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, August 29, 2013

Trader Joe's Gluten Free 3 Cheese Pizza

If the label hadn't so boldly stated that this product lacked gluten, I don't think I would have noticed. On the flip side, I wouldn't have noticed that there were three different cheeses if the label hadn't told me so, either. But I've never been able to count cheese types once they've all melted together like that. Nor do I feel that's a skill I need to cultivate.

I really just want the product to taste good, regardless of the number of cheeses. And with 18g of fat per serving, it had darn well better be good, wheat crust or not. Who knew you could substitute grease for gluten? This pizza had a rice and potato-based crust. I'm willing to bet you could make a pizza crust out of quinoa or something, and if you slathered on enough fatty cheese, nobody would notice or care. And both Sonia and I are on the same page that a single person could conceivably eat this entire $5 pizza in one sitting by themselves...that is, unless they check the nutrition information.

I know, I know, pizza's supposed to be a treat. It's supposed to be fattening. But if you take a gander at some of the other pizzas we've reviewed, you'll note that their fat contents tend to be lower than this one's. But enough about that, because I have more good things to say about this product than bad things.

The crust was thin, and it came out crispy. The combination of cheeses was flavorful, but not overbearing. There were plenty of Italian herbs, and they blended seamlessly with the big slices of tomato. I'm not a huge fan of raw tomatoes, but when they're cooked and covered in pizza grease, bring 'em on! There was also a thin layer of tomato sauce that tied the whole thing together pretty well. And again, if you're gluten sensitive, you can eat this product and just pretend you're eating a regular pizza. It doesn't taste or feel like a gluten free option to me.


And because of that, I'm going to give this product 4 stars. Sonia gives it 4.5, stating that she wishes they sold a larger, family-size version of this pizza.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Trader Joe's Marinated White Fish Vera Cruz

You know that person. Every office or work place has one, and most people hate them. If you are that person at your particular place of employment, may God have mercy upon your soul. This person I speak of...well, whatever you do in the privacy and ideally foul-stank containing walls of your home, go for it, live and let live, but the person who brings leftover fish for lunch at work and has the sheer audacity to microwave it so the aroma infiltrates and rudely intrudes the entirety of the circulation/ventilation system of your workplace, so everyone has to smell the scant traces of its fishy foulness...I have no words. That is a party foul that just high-fived all of humanity in its very face. DON"T DO IT. Even if you have leftover fish and have to decide between that and a sketchy dollar burrito from the roach coach. Even if you have nothing else to eat, or God forbid, have to choose between one of these atrocities and micro-zapped pescetarian remnants from the night before.

Which is why, when Sandy and I were enjoying the a dinner of rice, steamed veggies, and some Trader Joe's Marinated White Fish Vera Cruz the other night, when she suggested I take the third filet for lunch the next day, I really had to explain the blank, open-mouthed stare I shot her direction. No, dear, I wasn't throwing a fit of serving-size righteousness and indignation, I just didn't want to be that person who got shot a stinkeye the rest of the week. Nobody would be my friend at work anymore. I would be the very shame of my particular version of Cubicleville.


Good thing, this particular fishy delight is just good enough and intriguing enough to warrant a few extra bites, so deciding to share the third wasn't too much of a struggle. By "white fish", Trader Joe's actually meant "swai fish." I thought maybe this was a Swedish/Thai crossbreed or perhaps another name for one of the Swedish Chef specialties, but no. Come to find out, it's an Asian breed of "shark catfish" that would rank behind Sharknado as the most popular shark crossover product if it were actually, indeed, shark. I don't know, Wikipedia it. It's a popular for its moist flakiness and mild flavor, which I'll agree this particular version is, and it also made a good base for the "Vera Cruz-iness" of the dish. There's fancier versions around, which I'll admit to not having yet. Think of fairly spicy, semi-sweet salsa with a heavy dose of green olives, and that's more or less the marinade and topping for the TJ's version. Ours actually veered to almost too olivey, so it was a little out of whack with the lotso-heat/little sweet flavor profile, but it worked just enough to keep us going. The fish filets themselves were marinated deep enough that a lot of the flavor worked itself right into the flesh, which Sandy liked because she scraped off anything resembling a veggie due to textural concerns.


 In all, for a couple folks who are trying to eat fish once a week and needed a change-up from our usual fish o' choice and chili lime rub, the white fish Vera Cruz (sounds like a boat name, almost) wasn't a bad choice, and it's one we'll probably make again. For $5.99 a pound and getting three good sized pieces (pictured above is one that broke in half), it seems like a decent enough value. We're not overly wowed nor terribly turned off. A little less green olive would go a long way.

Just, please, don't microwave it at work. Please.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's White Fish Vera Cruz: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Friday, August 23, 2013

Trader Joe's Tropical Sweetened Matcha Green Tea Mix

I've never been a huge fan of matcha, but Sonia loves the stuff. The first time I ever had it was in a Jamba Juice smoothie. It was the first Jamba product I didn't like. Since then, I've had matcha mochi and regular green tea matcha. In each case, not a fan. 

Some types of green tea products do float my proverbial boat, although our cross-state blogging comrades might not be quite as enthused. Sonia's tried everything matcha mentioned above, and then some. She particularly likes the matcha green tea from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. She's an aficionado. She thinks it's delicious. Well...most of the time.

In this case, there's an abundance of mango and passion fruit flavor. Those seemed like odd flavors to mix with matcha to us, but who are we to question TJ's zany ideas, many of which actually work?

It's a very sweet mixture, and Sonia and I agree that the fruitiness outshines the matcha-ness. But conversely, the matcha is there enough to prevent this from being a fruit-flavored beverage. To both of us, it's just a very strange flavor that doesn't quite work. If it had just been me, we might have chalked it up to my not liking matcha, and had it only been Sonia, we might have attributed it to her being a matcha snob. But considering we both dislike this product quite a bit, we're going to have to declare this a Trader Joe's FAIL.

It's kind of "apples and oranges," but if you're looking for a sweet TJ's tea mix that's actually good, we recommend the Salted Caramel Chai.

Sonia gives this product 2.5 stars. I give it 2.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Trader Joe's Organic Corn Chip Dippers

Alright, so, listen: there's not too much point in delaying to make the obvious comparison here: Trader Joe's Organic Corn Chip Dippers, on first impression at least, are pretty much just like those big ol' Frito scoopers you can get at pretty much any corner store these days. I'm pretty sure the average consumer (who I definitely lump myself in with) would not be able to tell the difference in a blindfolded taste test. In fact, I can't convince myself that these TJ dippy chippies are not Fritos. That's an intentional double negative there, folks. It means two things: it's 1 a.m. when I'm writing this, and I mean business.

All that being said, there might be a small teeny tiny infinitesimal difference tastewise between the two possibly competing brands. I think these guys are a little thicker, a little crunchier, and perhaps a tad less salty and greasy. I don't eat Fritos often though, and when I do it's normally the regular sized ones, so maybe I'm pulling that comparison out of my arse. I don't know. But I like the fact that these are organic, and while not perfect, Trader Joe's has a respectable enough hisotry with labeling their snackfoods while Frito-Lay....not so much. Not that if I'm to be watching my health and caloric intake that one type of corn chip is really all that better in the grand scheme than another, but any slight edge here and there, I'll take.

Though certainly not bad, these dipper-doodles aren't quite perfect. The lovely specimen I have pictured to the left (smothered in Wal-Mart brand salsa, which is as appetizing as it sounds) is a fine chip made for heavy dipping and lifting duty, I could probably use it as a soup spoon. Too bad not all the chips were like that. Naturally some were more hairpin or latched shaped which made for suboptimal performance. It's a good thing these taste fine enough on their own, or good crumbled up on top of a bowl of chili, that the slightly-more-than-occasional faulty fellow isn't too much of a loss. 
 
 With football season in a few weeks and baseball playoffs starting just a little after that, I'd humbly recommend adding these to the snacking rotation with some guac or salsa or the TJ's pub cheese I keep meaning to try. Just skip the TJ black bean dip because nothing tastes good with that junk, unfortunately. If you're having the gang over and you're concerned that your moronic buddy who always calls end-arounds a reverse will start making foo-foo jokes about your dainty organic chips, just dump them in a bowl and he'll be none the wiser. It'll also save a couple bucks too - I think these were about $2 while the big boys cost something like $3 or $4. Sandy had a complete lack of anything interesting/slightly comical/vaguely embarrassing things to say about these chips, but I know she liked 'em, as did I, so split the score as you see fit. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Corn Chip Dippers: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

I like my coffee like I like my women: dark and sweet.

Actually, that's not really true. I'm not all that big a coffee drinker at all. I just wanted to start this post off with that line. My wife is dark-ish and sweet...well, at least most of the time. But if I drink coffee at all, I like it milky and sweet. I'm a wuss when it comes to coffee.

So if any of you are like me, you'll definitely want to prep this stuff up with lots of milk and sugar, and maybe even some water before you drink it. In the manner of a true foodie-hack, I did drink some straight from the bottle. It's bitter and STRONG that way. Whoowee! It tastes like arse, but it'll wake ya up, though. The bottle recommends mixing it with two parts milk or water for every one part concentrate, but that can be adjusted to suit your personal taste.

Prepared the proper way, with a bit of sugar of course, it's mild and tasty. I'm a little more into cold coffee drinks than hot ones, even in the winter. So I guess this stuff is kind of up my alley since it's meant to be drunk cold. I'm going to try to not dock any points just because I'm not a coffee guy, although Sonia, who's a little more of a coffee connoisseur, wasn't even quite as thrilled as I was.

And just for the benefit of you folks doing research on Trader Joe's coffees, and to keep you on our blog for a bit longer, rollicking in our ocean of glorious product reviews, I'm gonna go ahead and provide the following links to other coffees we've reviewed. We've checked out CafĂ© PajaroItalian RoastGingerbread Coffee, Kauai Coffee, and New Orleans Style CoffeeOf the ones I've personally tried, I would have to put this one near the top of the list. Sonia would put it somewhere in the middle. 4 stars from me. 3 from her.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trader Joe's Uncured Black Forest Bacon

There comes a time when you just have to be honest and come clean. That's me right now. As much as I've tried to delude myself into thinking I'm a vegetarian, as much as I've actually wanted to be a vegetarian, I no longer honestly refer to myself that way. I've tried living a more-or-less meatfree existence the past few months, partially for health reasons (I've dropped close to 40 pounds since January!), but man, meat keep sneaking it's way back in. At first I was okay with still eating fish and shrimp and stuff like that, so much more accurately, I was pescetarian. Then I tried the mantle of "gracious vegeterian", as in, if I'm somewhere for dinner and meat's what's for dinner, I will graciously accept that, I just won't choose to eat it if given the choice. That worked for a bit. Then...well...onwards and forwards and blah diddly blah blah, Sandy and I thought it'd be okay if we purchased a weekly "meat cheat" and since our last one was so severely disappointing, we had to make up for it this time around.

Hence the Trader Joe's Uncured Black Forest Bacon we picked up our last trip. Oh goodness. No picture I could take of the this bacon could truly do it justice. It's thick cut, with much more meat per slice than first glance, and dark and sweet and savory. Being semi-lazy and weary of grease spatter burn circles on my forearms, when making bacon I usually opt for the baking-in-the-over option. Though easier, it's also much easier to overbake and blacken, which is a death knell for many an inferior pork strip. Not so with these guys. Even when they got a little scorched, the crisp and crunch remained in tact, with the full flavor of sweet salty pork, without even a trace of it turning to charcoal. There's some other TJ bacon that I've enjoyed, and perhaps maybe it was more the previously bacon-less existence I led for far too long talking, but man, this was absolutely terrific and well worth the fivespot we dropped on the package.

It was after we cooked up the second go-around that Sandy and I came to the realization that yes, we cannot honestly call ourselves vegetarians. I think we're okay with that. We'll probably still skip it at least a few nights a week, so a little more intentional that just observing a Meatless Monday. I'm just glad we made this decision before heading up to Cleveland and hitting up the Westside Market because man....so much good looking meat there, we packed up a Styrofoam cooler to truck back down to the 'burgh, along with some TJ drinky drinks we'll review soon. Thanks, bacon, for being yummy and keeping us honest. Sandy goes with a four, as do I, plus an extra half-spoon just 'cause.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Black Forest Bacon: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Trader Joe's Peaches & Cream and Mango & Cream Yogurt Cups

Many moons ago, we took a look at Trader Joe's Blueberries & Cream and Vanilla & Cream yogurts. They were both deemed delicious, thick, and among the best-tasting yogurt products that we've ever tried from TJ's. This other yogurt duo has some things in common with the blueberry and vanilla, and a few differences.

Let's start with the commonalities. They're both beautifully-packaged, they're both ultra-thick and creamy, and they both have the word "and" mentioned three times in their product titles, though two out of the three are cleverly disguised as ampersands. They both come in small cups, but are still very filling.

But unlike the blueberry and vanilla combo, this one features two flavors that wind up being a little too similar. Mango really shouldn't taste that much like peach. But in this case, Sonia and I both felt that it did. It's not that we couldn't tell the difference between the two flavors, because we could...but the mango flavor seemed, well, just a little peachy. Also both flavors look the same, too. They're just slightly different variations on this pastel shade of orange...I guess it's tangerine? Or coral? Saffron maybe? Anyway, that's beside the point I guess...the point is, you almost have to look at the picture on the cup to figure out which yogurt you're eating.

Also beside the point is why "peaches" is plural and "mango" is singular. Is it because they used multiple peaches per cup but only one mango? My guess is that they went with "mango," singular, because they didn't know whether to spell the plural with an "e" or not: "mangos" or "mangoes." That zany mango presents quite a conundrum. 

And certainly, mango is the riskier of the two flavors. Peaches and cream is what started the whole "fruit and cream" craze. It's a classic. If you actually get the yogurt to taste vaguely of peaches and/or cream, you pretty much can't go wrong, and they nailed it. It's delicious. But in our opinion, the mango flavor tastes a bit like peaches and cream too. It's not like Trader Joe's doesn't know how to do mango. They've done mango gummiesmango juicesmango chocolates, and mango cereal, among other things. Just type in the keyword "mango" in the search box below the intro to our blog and four pages of mango-related products will pop up. And good or bad, virtually all of those products tasted like mango. But for once, Sonia and I actually wanted more mango flavor. And that's our biggest complaint.

But still, this is a great product overall. If you're looking for a thick, sweet, dessert-like yogurt, look no further. You don't even really have to like mango. You just have to like peaches and cream. Sonia gives this product 4 stars. I give it 3.5.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.
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*Since the nutrition information is a little hard to see, here are some of the stats you might be missing: Total Carbs 20g, Fiber 0g, Sugars 17g, Protein 4g.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Trader Joe's The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar

Even when I was a much younger rumblin' tumblin' typhoon of a kid, I always disliked the word "lover's" in the name of any food. Prime example: Pizza Hut's Meat Lover's Pizza. Now, I like pepperoni and sausage and beef and whatever other bits of carnation that get piled on top, but I think the simple act of saying the name was like a confession I wasn't willing to openly, unabashedly proclaim: "I love meat! Mmmmm meat!" Plus, let's face it, there's better, more verbally understated ways of celebrating one's appreciation of meat, like ordering a bacon-wrapped filet mignon. Or a turducken. Or, when given the opportunity like I have recently, unashamedly taking a thick cut of pepperoni and smearing a swath of buffalo chicken dip all up on it and savoring every last bit....ummm, I mean, dear, I totally didn't do that this past weekend at your cousin's kid's birthday party...I'm a terrible, terrible absolute hack of a vegetarian wannabe.

So, Trader Joe's The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar. I'll skip over the long awkward name bit (e pluribus unum at TJ's) and focus on that word again: Lover's. Now, I like dark chocolate, but love? Can't go there. Sorry, dark chocolate, you've been friendzoned.

 If the "85% Cacao" label on there isn't indication enough, this is one seriously dark chocolate bar. Kinda like an early days/obscure b-sides album, it's not for everyone even if you're otherwise a fan. It's the darkest TJ's carries, and unlike so many of their other fine choco-creations, there's nothing else mixed in to break up the flavor. And honestly...I didn't expect it to be so sweet. Granted, it's more bittersweet than anything, but I'll confess to have eaten straight baker's chocolate squares before, and I kinda expected the same flat kind of flavor despite the "smooth and fruity" the labels proclaims these bars bring to the table. Nuh uh. Smooth and fruity, while bitter seems about right, plus there's this kinda alcohol-y bit to it, though of course they're booze-free. Is floral a word I can use to describe chocolate? I don't know, but I'm tempted to anyways. It's dark, it's strong, and it's unexpected...hard to adequately describe, but if you've tried you know what I mean.  This ain't no Hershey's.

For a $1.49 for two (!) bars, it's a small, risk-worthy pick-up. I thought Sandy and I would each plow our way thru our own piece. Oh no. It's chocolate worth nibblin' on and slowly enjoying, like a mature grown-up or something. I'll admit that my first impression wasn't so hot, but with each successive smidge I liked it a little more. One bar between the two of us was more than plenty for one night. Sandy enjoyed it a bit more than I did and goes with a four. It's a bit potent for me, but I don't think I'm quite the intended audience, so I'll be fair and say a three...nah, 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons