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, September 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Zinger

"Put your pears on the stairs!"

"Stomp and roar, out the door!"

"Put your sidewalk on the fidewalk!"

Yes...rhyming is all the rage these days with my four year old daughter. It's going on for weeks, nonstop. Most of our conversations sound like the classic Princess Bride talk between Inigo and Fezzik....sometimes with actual words, and as you can see, sometimes not. It's what we do, usually with a giggle...and a wiggle!

I'm fairly glad that I won't have to explain that the words "ginger" and "zinger" don't precisely rhyme, despite looking pretty similar. That "g" at the start of the second syllable is troublesome, isn't it? Close, but not enough. No rhyme, at any time.

But I ought to attempt to explain to all you fine folks how Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Zinger tastes, so here goes. Best way I can explain is, think of a bell curve, with one end designated for lemonade and the other for a mild ginger beer. Your tongue "rides" this curve as you taste this particular drinky concoction. At the foothills, there's the sugary sweetness of the lemonade, but when one would expect the tart bite to kick in, there's the intermingling of the ginger. This mix gets stronger, and just when the flavor you think would apex, it descends once more, this time more towards the ginger, with the very tail end leaving a meek, inoffensive ginger burn.

And that's pretty much it.

One end, a little lemonade, on the other, a little ginger beer, and in the middle between those two points there's a whole lot of not much. Well, sugar and water, yes, but really...nothing there. A little carbonation would have helped carry any flavor through, I think, because really, this kinda reminded me of flat soda. On the plus side, when I mixed a little rum in there, that middle ground picked up fairly well with a more solid base in there.

TJ's has proven how delectable ginger and lemon can be before. It's too bad the results can't be duplicated in beverage form here. Sigh. If this were still the hot depths of summer instead of slowly turning towards hoodie weather here in the Northeast, I might be a little more forgiving and use some words like "light" and "refreshing"...but not to be rude, I'm not in the mood. At $3.49 a quart, no need to rush it to your fort, but might be worth a shot...that's all I got.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Zinger: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar

I've always loved the stars, space, and science-fiction. During my time at Penn State, I took as many astronomy classes as I could without declaring an astronomy minor—mainly because doing so would have added a boatload of math classes to my curriculum. I was never terrible at math, but I didn't really enjoy it either. So I took classes about archaeoastronomy (the study of archaeology and ancient cultures as they related to the stars and constellations) and the probability of life elsewhere in the universe. Incidentally, PSU has been in astronomy news recently, as one of its astronomers came up with the theory that the unusual drops in light levels coming from "Tabby's Star" might be due to "alien megastructures." I think that particular astronomer may have jumped the gun on announcing the potential existence of extraterrestrials, but hey, you never know.

My personal theory about those strange dimming patterns from star KIC 8462852: a swarm of Trader Joe's Quasar Bars en route to Earth...and BREAKING: the first wave has just arrived. Thanks to reader Ryan B. for the heads up on these TJ's brand "Milky Way" bars (who curiously has an alien featured in her Facebook profile pic).

If you like Milky Way bars, you'll most likely enjoy Quasars. They're extremely similar, with just a few key differences. TJ's offering is a little more salty, so there's a bit of that "salted caramel" effect. And it's coated with dark chocolate, rather than milk chocolate, so it's just a tad less sweet. There's still whipped chocolate on the inside, as well as caramel and nougat—so still plenty of goodies for those of you with sweet tooths...er, sweet teeth?

It's got the classic, soft, nougaty vibe that we've all come to know and love, as well as a cool astronomical name, all for just 99 cents. And it's yet another bone thrown to the dark chocolate crowd, but there's plenty of sweet stuff in there too, so you won't hear me complaining on this one. I think I'll give this delectable candy bar four shooting stars. Sonia will go with four and a half.

If you're interested in knowing what a quasar actually is, I'll just point you in the direction of this article. It's a fascinating subject, but not one I'll elaborate on here on our adventurous food blog...because it would take up way too much space...and I still wouldn't be able to explain it adequately.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Trader Joe's Half Moon Cookies

I've already mentioned Seinfeld's Black and White Cookie on this blog once long ago. "Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony." But it really needs to be brought up again. Because this product essentially IS the Black & White Cookie. TJ's offering doesn't look quite as large as traditional B&W's, but other than that, they're remarkably similar in appearance.

Apparently very popular among New York's Jewish population, these cookies have been a mainstay at NYC bakeries for many generations. Trader Joe's went with "Half Moon" here, perhaps to deliberately avoid the stereotypes that go along with "Black & White Cookie," however, according to this article, penned by someone far more familiar with the history of these fun pastries than I am, a "Half Moon Cookie" is a devil's food cookie iced with chocolate and vanilla frostings. Cookies with a soft vanilla dough, such as these, are most definitely Black & White Cookies. The author of that article goes so far as to call people who refer to Black & White Cookies as Half Moon Cookies "philistines," and he points out that Black & White Cookies should be more accurately referred to as "Apartheid Cookies," which I found quite amusing, but that's neither here nor there in terms of this product review.

What is important is that these particular Trader Joe's brand cookies really aren't much to get excited about. I enjoyed the softness of the cookie part—and I liked that it wasn't too sweet. But I found both the chocolate and vanilla fondants to be somewhat disappointing. Each side featured a vague vanilla or chocolate flavor, respectively, but neither was a taste I was eager to return to. The fondants were far more firm than the cookie itself, and in a way, I felt like they ruined the nice texture of the doughy part. Sonia felt the same way. If anything, she was even more bored by these than I was, flavor-wise.

There's nothing particularly unappetizing about them, either. We snacked on them from time to time and didn't find it very hard to get through the package, but we weren't exactly fighting over who got the last one. In the end, they're just not particularly memorable.

Two and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.