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 14, 2011

Trader Joe's Sea Salt Brownie Petites

Last week, Sandy and I headed out west to California for our annual vacation. Let me tell you, what a trip, with all the sites and sights...Disneyland (fun as all heck)*, Joshua Tree National Park (stunningly, starkly beautiful - what a landscape), and all around San Diego (a zoo well worth the admission). Fantastic week, and when I woke up on Saturday, our last day of vacation, I seriously contemplated not jumping on the plane back to Pittsburgh. It was too much fun, and too great of an area to ever want to leave. Nathan, Sonia, why did you ever move to Pennsylvania from SoCal again? Moving closer to family and having four distinct seasons, was it? Bah. I'd never leave. Between all those fun things and as many animal-style double-doubles I could ever eat, I was trying to figure out how I could convince my work to relocate me to their nonexistent San Diego facility and if someone could ship our pooch out to us.

There's another thing that amazed me about California, and only to a slightly lesser extent: the size of your Trader Joe's. I mean, dang. They're the size of actual grocery stores out there, if not larger, with a much larger selection of foodstuffs that get shoehorned into our little teeny tiny almost afterthought of a shop here in Pittsburgh. Some of it has to do with being allowed to sell all types of booze (including a great price on Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale - only $3.99 for a bomber? It's twice that, easily, here) but there's so much more. For instance, at the Costa Mesa store we visited, it's a whole literal wall section of tortillas in all sorts of varieties I've never seen here on our one lonely shelf. I'm jealous, very, very jealous.

And there was something else there I'd never seen at our store: these Sea Salt Brownie Petites. Sandy, who had heard about them from a friend who lived in the area, started rummaging around in a frenzy as soon as we entered the store. "I HAVE TO FIND THEM!!!!," she practically wailed. "WHERE ARE THEY!?!?!?!"** I don't blame her for being so, um, enthusiastic to seek out and destroy a pack of them. Previously, we've had some tremendous luck with a TJ chocolate/sea salt combo that was pantheon-level great, and sweet/salty is generally a winning tandem for us, and since we needed some inexpensive snacks for all our adventures, I was all in.

I wish I could say the same for these brownie bites. First one I had was definitely a lot more sodium than brownie taste. How much more? Well, if the chocolate were Kate Moss, the salt would be Jabba the Hut - simply way out of ratio. Other ones weren't nearly as bad, and were actually pretty decent and full of cocoa-goodness, but others were way too reminiscent of the original. The sea salt was just too dominant and not enough of a complement, overall, I think. Also, all of mine were pretty dry and crumbly to the bite as they practically disintegrated into my mouth. That might not be a deterrent to some, but generally I'm much more of a moister brownie fan, and was hoping for something not quite as arid. Sandy, though? Loved them. Absolutely loved them. "All of mine tasted about right, and I loved the texture, too," she said. When I mentioned the dryness of mine, she said she had no such problem at all, and only wished they were a little bit bigger. Hmm, maybe she goldmined all the good bites to herself and left me with most of the undesirables.

I'm going to have a go a little low for my score and go with a 2. They were simply too much of a mixed bag for me - too many of them resembled dried-up brown salty cakes for me, and if I saw them again***, I'd say "Na" (get it?). It's another product that I'd totally get if others like more than I did, so when Sandy said she'd give them a solid 4, I shrugged and didn't argue. Somehow, perhaps because of my slight distaste for them, some of them survived our week and stayed with our friend Ashley in San Diego, who I think enjoys them, too. "If only there was enough room in our luggage..." Sandy grumbled. Well, between all the goodies we got at the 99 Ranch Market and Sandy's new little friend, there just wasn't the space. Oh, bother.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* Congrats to Sandy on her best half-marathon yet (2 hrs 43 mins) she ran at Disneyland! Proud of ya, babe.
** Okay, an exaggeration. But only slight.
*** Might have seen them Sunday at the local shop. Seems like we get some stuff on rotation and whatever sells sticks, so if you're in the 'burgh and wanna give them a try, hurry up!


  1. This is the best idea for a blog ever! I live in California and LOVE Trader Joe's - it's the only place I shop. Sometimes I write posts about things I find there too, but as a college student my experimenting is limited unfortunately. I'm following you now and looking forward to more great finds!

  2. We have them here in Charlotte, and while I've never had the too-salty brownies, I do think they can be a bit dry. Definitely not my favorite at TJ's, although they're pretty fantastic with ice cream on top.

  3. I kinda wondered if they'd be any good on the nonfat plain frozen yogurt I reviewed a few weeks back -two extremes that could maybe balance each other out? I don't know.

  4. I am a lover of TJ's and live near Costa Mesa. I can honestly say I like most, not all things at TJ's. But I DO love there prices and variety. I refer to it and the single persons COSTCO with style.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip in our humble (LOL) domain.


  5. Hmm, Susan, "humble" isn't exactly what came to mind... :). Palm trees were nice!

  6. I found your blog earlier this week and I have to tell you, I love it! I never had a Trader Joe's before so I was very excited about going to the store once I moved up North. I found your blog before my first trip and I loved having a reference to what was good. Keep up the great work!

  7. Glad we can help you out, Tati! You should be able to find lots of new tasty eats. We'll try to keep you on the right path.

  8. I went to Trader Joe's today and had to try these after reading this post. I really liked them! I can tell what you meant about the salt, but I just love the combo. I love Trader Joe's and really like this blog. Thanks!

  9. My mom grabbed these by accident a few weeks ago, but she was a sport and tried them anyway. It's funny, at first they were quite a novel treat... until you get the "Moss/ Hut" ratio. A+ on idea (carmel can marry salt, why not chocolate?) B- on erratic performance.

  10. I lived in Pittsburgh for six years and I am now in California. I didn't discover Trader joe's til I moved to NYC, so I never saw the Pittsburgh stores.Our Trader Joe's is amazing, and the friendly staff is always willing to assist you with finding what you are looking for.

    I adore the flyers, but they do not come out as often as I would like. This blog fills the need in me to read about new products and sprint up the street to try my new find.Thanks for feeding my obsession.

    Try the sea salt dark chocolate almonds, they are heavenly and sinful at the same time.