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, September 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Chicken Serenada

Before I tell you anything about this chicken, let me lay it on the line: this chicken cost $6. (That's in Ardmore, PA. Prices vary from store to store). That might not seem that bad to you...and it's really not terrible, but if you consider you can get a decent chicken dish at a "Chotchkie's" type restaurant for eight or nine bucks, then this Serenada better change your life. When you buy frozen chicken at Trader Joe's, not only are you not getting side-dishes and service and a cute waitress with 15+ pieces of flair, but you have to heat it and prepare it yourself.

Do you remember Chotchkie's? It was a fictional knock-off of the TGI Friday's/Ruby Tuesday/Applebee's-genre of restaurants in the Mike Judge film Office Space. Right now, my favorite of those is Ruby Tuesday, as I've had excellent service and food there lately—at multiple locations. I know this has absolutely nothing to do with Trader Joe's food, but I'm going to seize this opportunity to use what little sway I have on this blog to stick it to Applebee's, whose revolting restaurants I've vowed to never set foot in again, primarily because of the jaw-droppingly awful service we received at their Havertown, PA location several months ago. Trust me, you don't wanna ask. I'm usually a kind, sympathetic human being, but I certainly wouldn't lose any sleep if the earth opened up and swallowed that particular location of that restaurant down into the bowels of the earth. I advised their regional manager to take that $25 Crapplebee's certificate that he offered me in compense for the horror I experienced, to gift it to his worst enemy and to tell him to use it in Havertown. I'm not bitter or anything, though...

Ahem, back to the Trader Joe's Chicken Serenada. Most bites were delicious. But some were better than others. The majority of the dish was nice, juicy white breast meat. A few bites were a bit stringy, and there were traces of skin. Some people, like my wife, are fans of chicken skin, and it doesn't bother them to get a bit mixed in with their meat. I'm not one of those people. Animal skin of any kind revolts me. It's not just the principle of the thing, it's the texture. Skin is so elastic...it's too chewy. But anyway, the bites with skin were just aberrations in an otherwise terrifically-textured plate of poultry.

Flavor-wise, the chicken itself tasted great, and the sauce was excellent. I'm not sure what all was in the sauce, but there appeared to be several different kinds and colors of peppers and onions. On about the third bite I took, there was this very magical moment in which my mouth became unusually, uncommonly, and abnormally happy. Way happier than usual. Not that it's usually unhappy...but there was just something about that particular bite. The experience repeated itself at least three more times throughout my consumption of the chicken. I tried to slow down and be aware of what I was shoveling into my mouth, so that I could pick out what was causing these sporadic occasions of noshing nirvana. I never did figure out what it was. My best guess is those green pepper-looking vegetables.

Anyway, that handful of magical bites was as close as I came to having this chicken change my life forever. But alas, it was too infrequent and irregular to call this chicken transcendent. Also, I should mention that the serving size was just barely enough for one person. Sonia and I shared it so we could both taste it and give it a score. Sonia liked it. She doesn't know where the dish came from. She says it's not Mexican, so we're guessing it's some kind of Spanish meal. "Chicken Serenada." It's like having a ballad written for you by a baked yardbird. I picture farm fowl dancing flamenco and clapping their wings together in unison. It's beautiful. But not to the point that I can overlook the stringy bites, the stunted serving size and the hefty price tag. I'll give it a 3.5. Sonia gives it a 4 for it's pleasant taste and texture. Not bad for a gourmet entree you can heat in the microwave.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.


  1. The chains are horrid. We had a TGIFriday's that finally closed, thank goodness because it was disgusting. "The Nazis had flair, they made the Jews wear it..." love that movie.

    Haven't seen this at my Trader Joe's...I'll keep an eye out for it.

  2. You MUST share the story!! Please! I want to know what happened? It must have been pretty bad if they actually offered you a gift card...

  3. Haha Janelle! Great quote...Well, Michael and Natalie...I'm pretty sure the whole story would gross everyone out. Let's just say we got really sick afterwards and we're pretty sure we ingested at least one bodily fluid. Never again, Applebee's! Never again!

  4. Bodily fluids are involved and all they offered was a $25 gift card? Daaaaang. I'd probably love this story :)

  5. The six buck frozen chicken dish at TJs that is worth every penny and has plenty for two dinners is the Chicken Asada with Peppers and Onions (although they must do something possibly a bit unwholesome to get that chicken as succulent and tasty as it is. Hypodermic full of magnesium sulfate? They claim it's the pineapple juice.)

  6. Mmm, Chicken Asada will be on our list of stuff to try. Pineapple juice? That might be really good, actually.

    Russ, we will tell you the story next time we see you. Fun stuff!

  7. Once my husband and I ate at Chili's and I found a bug in my salad. The manager came out and chuckled and said that no matter how many times they washed those greens sometimes one of those little suckers still made it through, ha-ha-ha. Then she offered me another salad...as if I wanted one. Blech.