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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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thai Joe's Coconut Curry Chicken Stix

So apparently there's this new tenderfoot dude named Thai Joe. Never heard of the guy? Well, me neither. Certainly, he has an interesting name. I mean, Trader Joe's has, besides themselves, Trader Ming, Trader Joe-San, Trader Jose, Trader Jacque, and, I think, Baker Josef (flour). Though there's certainly nationality implied in those names, none of them are directly labeled like Thai Joe. I mean, would you buy something from a dude named Chinese Joe? Sounds sketchy at best. I guess it's because there's a certain dearth of Thai names that resemble the name "Joe." I did a quick search on some shady looking baby-naming site, and after wading through the pop-up-a-looza that came up (don't ask why my work doesn't have a blocker for that), that closest thing I could find was the name Chao-Fa, which means "crowned prince." Hmm, Trader Chao-Fa ... that's a pretty cool name I'd be down with. Sounds a heckuva lot better than "Thai Joe," and it's a closer match than that Trader Ming character. What the name Thai Joe conjures up for me is, imagine there's a new kid in school, second grade or so, Thai, with a nearly impossible name to pronounce. Trying to be friendly, he says, "Call me Joe," but there's already five or six other kids in the class named Joe or Joey, so to differentiate him from every one else, one somewhat-culturally aware-yet-snotfaced punk dubs him "Thai Joe." Umm, well, yeah, that might just be me.

Anyways, for a debut (for me at least) product, Thai Joe's Coconut Curry Chicken Stix are pretty fantastic. They're typical spring roll sized and shaped, and even though we baked ours, the stix remained pretty crispy, flaky, and texturally appropriate. I'd imagine they'd be even better Fry-Daddied up, but that's too much temptation for too many bad things for us. The insides are just as good if not better than the wrapper. I've had the misfortune of having some food court-variety spring rolls with mushy yard work posing as vegetable matter inside them, and while these guys are somewhat sparing cabbage-wise, what's in there was firm and tasty. Mostly, it's white-meat chicken inside, diced in little chunks, and insanely good. Flavor-wise, the overriding taste is actually lemony (there's lemongrass in there as both a main ingredient and an ingredient in the curry sauce), but it's kept well in check with the coconutty undertones and overall flavor. If you're a spice-adverse sissy, you're be glad to know these barely register a one on a scale to ten. I personally would have preferred a little more spice, as good Thai cuisine is so talented at being hot without sacrificing the other flavors of the dish, but even so, they're pretty delectable.

However, like any rookie, Thai Joe made a mistake. Fortunately, it's completely fixable. On the box, he shows a small bowl of awesome looking peanut-and-something-else sauce. Other TJ products actually have a little sauce packet in them, or at least give you a recipe on the package for a suitable sauce. Not these. No bonus packet, and their instructions simply say to "enjoy with your favorite sauce" (or something to that effect). Well, in my household, that means Red Devil, Frank's Red Hot, barbecue sauce, and (for Sandy) ranch dressing (I think, it depends on the week). For some crazy reason, I don't think any of those would be right, and I'm ignorant enough to not know what might work best. I mean, you gave me an easy recipe for dipping sauce on your cilantro chicken wontons that was the bomb ... I don't think asking for a little help here is too much. Also, "stix"? Really? Call them what they are, spring rolls, and not some stupid made-up name. Stix? Sounds too much like that crappy band to me.

Though they'd be optimal for pregaming a Thai feast, Sandy and I baked the whole box up for lunch over the weekend. With some chips and salsa (we were in a multi-cultural mood), it made a great, light meal that I'm already craving to have again. Due to its immigrant heritage, Pittsburgh, where we live, is blessed with a plethora of amazing, locally owned ethnic restaurants, especially Thai ones like Smiling Banana Leaf. These rolls are good enough to pass themselves off as an appetizer at any of them, and at a fraction of the cost, too. That being said, support your locally owned restaurants, but pick these guys up too.

Sandy gives the springy stix a solid four as they made some pretty happy chomping for her. "Mmmmmm" is pretty much what she said. I agree. If Thai Joe shares any secret sauce goodness with us (packet or recipe), I can easily see this ranking climb even higher.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

9 comments:

  1. LOVE the smiling banana leaf :)

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  2. Trader Chao-Fa...lol! Don't forget Trader Giotto.

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  3. Dang! I knew I'd forget one ... do we have the budget for an intern yet?

    And yes, SBL is pretty awesome.

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  4. These are fantastic with the TJ Sweet Chili Sauce, and I think it's only $2 for a bottle that will last you a long time. The sweet chili sauce tastes sweet at first but definitely has a kick that it sounds like will make you like these even more!

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  5. Emily, thanks for the tip! We'll be giving that a try perhaps as soon as our next TJ trip!

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  6. Thanks for the great review of these, I was on the fence about buying them (and had limited freezer space) so I passed last time, but I've got to try them now. I think "Stix" makes it sound too much like a children's meal to sound appealing, that was part of my problem with them.

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  7. Definitely pick'em up and enjoy!

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  8. The sauce pictured appears to be hoisin with chopped peanuts.

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  9. I love these and am also frustrated with the lack of just the right sauce for them. I decided that with the distinct lemongrass flavor, ginger would be a good compliment. I tried some ginger/mango chutney from TJ's, and it wasn't quite the ticket. Also a little spicy for my taste. Now I am making do with some also rather spicy sweet & sour sauce from my local Thai restaurant, but I still would love to find just the right ginger dipping sauce! I wonder if a good light peanut sauce would work? TJ's fresh spring rolls come with a fantastic peanut sauce that has tangy lemongrass overtones, but there's only just enough for the 2 rolls in the package and i end up licking out the little cup, it's so good. If they sold that by the bottle I would be all over it!

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