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, November 15, 2012

Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles and Gourmet Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Ever make homemade spaghetti noodles? No, I'm not talking about using a Ronco presto-pesto auto-al dente pasta maker or even a Kitchen Aid mixer attachment (however in the h-e-double bendi-straw that would work) either. Sandy and I did once, using some old school handcranked pasta dough flattener/noodle cutter that should've been bolted to a work bench. That thing was a beast, and if we had any Italian grandmothers, I'm sure they would've been well pleased. But honestly, we weren't so enamored with the results. I mean, for all that work,I'd hope for something marginally better than the dried boxed variety, but alas, it was not to be.

So while homemade may always be the best, freshest option for just about anything, sometimes it's not a bad idea to leave it to the pros and try to settle for a second best option. Sandy and I bought Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles  with that at least partially in mind. I'm sure these have been around for a bit, but I've never spotted them until our last trip. TJ's apparently is making another experiment in noodle technology, this time to make a completely vegan noodle. Now, if they could make a organic, gluten-free vegan noodle...is that even possible, aside from subbing in some strips of tree bark? Anyways for these vegan delights, this naturally means no eggs, which is one the base ingredients for just about any type of dough. I guess that's why they tasted a little different. I don't mean different in a bad way, just....different. They're a little plainer tasting than even their usual semolina brethren, a little doughier, and while soggier isn't the right word, they seemed to somehow retain water a little differently, making them perhaps a little denser. I'm not sure that "al dente" is an option with these noodles, although even after our generously-sized dinners we have a full half of the package to experiment with. I'm not sure these will become a regular purchase of ours, but still, they're not a stray from the norm we regret. Maybe that Popeil fella's on to something after all.

Meanwhile, I'm almost positive that Trader Joe's Gourmet Spicy Buffalo Style with Blue Cheese Chicken Meatballs has to be a new product, because anything that has "Buffalo" and "Chicken" in its title increases its likelihood of purchase to nearly 100%. Seriously, if I saw Buffalo Chicken Owl Pellets for sale somewhere, I'd buy them and not think twice. Anyways, these meatballs, like most of TJ's spherical carne offerings, did not disappoint. They're fully cooked as is, and are in the fresh refrigerated section as opposed to the freezer aisles, and so all that's needed to get these ready for dinner is a few minutes in the oven. Although kinda dry and dusty-lookin' on the outside, inside the ground chicken remains just juicy enough, and also maintains a lot of freshness. Not only that, but they're fairly spicy as well. Granted, at the risk of alienation of some of the masses, they could be just a tad spicier, but that's not too much of a demerit in my mind. Too many times when there's bleu/blue cheese that gets tossed into the Buffalo chicken product at the factory level, the overwhelming flavor is the cheese. Not with these albóndigas de pollo picante. The blue cheese is more of a sidenote/accessory flavor while the spiciness takes center stage. That's the way it oughtta be. Count me as a fan.

I got in the habit during college of just splashing some Frank's Red Hot on a bowl of noodles and calling that and a beer "dinner." Somehow this has lasted all the way into my married life, with Sandy completely joining in, so our noodle 'n spicy chicken meatball dinner was something right up our respective alleys. To be fair, it could have used something, like a little mozzarella or some extra hot sauce, but we don't have much of a problem with the respective components as is. Sandy gives a "three...no, maybe three 'n a half" for the "not bad" eggless wonder noodles, while giving the Buf-fowl-o balls a four "because they could be a little spicier." I'll match her on the noodles and up by half a spoon for the meatballs.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Gourmet Spicy Buffalo Style with Blue Cheese Chicken Meatballs: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


  1. The chicken meatballs have been available in my neck of the woods for over a year now, maybe longer. I'm in Napa, CA. They have another flavor too... can't remember what it is off the top of my head, though.

  2. well I just purchased the chicken meatballs with sun dried tomato and provolone cheese and gagged at the first bite. They were SO salty, the content was a whopping 500mgs! I don't suppose its worth it to return them.

  3. I'll be picking up those meatballs and adding a few shakes of red pepper flakes (but probably skipping the pasta)!

  4. I'm pretty sure they've had both varieties of meatballs at my TJs for over a year-delicious they are!

  5. We've been buying the buffalo meatballs since early this summer. Slice them in half and bake them on pizza. Seriously. Awesome.

  6. I'm not much a fan of the mooshy pasta either... al dente just doesn't exist I don't think!!