup of their regular stuff? Tastes like the burned charred remains of some ancient coffee bean burial rite. Will do in a pinch, but far from my first choice.  

Photo courtesy of www.coffeequest.com. Kept leaving mine at work and forgot to snap a pic myself :(.  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trader Joe's Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger

There's a song a few years old that I really enjoy named "Daylight" by a dude named John Mark McMillan. Go ahead and take a listen if you'd like. Sounds kinda Springsteen-y, doesn't it? Now, I'd be willing to bet that at least 95% of you have never heard of this song, or of John Mark McMillan, which is fine...but pretty much everyone has at least a vague idea of who Springsteen is and can recognize songs like "Born in the USA" and "Hungry Heart" and whatnot. Where am I going with this? Follow me here. If Springsteen were to release a version of "Daylight" that sounded 100% identical to McMillan's, it'd be hailed as a classic, a return to form. Dad rock fan boys (hey, me included) would be buying it in droves and Rolling Stone would probably slobber all over themselves in praise. Instead, because it's by a dude named John Mark and not Bruce, it toils in obscurity.

So what makes something great isn't always the product....it's the marketing and the packaging. Ya follow me?

Trader Joe's Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger (why singular?) reminds me of this thought. Sandy, who's keeping calorie tabs, scanned the barcode on the box and instead of TJ's, it popped up as a Dr. Praeger's product on her phone app. Google confirms such a thing as a Dr. Praeger's Thai veggie burger exists, and it's mentioned (although not detailed) on the official site so yeah, probably a Dr. Praeger product. Seeing a Dr. Praeger Thai veggie burger on the shelf, I'd probably pass right on by and not notice. Put the TJ's name and package on it instead, and both Sandy and I couldn't wait to give them a try. Suckers.

All that to say, it's a pretty decent veggie burger. No, it's not going to replace a regular hamburger if that's what you're in the mood for. The patty is mostly rice and carrot based, with some edamame chucked in, so they're not even going for a textural approximation here. Having one of these heated up via microwave and also one baked in the oven, in a rare twist for me, I prefer them microwaved - alittle more moist and palatably pleasing that way. The oven kinda dried them up to a crispy outside, mushy dry inside akin to veggie scrapple. Some onion chunks also add a little character here and there. For taste, it's honestly pretty straightforward, without much complexity or flavor layers like most decent Thai fare. I didn't really pick up any sweet chili flavor from the patty - whatever is there is pretty subtle and would easily be overpowered by any cheese, toppings, or bun. There's a slight bit of residual heat, but not enough to get your knickers twisted. Instead, it mostly tastes like garlic, spices, onion and greenery mixed with rice, which is nice but not quite the kick I was looking for, either.

My ambivalence towards these Thai veggie patties is easily outweighed by Sandy's exuberance. Indeed, they're practically perfect for a reasonably healthy, super easy, and fairly decently priced ($3.69 for a four pack) lunch option. Bonus points for being individually frozen and packed. We had them one night, and was going to review them, fell asleep instead...and when I went to revisit them just a couple days later, I found she had the rest for lunch. There was no twisting her arm to lay down her money and play her part on her return trip to TJ's for more....everyone's got a hungry heart. Four from her, 2.5 from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons