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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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peaberry Coffee Beans

The whole chocolate-covered espresso bean/coffee bean thing is growing on me. Bite-sized blasts of earthy cocoa, sugar, and caffeine were never my go-to pick-me-up, but even non-coffee drinkers like me have to admit, there's a lot of good stuff going on here.

I've had quite a few different brands and varieties of this sort of snack, but this is probably the best one I've tried so far. Sonia agrees, and she's far more into coffee and its derivative products than I am. There's a delightful depth to the taste of these beans that blends seamlessly with the bittersweet chocolate. Everything from the crunch of the beans to the texture of the coating is on-point and amazing. 

When I walk into a coffee shop, I always smell the enticing aromas of roasting beans and steaming milk, but when I purchase that rare cup of coffee or espresso, I'm almost always let down. Even with the best blends, I always feel like the taste of coffee can't compete with its fantastic fragrance. Not here. These beans taste like that coffee shop smells: sweet, rich, robust, and downright delicious.

The biggest drawback to these peaberry beans is the inevitable urge to eat way more than you should in one sitting—not just for the calorie count, but also because you'll be buzzing and bouncing well into the night. If you want to play a really mean trick on someone, give them a tub of these treats right before bedtime and watch them try to eat just one.

Sonia will go with four and a half stars for these comestible coffee beans. I'm still not the biggest coffee bean backer or dark chocolate devotee in the world, but I can't go with less than four here.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Trader Joe's Chicken Spring Rolls

Although not quite as traditionally 'Murican as chicken soup or chicken pot pie, these chicken spring rolls are new to TJ's and review-worthy, so let's take a brief look, shall we?

The flour wrapper comes out nice and crispy when cooked according to the instructions. And I did. Aren't you proud of me that I didn't try to use the microwave? 

The filling is a nice soft blend of chicken, cabbage, and seasonings, with a detectable amount of sweetness, too. I've had spring rolls and egg rolls before, and I've never noticed anything sweet in the appetizer itself—perhaps in a paired dipping sauce, but not in the roll. Perusing the ingredients, I noted "sugar" right there in between green onion and basil. Interesting. Don't get me wrong, it's not excessively sweet by any means. Overall, the flavor is savory, salty, and somewhat successful, in my opinion.

Also, wouldn't these be egg rolls? After a brief Google research session, the main qualifications I found for something to be a spring roll were "not (usually) fried," "with no chicken or meat," and "with a thin translucent or transparent rice wrapper," none of which apply to these happy little snacks. 

And before someone scolds me for not knowing that all spring rolls have sugar in them or the reason why these are spring rolls and not egg rolls, let me remind you that I'm the dude that just asked you to praise me for using the stove top instead of the microwave a couple paragraphs ago. I'm not exactly a gourmet cooking authority.

But if you want my opinion on these rolls, I say they're teetering on the brink of "not bad" and "really darn good." Three and a half stars from me. Four stars from Sonia will push this in the direction of "really darn good." Her only complaint is that they don't come with a dipping sauce.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Island Salsa

Memorial Weekend is only about a month away! You know what that means - the unofficial start of summer and all that. And that means vacation time! For a lot of you out there, that means one big thing: the beach.

Listen: I'm not opposed to beaches. I can spend a day there and reasonably relax. But maybe it's my fair gingery complexion that causes sunburn too easily, or my general aversion to sand in uncomfortable places, but given the choice, send me off to the mountains (cannot wait for a weekend canyoneeering in Zion National Park in June). For the whole family, we have our sights set on a Pirates road trip which true to tradition will probably include a stop at TJ's and a zoo. We'll probably spend a day at Presque Isle (best lake beach!) but other than that, islands? Beaches? All that? not in our plans.

Buuuuuuut...if you want to send your tastebuds on an early tropical vacation, you can easily pick up a jar of Trader Joe's Island Salsa. $2.99 on your local TJ shelf.

Even for us admittedly nonbeachy folks, this is some good, good salsa. The mango and pineapple base offers a sweet citrusy opening flourish that, while a little cloyingly candylike, quickly resides. In the middling transition, there's a quick hit of the bell peppers and onions before ending up with a mostly subtly spicy bow. Now, I said mostly. Depending on perspective, if you get the right or wrong bite into one of the very ripe red jalapenos, the heat goes up quite noticeably. But if that happens, just pop in another bite real quick, and chances are, the smooth sweetness will soothe your burning buds.

Like most fruit salsas, it is kinda delicate in flavor. The salsa was a great accompaniment for some tortilla chips, and atop a mahi mahi burger....heaven. Grilled chicken would also be a great pairing, whereas things like beef tacos I wouldn't see as much, unless you're into that kinda thing. 

I'm not quite sold on the word "chunky" in the description, though. Really, the whole salsa flows fairly alike to crushed pineapple, so there are small little chunks, but no mega veggie or fruit boulders. I guess if pressed I could say chunky, but to me, it's much in the moderate middle between smooth and chunky.

Also, as a huge bonus for my beloved wife: no tomatoes. None. That's got to be the reason she gives it a perfect five. I'm not able to ask her, since she's not quite 18 months old yet, but I'd love to know what my younger daughter B thinks - she was eating this by the spoonful as happy as could be. Well, until she caught that one jalapeno...but even though, after making a face for a couple minutes, she went back for more. Regardless, Sandy in a rare flash of exuberance goes with an all-out perfect five for her score. I want to go there myself, but fruit salsa aren't my bag, but this is undoubtedly the best fruit salsa I've had that I can remember (at least in the jarred grocery category)...alright, alright, we'll Pantheon it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Island Salsa: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons