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Friday, November 25, 2022

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spiced Teeny Tiny Pretzels


I've studied our analytics enough to know that nobody reads our blog over Thanksgiving weekend, so here's a throwaway review made special just for today!

Why is it throwaway? Two main reasons. One: people are sick of pumpkin spice by this time of year, including me, sort of. Two: we've already reviewed this product, well, not exactly, but sort of.


The last time we reviewed this product, it was called Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Pretzel Slims rather than Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spiced Teeny Tiny Pretzels. I think we actually complained during that review that the pretzels weren't actual pretzels but just flat pretzel "slims" or skins. 

Well, I guess we should be grateful because these are actual pretzels—teeny tiny pretzels, in fact, in case you hadn't gathered that by the name of the product or the name of this post or the picture of the miniature pretzels on the bag or the picture of the mini pretzels in this review.

Mini pretzels covered in that "yogurt flavored" coating—which functions more like white chocolate than yogurt—with pumpkin spice and pumpkin seeds on top is indeed what we have here, and it tastes exactly like its predecessor. I like this version a tad bit more because they used three-dimensional pretzels this time, but neither Sonia nor I like them enough to raise our score. 

Eight is enough for Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spiced Teeny Tiny Pretzels, which probably aren't around anymore this year. Catch 'em in the fall of 2023 if you're into this sort of thing. Or bust 'em out of the back of the pantry now and munch on 'em in between leftover turkey sandwiches since I reminded you that they're actually pretty decent and snackable. $2.99 for the resealable bag.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Trader Joe's This Coconut Brings Chocolate on a Date Bars


This product isn't very Thanksgivingy, is it? Not at first glance, no. But just think of all the travel that will be happening this week. You'll be stuck in the car with ravenous kids and nowhere to pull over. Everyone will be screaming that they're hungry while you're driving over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house you go, and then you'll remember you brought a box of Trader Joe's This Coconut Brings Chocolate on a Date Bars.

Convenient? Of course. Just five ingredients—that's a plus. The texture: soft, chewy, moist, with little bits of coconut swimming all throughout. Both Sonia and I like the mouthfeel just fine.


As far as the taste goes, this will be the second product in a row where we disagree. Sonia says the chocolate throws the whole thing off. She'd rather have a 100% fruit and coconut bar. We've seen those before: Trader Joe's Apple + Coconut Bar.

I think the chocolate is done exceptionally well in this instance: there's both non-sweet chocolate and cocoa powder, and it rounds out the product with a rich, dark indulgent quality that plain fruit bars lack. I'll plow through this box all by myself with little or no help from the beautiful wifey. Also, the size of the bars is absolutely perfect for keeping the blood sugar up and holding the munchies at bay.

As an aside, I should mention that I'm not sure why there appears to be a big white patch on the bar in the photo I took. It almost looks like a weird white mold on the bar. I assure you it didn't look like that in real life. Must have been a trick of the light or something.

$3.69 for five bars. Five? Why not six? Hmm. I'd still buy 'em again. Sonia probably wouldn't. Three stars from her. I've gotta throw out at least four and a half to keep Trader Joe's This Coconut Brings Chocolate on a Date Bars in the realm of respectability.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Sandwich Cookies


Is this jumping the gun? It's not quite the Christmas season yet in my book. Thanksgiving should get its rightful day in the sun, for sure. I mean, on one hand, this product has been available at Trader Joe's for at least a couple weeks now, and I do know people that do Christmas movies, decorations, trees, you name it, starting the day after Halloween. Even I think that's too early. In our household, as well as the house I grew up in, the Christmas season officially begins the day after Thanksgiving, aka Black Friday. The tree goes up in all its glory, the decorations come out, and the Christmas song playlist begins.

I'll make an exception with this product since it's not overtly Christmassy. One could make an argument that gingerbread is fair game at Thanksgiving. Furthermore, folks need to know in advance whether this is a worthy holiday season purchase or not. So...is it? In short, Sonia will tell you an enthusiastic "yes!" and I'll give you a lackluster "meh."

There's nothing inherently wrong with these cookies. They're soft rather than crispy, which is a plus as far as we're concerned. They taste relatively fresh and gingery, although there's very little actual raw ginger flavor. They're more like stereotypical dessert-ish gingerbread. I'm not big into the sandwich cookie format always, but I must admit it works here. That's one of Sonia's favorite parts—the huge amounts of cream cheese-based filling. You can even see in the photo some of the specimens are just bursting at the seams with sweet cream icing. It might be overkill in a few instances, but the average cookie in the box is balanced pretty well in terms of filling versus gingerbread.


Sonia keeps going back for several cookies throughout the course of each day, whereas I've tired of the flavor for the most part. They still taste fresh enough. I guess I'm just not a huge gingerbread cookie fan. Also, there are big granules of sugar that crunch when you chew them. It makes me think the enamel on my teeth is crumbling with each and every bite. And the aftertaste, while not particularly pungent, has an odd baking soda essence.

At around five bucks for 18 cookies, it's hard to complain about the value-factor. Still, I don't think I'll muster more than three holiday stars for these wintry cookies. Sonia will tell you I'm wrong and that they're a great early Christmas season treat and would be perfect for parties. Four and a half stars from her. If you've tried these, let us know in the comments who's right and who's wrong about Trader Joe's Gingerbread Sandwich Cookies.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Trader Joe's PBC Bars


Long ago, we reviewed Trader Joe's ABC Bars, the almond butter version of this peanut butter-based snack. In the post, I came up with as many "ABC" word combos as I could think of. It'd be a pretty big charge to do it again. It's in the past, babe, chill. I couldn't possibly be creative like that again.


Pleasantly buttery, creamy, these bars make positively boss comestibles like their predecessors. Trader Joe's packed blissful cocoa all through these bars, also peanut butter, creamy-style—pretty basic concept. 

But now that I've tried 'em, I get powerful bad cravings. Perhaps babies cry for PBC. They'd be a proper buy at checkout.

Health-wise, these are presumably a better choice than pretzels, brownies, chips. I would personally bake cookies, but I'm sure they wouldn't be as good as these. Perfect bars for camping, they'd probably be convenient.

People begging for chow? Pickup a box of craveable peanut butter cocoa bars. Please be careful: they're addicting. 

$3.29 for six bars. Vegan. Gluten free. I think I prefer the almond butter version just ever so slightly over these. I'm usually a peanut butter guy, but almond butter works a little better in this application. Still, peanut butter is never unwelcome to the beautiful wifey and me. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's PBC Bars.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Trader Joe's Carnitas with Salsa Verde Burrito


Confession time: I was thinking this was a beef burrito when I bought it. You'd think being married to a Latina, I'd know enough Spanish by now to not make that mistake. I've been learning to hablo the espaƱol for the past 14 years. I use the Duolingo app now. I have a 932-day streak going, for crying out loud. That means I've studied Spanish for at least 10 minutes a day for 932 days straight!

But here's the thing: in Spanish, "meat" is carne. The most common example is "carne asada," which literally means "grilled meat." It's always beef. Logically, "carnitas" means "little meats" and would just be teeny tiny beef cutlets, right? Nope. Carnitas is pork. I mean, it says it's pork right on the label, but...well, I'm an idiot, and not at all a real foodie.

Sonia and I avoid pork for the most part. I'd get into the reasons, but that would be a whole other can of worms. We're generally not dogmatic about it. It's just not our thing.


Ironically, the pork was by far the best part of this burrito. I mean, it wasn't spicy, which was disappointing. It was flavorful, but not hot. The tender texture and savory taste of the meat was the only saving grace of this product in my opinion.

Salsa verde? There was salsa in this thing? Neither of us saw or tasted anything even remotely resembling salsa verde here. We added our own salsa verde and it did blend quite nicely.

Likewise, neither Sonia nor I tasted or saw any evidence of cilantro, lime, or pepper jack cheese in our burrito. I'm not saying it wasn't there. I'm just saying if it was there, there was so little of it, it was virtually undetectable. We both just got tortilla—which is pretty run-of-the-mill for a Trader Joe's burrito—and pork, rice, and beans.


All in all, the flavor was good but not great. If the heat, cheese, and cilantro lime had shown up the way I'd hoped they would, I might have been able to recommend this wholeheartedly to pork lovers. We opted for 35 minutes in the conventional oven at 350° for a "crisp" tortilla. $3.99 for the burrito. As is, I think we're looking at about two and a half stars from Sonia, three and a half from me on Trader Joe's Carnitas with Salsa Verde Burrito.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Trader Joe's Apple Cranberry Tart


I, personally, haven't seen the
Rustic Apple Tarte on shelves in a while. I've seen posts about it on social media, so it must still be out there somewhere. That thing was legendary. So, if you can, pick one up.

If you can't, this delicious pastry is the next best thing. This has more of a sweet tart vibe. I don't mean that it's a tart that's sweet. I mean it's a tart that is both sweet and tart. Make sense? It's a much more tart tart than the rustic apple dealie, courtesy of cranberries. The apple tarte was just appliciously sweet.


The crust on this product is still outstanding, flaunting a country-style homemade vibe and buttery deliciousness. It's flaky and crumbly and just rigid enough to hold the fruit in the middle of the tart where it belongs.

Weaknesses? Well, for me, the cranberries weren't quite as melt-in-your-mouth perfect as the apples, texture-wise. Cranberries can have a slightly leathery texture and some of these did, just ever so slightly. Also, the aforementioned rustic apple tarte had candied almond slivers on top. This didn't. I miss those.


The missus raved about this tart from first bite. She said it's like something you'd pick up in an artisan bakery in Paris. She pointed out the impeccable balance of flavors and nice presentation. Her only complaint: she wants a four-pack next time. Two tarts just aren't enough.

$4.99 for the box. Heats in 20 minutes at 350° in a conventional oven. As highly as we'll recommend this dessert, it'll still score a full star lower than its rustic apple cousin. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me on Trader Joe's Apple Cranberry Tart.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Trader Joe's Very Chocolatey Oat Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert with Fudge Brownies


Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. E-G-B-D-F. Anybody else? It's a mnemonic device to remember the lines on the treble clef. Or, alternatively, Every Good Boy Does Fine. I was terrible at piano even after nine years of lessons. I'm much more of a bass guitar guy. Sorry for the rabbit trail. I could go on for pages and pages, but we have a product to review here.

Trader Joe's Very Chocolatey Oat Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert with Fudge Brownies. That's a mouthful and a half for a product title. If nothing else, it's accurate. I mean, the fudge brownies aren't, like, whole brownies or anything. They're not even really chunks. More like bits...or bites. But there's a bunch of 'em, and they're pretty tasty.


Here we have rich, fudgy chocolate oat milk ice cream on top of rich, fudgy chocolate morsels. I have to be in the mood for "chocolate overload" to really enjoy a product like this one. Fortunately, I had one of my infrequent cravings just the other day. It was cold and gloomy, and I needed a pick-me-up. This did the trick in terms of picking me up...but not so much in terms of warming me up.

Well, duh. It is frozen dessert after all.

The oatiness doesn't really detract from the flavor. It's a pretty decent frozen dessert for being vegan. I will say there's something "loamy" about the look and texture. Can I use that word here? It's generally reserved for describing dirt. "This soil is loamy," said the farmer. It means a certain percentage is clay, silt, and sand. Not that it felt sandy in my mouth or anything like that. Clay-ish, perhaps.


Truth be told, I'm not really up to speed on all these newfangled dairy-free options from other brands these days. I've had a few. I think I'm more partial to rice-based ice cream than oat, but I wouldn't complain if you stuck a bowl of this frozen treat in front of me.

Sonia liked it but didn't love it. She'd generally prefer a vanilla-based frozen treat and thinks oat lends itself to less rich flavor combos rather than double chocolate like we have here.

$3.99 for the pint. Don't think I'd pick it up again, but I might if I were lactose intolerant or vegan. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me for Trader Joe's Very Chocolatey Oat Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Trader Joe's Glazed Maple Donuts


Well, shoot. That's a tough act to follow: a teary-eyed farewell post with 12 years worth of memories and reviews and goodbyes and whatnot. I might lose half my audience if I don't bring my A-game here these next few posts. What could possibly do this blog justice after that?

I honestly don't know. But these maple glazed donuts are gonna give it the old college try, that's for sure. And I gotta say: I'm a fan.

In terms of cakiness and density, these are not unlike the Apple Cider Donuts from a few years back. These maple dealies look a little more cruller-ish in terms of their twisty, braided appearance. They're soft, sweet, and made fresh daily—something I didn't realize before this purchase. I guess they get delivered? I don't think there's a bakery in that back room at the Trader Joe's store...but I could be wrong.

The glaze is mapley, but honestly, it might not be quiiiite mapley enough for this guy. I was thinking they'd be absolutely dripping with real, rich maple syrup from Canada or Vermont or somewhere like that. I mean, they are maplicious. Don't get me wrong. There's maple in that glaze for sure. But it's almost like they mixed the regular sugar glaze from a plain glazed donut with a maple glaze, yielding a donut that is exactly half as mapley as I'd like it to be.


Fun fact: maple syrup appears in the ingredients list under the "contains less than 2% of the following" section. Version 2.0 should contain at least 4% maple syrup. I guess I could always add my own syrup...

The friendly Trader Joe's clerk gave me the following pro-tip, and I'll pass it along to you: microwave each donut for 15 seconds before consuming. These are fine at room temperature, but they're waaay better warmed up.

Sonia digs 'em a lot, too, although she agrees the maple flavor could be a little stronger. She says they'd go well with coffee. Indeed they would, my love. Indeed they would. $4.49 for six pastries. Four stars from Sonia, four from me on Trader Joe's Glazed Maple Donuts.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Farewell from Pittsburgh

With either a little more foresight, or more lax Pennsylvania liquor laws, I could have been writing all this while enjoying a glass or three of Two Buck Chuck. Alas, it wasn't meant to be that poetic. 

There's not an easy way to say this, but here goes: this is the last post that I, Russ Shelly, am writing for this wonderful blog. In a few weeks time, it'd mark 12 years since I first contacted an old college friend, Nathan Rodgers, about this "What's Good at Trader Joe's?" project I saw him trying to kick start up and asked if I could be of any help. He said sure, I wrote up five times as many words as you'd ever want to read about soy chorizo, and now, somehow, I find myself at trail's end, after so many years, reviews, and empty jars of cookie butter. Life comes fast. 

Why am I leaving, as Nathan and his lovely wife Sonia navigate the next chapter? I'll be honest. Overall, everything about this blog, and everything going into it - the searching for new product info, the hunt for it on shelves, the anticipation of giving something a try, the pleasure (or sometimes not) of trying something new, then trying to come up with ways to spin and inform and entertain - it's been a lot more fun than not, but to keep it that way, for me personally, I need to step off the ride. Quit while I'm ahead. For a while,  it just hasn't been the fun it has for me, and I feel that's begun to show in my reviews and my work here. That's not fair to you, Nathan, the overall quality of the blog, or even really to myself. It's not anger or animosity or anything negative. There's nothing wrong. It's just time. 

Looking back, there's so much to be proud of. More than anything, there's all the collaborative stuff that brings me joy. Like...the articles we created with The Daily Meal, back in our early years, that helped really launch the blog to what it is.  Making the front page of Yahoo will do that. Here's just one out of many. There's the times we tried a short-lived podcast with Marvo from The Impulsive Buy.  I LOVED the time I got to to do "Career Day" at my daughter's classroom - and instead of talking about my boring day job of medical insurance verifications and authorizations, I talked the TJ's blog and gave them cookies! There's where this post's picture is from, by the way. Within just our team, I loved making the April Fool's posts we did several years ago - I mean, c'mon now, this is still golden.  And, finally, lastly, and just me personally, though I certainly don't recall everything I've ever written, I do remember classics like the 5 Cheese Frusta or the Nduja

Most of all, I'm just proud and happy to have had a chance to share two of my passions - good food and writing - with anyone who cared to stop by for a few minutes. It's been an awesome experience, humbling at times, but nearly always enjoyable. 

There's no "next steps" in mind for me  - I'm likely to just fade more into the rhythm and routine of daily life with my lovely bride Sandy, who's been a tremendous help and a good sport over the years,. We've got our kiddos and their whims and activities and our jobs and this big ol' house we're trying to fix up. There may be another day coming when, much like back in late 2010, the inspiration or muse hits, and I'm off an running again on some sort of new writing project. If that's the case, I hope we somehow cross paths again. Maybe we'll just have to settle for bumping into each other in the local TJ's aisle - you can see what I look like up above and I'm usually looking for the bomba sauce, so that's a good clue. I'll still be there.   

In closing, thank you to everyone who's been a part of this journey, whether it be for years or days. Specials thanks, of course, to Nathan for giving me a chance, for continuing to be fair at all times and sticking with me. God bless you and Sonia, and I'll be keeping my eyes on what's coming next with this blog. We made a good team. Speaking of good teams - sincere thanks to my lovely bride Sandy, for the countless times she's delved into Instagram or gone and hunted down or prepared  "something to review" or offered her opinion only for me to poke fun at her a little on here.  Huge thanks to the many, many, many good people at the McCandless TJ's, our usual stomping grounds, for their support and interest and friendship - don't worry, we're not going anywhere! And lastly, to you, the reader, for whom we did all these things, even eating turkey muffins - it's been fun. 

If I may say one last thing it's my sincere hope that each one of us, myself included, continue to find our own mango waffles. Peace be with you all.   

Bottom line: my entire experience with What's Good at Trader Joe's?: 10/10 Golden Spoons

Monday, November 7, 2022

Trader Joe's Organic Artichoke Pasta Sauce

Here's an interesting one. Not feeling marinara sauce on your pasta dish tonight? Don't want Alfredo either? This product might be the alternative you've been looking for.

Or maybe not. The flavor is...interesting. It tastes sour more than anything else, but also bitter, tangy, cheesy. It's quite flavorful, the only question is: will you as an individual like this flavor? 

I could see it being quite off-putting to some and delightful to others, much like the artichoke timbales we looked at a while back, though I think I liked this product more than those oddball appetizers.

You can kind of tell from the picture this product isn't as liquidy as most tomato-based pasta sauces or even Alfredo. It's sort of a coarse, custard-like consistency—like pureed artichokes with cheeses mixed in. It doesn't look very appetizing by itself: almost reminiscent of baby food.


Of course it thins a bit when heated. We also found it works best as a very modest coating. Neither Sonia nor I wanted to pile it on too thick, since the flavor was almost too intense.

It was fine by itself on plain pasta. However, contrary to our initial assumptions, the wifey and I both liked it better when we added some sweet chicken sausage to the dish. The sweetness helped offset some of the sauce's astringency.


Sonia says she'd buy it again just to have that third pasta sauce option on hand. I don't know if I'd ever prefer this over good old-fashioned Ragu or whatever, but I feel more worldly and sophisticated having tried it. $3.49 for the jar. Three and a half stars from the missus. Three from me for Trader Joe's Organic Artichoke Pasta Sauce.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.