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, August 26, 2011

Trader Joe's Italian Mini Ravioli

Perhaps you've seen one of our write-ups from The Daily Meal* that have circulated around the Interwebs to sites like Huffington Post and Shine by Yahoo! and the like. That might even be how you found our site. By far, my favorite part of those articles is perusing the reader comments. Needless to say, some folks don't share our taste buds (eh, to each their own) or think we're major dopes (we never said we weren't), which most of those types of comments give me a good laugh. The one type of comment that I didn't really understand was the ones that ripped Trader Joe's as being full of trendy hipsters and pretentious overpriced food. Listen, I'm not a TJ's apologist by any means, but that hasn't been my experience at all. If I wanted to pay a premium for my chow, I'd get it from the Sharper Image, or at least the big local chain that I paid double the bill at before I stumbled across TJ's. As far as being pretentious, etc...well, okay, it is a little but not overly so, at least not in Pittsburgh. I see more families with kids than doofy-haircutted-tight-Goodwill-pantsed kids prattering on and on about The Avett Brothers shopping there. That criticism, which I've seen repeatedly, doesn't ring true to me, and makes me wonder where those folks get their grub at (McDonalds? No wonder they're in a bad mood). TJ's isn't exactly above reproach, but in my mind, they do more right than wrong.

Okay, it's Italian Mini Ravioli time. This is pretty unpretentious, see? It's not even Trader Giotto-branded. And face it, it's mini ravioli. In a statement that I am completely unsure as to if it'll make people more or less likely to purchase it, one can choose to think of this as cook-at-home Chef Boyardee. The package contains a pound of the little good fellas and costs $2.something. That's not expensive at all.

As far as taste goes, they're alright. Sandy stated it fairly accurately when she said, "They're more than half good." I'll complement that thought by saying they're less than half bad. We boiled some up the other night to serve with some meatballs and sauce for a quick, easy dinner. Even though they were swimming and rolling over in the pot for a decently long while, when we sank our teeth in, they seemed kinda undercooked and therefore slightly hard/chewy. That's more our bad, I guess. The pasta tastes like the typical semolina offering, while the filling leaves a little to be desired. It's made of Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs that, while not being all that bad, strayed a tad towards salty and gritty. Still, they're decent, and we had no problems finishing up our bowlfuls, though we won't be stumbling all over ourselves to have them again, either. Next time we do, though, we'll probably go more of the chicken broth soup route because, to us, they seem like they might be a little tastier that way.

Sandy gives them a three, as she said she's had better ravioli, like the fresh packages you can buy at some stores. Maybe some of their downside lies in the fact that they're a dry good and made to last forever (maybe a good thing for us East Coasters this week...an earthquake and a hurricane? Can we just go back to ungodly humidity? Stock the shelter!). As Sandy explained, a three is better than half good because half the maximum she can award something is 2.5. And to think, she usually asks for me to figure out anything math-related (that's roughly akin to asking me for directions in a foreign country). I see her three and match it.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* Gonna be working on yet another collaboration with them soon! Keep tuned. One day, God-willing, this will lead to us being interviewed by Katie Couric.


  1. Ah, ignore the naysayers-- the clientele at my TJ's seems a bit on the crunchy side, however, I do live in the Pacific NW.

    I, however, am just your average middle aged Mom who is addicted to TJ's Dark chocolate bar with caramel and sea salt.

    I'm reading here to scope out my next addiction. Keep blogging. :)


  2. "The one type of comment that I didn't really understand was the ones that ripped Trader Joe's as being full of trendy hipsters and pretentious overpriced food."

    Those are people who have never shopped at Trader Joe's. And they probably confuse it with Whole Foods. Trader Joe's is almost always cheaper than even the "rewards club" discounts at "conventional" supermarkets, and as near as I can tell, the only criticism of TJ's clientele is that they look a lot happier than the sad lot I see meandering through the oversize aisles of the Giganto Mart.

  3. I am sooo cheap (and kinda poor) and TJ has been my main supermarket since the first week they arrived in Philadelphia. I do go to the farmers markets for a greater variety of fruits and veggies but otherwise it is TJ for me.

  4. It wasn't you. I had the same experience with that pasta and won't get it again. I like my pasta Aldente, but this was just un-tasty. New reader and am enjoying your blog.

  5. This year I started to keep track of prices and to my surprise Trader Joe's has really tricky marketing skills. Be sure to compare the same amount, their packaging is I am afraid deceptive. There are plenty of items I find fresher and cheaper in other stores, I have grown a lot more discerning which is good for my pocket book and good for my exercise quota (peddling across town to various stores.) Still Trader Joe's has some of the best tasting, most affordable junk food. I am delighted to have discovered your blog.

  6. I layered these with tomato sauce and mozzarella. They were pretty good.

  7. I don't know why I'm commenting on a blog post this old, but honestly, I used to live in Brooklyn and even the TJ's THERE wasn't full of hipsters, for pete's sake. I agree with whoever else said that people who say this don't shop there, and are the same people who disparagingly say "traderjoesandwholefoods" in one breath as if those two stores are at all similar.

  8. I am guilty of thinking Trader Joe's is for the wealthy and well dressed. My first trip to the store was last week after losing a bet. I am SOOOOO happy that I did. The prices are reasonable, the food is delish and great for a young professional who is recipe illiterate!! My freezer is stocked and the experience I had shopping alone was actually enjoyable. The lines are QUICK, the staff is so NICE AND for once I didn't spend more than 100 dollars on groceries for 1. There was even a middle aged woman who helped me find the best food for my love of Mexican, Thai and Indian food. I absolutely adore TJ's and will be going again tonight with my boyfriend. BTW can we say 3 DOLLAR WINE!? I heart TJ's.

    1. Glad you lost your bet! I think people keep confusing Whole Foods and Trader Joe's somehow :). Glad you had a good experience and hope we can help point out the good stuff and steer ya from the bad (that exists, believe me!).

  9. I had the mini ravioli with bolognese sauce and it was quite delicious. And it wasn't al dente. :-)

  10. Just tried this, even though the post is old! Not bad. It's important to note these should be cooked much longer than regular/fresh pasta. The package says 15-17 minutes, and 20 minutes worked for me. Pasta is softer and the filling loses its dryness. (For comparison, regular pasta cooks in about 6-8 minutes.)

  11. Yuck. Most TJ's food I like, these were awful. Dry overly ripe cheese. So strong I thought it had to be gorgonzola but nope, plain old parm(?).
    Only one of 2 things I've tried there and said " never again"
    But pretentious? Who ever said that is way off and most is cheaper or same price as my local groceries.