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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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Apocryphal Pita and Roasted Garlic Hummus

Trader Joe's sure is a little funny sometimes with their marketing and branding, if you haven't noticed.

It goes beyond their creation of different character names depending on the product inspiration and their pretty uneven utilization, which I find endlessly fascinating for whatever reason. Why are only some Chinese products Trader Ming but not others? Is Thai Joe a one-trick pony? Who determines this? And some of the product names...some are pretty long-winded and over the top, no doubt. The illustrations on some packages are kinda weird, too. I think it all adds to the allure of the place and the shopping experience. For me, I find a certain level of entertainment in it all.

I had another reminder of this when Sandy and I started poking around the first aisle of the local shop in search of a good snack to share for the week. TJ's has a great selection of different chips and salsas which we've inventoried and digested a fair amount of, but we found ourselves wanting something kinda different for a change. The bread shelves are the first ones to smack your eyeballs when wandering in where we go, so we figured that'd be a good enough place to look.

Hey, look, we found ourselves some pitas! But not just any pitas. Trader Joe's is only too happy to tell us they're apocryphal, too! Sounds fancy, but what's that mean? I'm usually not too much of one to use a big fancy word when a diminutive one will do, so I have to admit, I had to look it up to remember what it meant. Apparently, it means "of questionable origin." Hmm. Way to go, TJ's, in making us feel confident about this purchase of ours. I don't really expect a bag of pitas I get in the middle of Pittsburgh to be exactly the same as the ones from a Turkish street vendor (in some ways those could be more questionable ...) but at least keep the facade in play, please. I kinda liked the picture of the guy in monkish garb apparently training for some Middle Eastern World's Strongest Man competition, though, and despite the lack of the letter s, there are, in fact, a plural amount present per sellable unit.

They're decent too. Made out of 100% whole wheat so I guess they fit the bill healthwise if your tummy can bear that. A little flaky, a little doughy, sturdy, a little chewy, and definitely pretty tasty, though kinda unremarkable overall. I think that's about the best you can expect from a pita. They're not to be the star, but instead the stage for whatever tasty creation you're prepping to cram on in. So, sensing this was an incomplete tide-me-over tidbit, we peered across the aisle and saw ...

Hummus! I don't think I've ever bought hummus before, though I've been known to eat in mass quantity when I spy it on a snack table somewhere. It is one high quality foodstuff on which to mooch. The Roasted Garlic Hummus resonated with me as not quite being the best I've ever had, but far from the worst (there was this Wal-Mart stuff one time ...). I recall it being smooth and creamy without too much of the graininess some hummus can have (I don't mind that, but I can do without). I guess I was a little disappointed with the overall taste, as it's not as garlicky as I would've hoped. When I want something that predominantly features garlic, I want it to be potent enough to fend off any vampires and bubonic plague viruses lurking anywhere in the tri-state region. The only exception to that is when my grandmother made garlic bread ... she's been known to go just a little overboard. Anyways, I've never roasted a stinking rose bulb on the barby in the back, but if I did, I'd imagine it tasting stronger than this (despite the lid saying mild), and not nearly as sweet. Yes, sweet. Sandy said she thought the sweetness more came from the pita when combined with the hummus, and though that may have accentuated it, I could taste it when I tried some of the hummus by itself. Garlic is supposed to be vigorous enough to render your breath downright offensive for a spell, not leave you pondering its sweetness. Overall, it's agreeable enough, I'd say, but it's not quite what I expected.

Anyways, the pitas and hummus made for some pretty decent, easy snacks for us, and worked quite well for a couple quick-bite-on-the-way-out-the-door scenarios. I think Sandy enjoyed it a little bit more than I did, though, mostly because she seemed to like the hummus a tad or two more than me. That's her, ever the gracious one. I didn't exactly get her rankings for these, and know it's not always the wisest to presume it's okay to speak for one's spouse, but I'll give it a shot and try to represent her opinions and thought process as fairly and accurately as possible. I'll go first and grant a four for the pitas and a 3.5 for the hummus. Pretty fair grade for some pretty fair chow. For Sandy, the pitas aren't bad, pretty yummy, she likes them and the hummus is really yummy, not yucky like it coulda been and about the only way it could be better would be if it were pink and sparkly and came packaged with a free penguin or puppy or a puppy and a penguin and baseball tickets. Or something pretty close to that ... I'm wagering that's a matching four for the pitas and a 4.5 for the hummus.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons for both the Apocryphal Pita and the Roasted Garlic Hummus

Hey .... c'mon now ... don't forget about this!!! Seriously, please.


  1. I thought maybe "apocryphal" came from "The Apocrypha" -- those pseudo-credible scriptures that didn't make the cut to be put in the Bible...like maybe there's a recipe in there somewhere...?

  2. Your mistake is assuming roasted garlic would provide you a intense garlic flavor...roasted garlic is mellooooo...garlic and onions contain a lot of natural sugars and caramelize when cooked longer and will get quite sweet creating an almost jam/marmalade without any added sugar...so steer clear of "roasted" garlic if you want that garlic punch...

    oh and btw I love the fun idea of your blog...I find many things at TJ's are hit and miss, it's amazing to me how wide the quality gap has been - some things are really really good and also have a great value and other things are just really BAD or are severely over-priced it makes me wonder about their product/marketing team and how certain products are ever put through to market...it's almost fun gambling on a product if only it didn't cost me money - although I commend them for their almost aggressive satisfaction guarantee policy I just rarely ever return a food product.

    I'm curious how many products you've tried or how far through the TJ inventory you've gotten? How do you keep track of everything you've tried, do you ever forget? I realize their product list is constantly changing - do you know how many products they have?
    Good Luck and Happy Eating!

  3. Apocryphal is a play on "pocket full". I don't think the name has anything to do with "questionable".