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Trader Joe's - I don't get it

Trader Joe's - I don't get it
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  • Trader Joe's - I don't get it

    Post #1 - April 11th, 2008, 5:44 pm
    Post #1 - April 11th, 2008, 5:44 pm Post #1 - April 11th, 2008, 5:44 pm
    (Sorry if this has been threaded before - I couldn't find it. Please feel free to move to appropriate thread if needed. Thx.)

    So I finally went to TJ today. I went to the one in Park Ridge on Northwest Hwy. I was underwhelmed to say the least. Not sure what I expected, exactly, but this was not it.

    Everything was expensive, at least to me it was. A little bag of baby spinach was $1.99. Soups were $3-4. I guess TJ's thing is frozen foods, is that it? People were swarming the frozen aisle, buying appetizers, etc that didn't look that inviting to me, and were in the $5-8 range...not a bargain, to me.

    The wines weren;t that cheap either. Better deals to be had at Binny's easily.

    Cheeses weren't cheap, either. I bought the TJ double creme brie...I paid $5...ok not that bad. But got it home & it was inferior quality & salty as hell. Bleah.

    The clerks were very nice - actually to the point of being unctious...which I find as irratating as condescening or rude clerks are. Frankly I'd rather have a rude clerk than a simpering one. But thats just me.

    I think I'll be sticking to my trifecta of Butera-Jerry's Produce-Binny's.

    Am I just not getting it or what? Mybe I'm too blue collar, even thought I have a white collar life.
    I can't believe I ate the whole thing!
  • Post #2 - April 11th, 2008, 6:13 pm
    Post #2 - April 11th, 2008, 6:13 pm Post #2 - April 11th, 2008, 6:13 pm
    There's nothing to "get." It's popular purely for being popular. Sometime good deals: milk, orange juice, produce(except that in my experience beautiful TJ's produce purchased same day magically rots overnight). The frozen "dinners" are an abomination...horrid stuff. The one exception; their pizza margherita. Let's see; good deals on nuts, frozen tilapia, uncooked shrimp, cheeses(that more often than not either aren't all that great or are moldy on the shelves...pick carefully), Two Buck Chuck, some beers, olive oil...

    I like them okay...but the "cult of TJ's" is getting way outta hand.
    Being gauche rocks, stun the bourgeoisie
  • Post #3 - April 11th, 2008, 6:52 pm
    Post #3 - April 11th, 2008, 6:52 pm Post #3 - April 11th, 2008, 6:52 pm
    Yeah I go there for very specific items:

    The black pepper pistachios

    their IQF frozen french green beans ( the MAIN reason I go there, LOVE LOVE LOVE them)

    Hmm, that's pretty much it. Oh sometimes I'll pick up a bottle of their house labeled Unibroue ale or their italian lemon soda but yeah not much else.
    I used to think the brain was the most important part of the body. Then I realized who was telling me that.
  • Post #4 - April 11th, 2008, 6:57 pm
    Post #4 - April 11th, 2008, 6:57 pm Post #4 - April 11th, 2008, 6:57 pm
    I go to TJ's maybe a half dozen times a year. It's got better prices, from my experience, than Whole Foods, but with much less to choose from. I generally do most of my shopping in smaller ethnic markets, which end up being about half the price of an equivalent Jewel or Dominicks, but as far as price and the type of food available goes, TJ's is a pretty nice balance between the two. I like their service, and I like the friendly staff. Sorry, I'll take friendly staff who care about what they do over rude clerks any day of the week. I have little patience for people who work in customer service who don't seem to like people at all.
  • Post #5 - April 11th, 2008, 7:17 pm
    Post #5 - April 11th, 2008, 7:17 pm Post #5 - April 11th, 2008, 7:17 pm
    I shop there for the following:

    Niman Ranch bacon

    the aforementioned frozen green beans

    Natalie's Orchid Island juice (the closest to fresh-squeezed I have ever found, and winner of a Cook's Illustrated OJ tasting)

    Sun-dried tomatoes (also a CI tasting winner)

    Parmigiano Reggiano (the price is usually better than at Whole Foods)

    Oyster crackers (surprisingly good, and trans-fat free)

    Aaron's best kosher chicken

    Uncooked shrimp (helpfully, these are mostly peeled and deveined)
    Last edited by fleurdesel on April 11th, 2008, 7:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #6 - April 11th, 2008, 7:21 pm
    Post #6 - April 11th, 2008, 7:21 pm Post #6 - April 11th, 2008, 7:21 pm
    I too make the trip to TJ and willingly brave the hoardes at Lincoln/Grace location for some favorite, consistently good items, namely :

    -An excellent quality 10 year old Balsamic Vinegar (TJ Gold Quality,
    Red Label) for an outrageously low price , about $6-$7 if I recall correctly.
    This is wonderful for everyday balsamic viniagrette.

    -Frozen Naan bread-next best thing to Indian take-out .

    -Stilchester Cheese - Double Glocuester w/ Blue Stilton- Wow! , and
    very well priced. Looks like a slice of layer cake, white and orange.

    -Roasted Red Pepper/Tomato Soup-this tastes great right from carton.

    -Green Thai Curry Simmer Sauce; wide variety of other simmer
    sauces, most I've tried were quite good alone or with addition of a few fresh ingredients.
  • Post #7 - April 11th, 2008, 8:17 pm
    Post #7 - April 11th, 2008, 8:17 pm Post #7 - April 11th, 2008, 8:17 pm
    You have to figure out what you like there. It's not a place to go for your groceries for the week or anything like that for me. We get:
    Whole bean french roast coffee
    Triple Ginger snaps. SOOO GOOD
    Honey Sesame Cashews
    Coconut curry chicken sticks (frozen egg roll type thingies that go VERY well with stir fry or coconut milk curry night)
    Lemongrass chicken sticks (same deal)
    Dried banana.
    Banana chips.
    Vegetable gyoza
    Oh - the jalapeno cheese crunchy things (like cheetos with jalapeno powder, and a better cheese flavor)
    And that's about it.
    We'll usually try another item or two each time we go, but the items above are the things we RETURN for. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking TJ's is some kind of super shopping experience in the vein of whole foods, or the bigger chain grocery stores for some reason. It's really not. Just a small store with some decent prices on things if you can find them.
    We cannot be friends if you do not know the difference between Mayo and Miracle Whip.
  • Post #8 - April 11th, 2008, 8:51 pm
    Post #8 - April 11th, 2008, 8:51 pm Post #8 - April 11th, 2008, 8:51 pm
    Agreed that if you dig around you can find some great deals.

    I get:

    some excellent and very reasonably priced cheese

    an occasional wine find (the have an excellent and dirt cheap Casa de Diablo Carmenere for example)

    frozen tamales which I enjoy

    good deal on prosciutto

    some interesting cereals and snack foods

    a neat guacamole kit (lime, avocado, onion, garlic clove, tomato all packed in a box. All its missing is some cilantro and salt)

    good deal on wild rice

    Other interesting finds on occasion

    Overall, Whole Foods has a better selection of course, but boy do you pay for it. It's always fun to poke around TJ once or twice a month, although I don't think I could ever do all my shopping there.
  • Post #9 - April 11th, 2008, 10:09 pm
    Post #9 - April 11th, 2008, 10:09 pm Post #9 - April 11th, 2008, 10:09 pm
    TJs got its popularity from the FABULOUS stores that they run in SOCAL. They carry a bunch of private label goods, a variety of wines and a lot of interesting products that you just can't find in other places.

    When they expanded east, they started to source the products from the east coast and a lot of the food - especially the fresh foods - are a completely mediocre selection.

    The dry goods are generally pretty good. However, some of them are now found in their sister stores - Aldi's at lower price.
  • Post #10 - April 11th, 2008, 10:09 pm
    Post #10 - April 11th, 2008, 10:09 pm Post #10 - April 11th, 2008, 10:09 pm
    I agree with Christopher....pick the fresh produce carefully and also look at the 'sell by' dates on everything.

    That being said. I LOVE the Dixie Peach juice, and also some of the other unique juices they carry.

    Also, my husband loves the Uncle Milton's (I think that's the name) bread as it has no icky stuff (high fructose) and the taste is really good.

    We really like the fresh, raw pizza dough to make home made pizza.
    MORE COW BELL!
  • Post #11 - April 11th, 2008, 10:17 pm
    Post #11 - April 11th, 2008, 10:17 pm Post #11 - April 11th, 2008, 10:17 pm
    It's three-buck Chuck ($2.99) isn't it, not two bucks? That said, it seems well worth it to me to buy a box of a dozen bottles of Chuck at Trader Joe's. This evening we finished off a a bottle of the Shiraz and really enjoyed its berry-ness and "chewy"-ness (if that means it makes you want to bite into a mouthful of berries).

    But I've never bought much other than Chuck at Trader Joe's. For overpriced groceries in the north burbs, I'll go to Sunset and at least get a wider selection.
  • Post #12 - April 11th, 2008, 10:25 pm
    Post #12 - April 11th, 2008, 10:25 pm Post #12 - April 11th, 2008, 10:25 pm
    Katie wrote:It's three-buck Chuck ($2.99) isn't it, not two bucks?


    Depends on your state.
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #13 - April 11th, 2008, 10:50 pm
    Post #13 - April 11th, 2008, 10:50 pm Post #13 - April 11th, 2008, 10:50 pm
    I usually stop once a week for:
    The aforementioned Three Buck Chuck - which is excellent for cooking.
    Whole Bean French Roast Coffee.
    The occasional interesting snack item (honey whole wheat pretzels, sea salt pita chips, etc.)
    Braided rawhide-type chew snack for my dog.
    Any other random item my wife and/or I may need for the evening's meal (baguette, cheese, produce, etc.)
    I probably wouldn't visit as often but it's a block from my office so it's really convenient.
    Your results may vary.
    I love restaurants. You're sitting there and all of a sudden, there's food. It's like magic.
    - Brian Wilson
  • Post #14 - April 12th, 2008, 6:08 am
    Post #14 - April 12th, 2008, 6:08 am Post #14 - April 12th, 2008, 6:08 am
    LiNP,

    As you may have noticed, Trader Joe's is a "specific item" store for most people. There are certain things there that are good quality and rather inexpensive. Everyone has their favorites, but it may take a little digging to find yours. It's certainly not a place to "one-stop shop".

    My current favorites:

    --Healthful breakfast cereals (no one sells them for less).
    --Nut butters (I particularly like the almond butter).
    --Dried fruit and nuts (excellent selection -- no one else sells what they do)
    --Frozen fruit and veggies (nice, inexpensive selection).

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #15 - April 12th, 2008, 7:31 am
    Post #15 - April 12th, 2008, 7:31 am Post #15 - April 12th, 2008, 7:31 am
    I never "got" Trader Joe's until recently. In the past I would stop in once a year or so for a case or two of $3-Chuck, mainly for cooking use.

    Now that my wife's new hospital has a horrible cafeteria, we stock up on frozen meals for her to bring in. As she is vegetarian, it can be hard to find many options at normal grocery stores that don't cost the same or more as going out to lunch. Trader Joe's has a pretty good selection of ready to microwave options, and all are reasonably cheap.

    Since we have been doing this we have branched out into trying new items. I love the frozen vegetable/side dish options. The Thai Nam Prik Green Beans are excellent and take only 5 minutes or so to make. Perfect for winter when fresh vegetables are limited. I usually have 5 or so bags of different sides in the freezer.

    Other than that we can't leave the place without a few boxes of Vanilla Jo-Jo's cookies. So much better than any other vanilla with vanilla cream filled cookies. I also usually grab a few cheeses, randowm crackers (love teh Oriental Rice Crackers and the Honey Sesame Sticks) and a salad or two. I haven't ever bought meats there, as none seem that impressive.

    Jamie
  • Post #16 - April 12th, 2008, 7:36 am
    Post #16 - April 12th, 2008, 7:36 am Post #16 - April 12th, 2008, 7:36 am
    Plugra butter (half the price of other stores around here)
    Cream-top Milk (NOT homogenized)
    Heavy cream (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
    Peanut-butter dog treats
    Salt caramels
  • Post #17 - April 12th, 2008, 7:42 am
    Post #17 - April 12th, 2008, 7:42 am Post #17 - April 12th, 2008, 7:42 am
    Sometimes TJs has some good finds on craft brews, and their special TJ brew from Unibroue was pretty good - and cheap - for 750ml it was $6.

    I love the potstickers as a quick snack, and of course the 3 Buck Chuck. I'll usually also usually pick up a few Clif bars at a buck a pop.

    But no matter what you go for, do not go to the Lincoln/Grace on a Sunday afternoon. It's madness.
    Writing about craft beer at GuysDrinkingBeer.com
    "You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now." ~Ebert
  • Post #18 - April 12th, 2008, 7:52 am
    Post #18 - April 12th, 2008, 7:52 am Post #18 - April 12th, 2008, 7:52 am
    not a fan of TJ's, bad produce, sparse selection of meat, and many other items I can find at other places for less $$, or of better quality. We also do not eat prepared foods, vegetarian items, organic items, or frozen meals, so TJ' really has nothing to offer us.

    Ill take my local butcher, mexican market, farmstands(in season), and chain supermarket(Kroger, Handy Foods, & gasp..Super Wal-Mart) any day over TJ's.
    Last edited by jimswside on April 14th, 2008, 1:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #19 - April 12th, 2008, 7:58 am
    Post #19 - April 12th, 2008, 7:58 am Post #19 - April 12th, 2008, 7:58 am
    Bill/SFNM wrote:Peanut-butter dog treats

    For movie night snacking or do you use them as an ingredient?
    Hold my beer . . .

    Low & Slow
  • Post #20 - April 14th, 2008, 7:28 am
    Post #20 - April 14th, 2008, 7:28 am Post #20 - April 14th, 2008, 7:28 am
    We love TJ's, probably because there are some kid friendly foods that my kid will actually eat and that are pretty healthy. (Fig bars, frozen veggies, veggie corn dogs, organic milk, etc)
    But what is up with their bread? BLECH!
    It has a horrible texture and goes moldy in days. I suspect it's frozen and then thawed and put out on the shelf. Does anyone else feel the same?
  • Post #21 - April 14th, 2008, 8:51 am
    Post #21 - April 14th, 2008, 8:51 am Post #21 - April 14th, 2008, 8:51 am
    danak wrote:But what is up with their bread? BLECH!
    It has a horrible texture and goes moldy in days. I suspect it's frozen and then thawed and put out on the shelf. Does anyone else feel the same?


    Again, they DON'T use LOCAL bakeries so the bread is shipped from the east coast. TJ's breads in SOCAL are quite excellent but I have seen little approximating decent in Chicagoland TJ stores.
  • Post #22 - April 14th, 2008, 9:06 am
    Post #22 - April 14th, 2008, 9:06 am Post #22 - April 14th, 2008, 9:06 am
    The main staple that I buy there is cereal. They have a nice selection of Barbara's Bakery cereals at a much, much lower price than anywhere else I've seen.

    I also like their dried fruit and nuts. They also have pretty good selection of inexpensive cheeses (that is, when you want inexpensive cheese, they have a nice selection. When you want high quality cheese, head somewhere else).

    The rest of the products are definitely hit or miss: sometimes their versions of products are not very good. Other times they are good and much less expensive. We head there once a month or so for staples and always pick up a few extra things.
    Last edited by Darren72 on April 14th, 2008, 9:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #23 - April 14th, 2008, 9:18 am
    Post #23 - April 14th, 2008, 9:18 am Post #23 - April 14th, 2008, 9:18 am
    jlawrence01 wrote:
    danak wrote:But what is up with their bread? BLECH!
    It has a horrible texture and goes moldy in days. I suspect it's frozen and then thawed and put out on the shelf. Does anyone else feel the same?


    Again, they DON'T use LOCAL bakeries so the bread is shipped from the east coast. TJ's breads in SOCAL are quite excellent but I have seen little approximating decent in Chicagoland TJ stores.


    I realize you have repeated this point and used all caps to emphasize it, but I'll venture anyway to ask: where are you getting this information? I ask because it is in direct contradiction to what I've been told by TJ staff at the Lincoln Avenue location, where I have on a number of occasions gotten a nice, chewy, very fresh-tasing ciabatta loaf. Do you have an information source that should lead me to believe that the TJ staff have been lying to me?
  • Post #24 - April 14th, 2008, 9:31 am
    Post #24 - April 14th, 2008, 9:31 am Post #24 - April 14th, 2008, 9:31 am
    I go there every Saturday morning before noon. I can make it in and out in 20 min, Clybourn location. My favorites:
    soy creamer
    soy milk
    soy pita(I put them in the freezer, use the fat free pizza sauce, and their 4 cheese italian shred and make individual pizza)
    guacamole, I like the one that has spicy salsa in it in the cooler section
    spices
    tuna fish
    broths
    seeded sour dough bread, never moldy
    individual fresh chicken breasts, I put in freezer
    precooked bacon
    kosher fresh whole chicken
    pre sliced turkey for sandwiches is very good, obviously real turkey
    hamburger
    frozen seasoned lamb chops, so great on the grill
    frozen pre cooked edaname, thaws in a few minutes
    frozen mac and cheese
    gyoza
    shrimp
    frozen spinach and artichoke dip
    frozen organic brown rice(I use this at least once a week)
    frozen fruits for smoothies
    tofutti ice cream sandwiches
    And by far the best frozen items..pizzas...4 cheese or margharita
    low fat rosemary crackers
    flax seed chips
    salt and vinegar chips
    Tejava iced tea
    sparkling mineral water(in the blue bottles)
    vegetables-
    baby bok choy, baby bellas, pepper mix, broccoli slaw, some package salads, seedless cucumbers, onions, baby fingerlings, baby yukons
    Not a huge fan of their wine selection, but occasionaly I'll pick up some Pouilly fume, or Villa Maria Sauv Blanc
    100 calorie pack oatmeal and choc chip cookies
    dark choc covered blueberries
    I think their pre bottled dressings and sauces are hit or miss
  • Post #25 - April 14th, 2008, 9:34 am
    Post #25 - April 14th, 2008, 9:34 am Post #25 - April 14th, 2008, 9:34 am
    I ask because it is in direct contradiction to what I've been told by TJ staff at the Lincoln Avenue location, where I have on a number of occasions gotten a nice, chewy, very fresh-tasing ciabatta loaf


    I shop at the TJ's in Northbrook and I have been very impressed with the quality and price of their artisinal bread. Funnily enough, it is far superior to the bread they used to sell in their Connecticut stores when I used to live there several years ago.

    Like a lot of others, I use the store for select items, mostly cereals, dried fruit/nuts and dairy. Years ago, the chain focused more on selling brand name products at low prices and then switched into more own label, which was not an improvement.
  • Post #26 - April 14th, 2008, 10:06 am
    Post #26 - April 14th, 2008, 10:06 am Post #26 - April 14th, 2008, 10:06 am
    rickster wrote:I shop at the TJ's in Northbrook and I have been very impressed with the quality and price of their artisinal bread. Funnily enough, it is far superior to the bread they used to sell in their Connecticut stores when I used to live there several years ago.

    It is my understanding that TJ's contracts with local bakeries for their artisanal bread. In our town, they source these breads from a high-end bakery that makes great, but very expensive, bread. TJ's sells it for about 10% less than the bakery store.

    Bill/SFNM
  • Post #27 - April 14th, 2008, 10:20 am
    Post #27 - April 14th, 2008, 10:20 am Post #27 - April 14th, 2008, 10:20 am
    I like Trader Joe's, but I can also see not liking it. I shop there like most other people who have posted, for specific items, not weekly shopping.

    The breads at the Madison TJ's have always been really good. The pre-sliced Canadian white is always fresh, and has lasted over a week in my refrigerator. There is a big sign at our TJ's that tells you that all of their breads are preservative free and should be kept refrigerated. The artisnal breads are fantastic here, with the Sour Batard being my favorite.

    I like to stock up on their cereals and granolas. I've also had good luck with their frozen veggies, especially the green beans, but the sweet cork is great too. I purchased some frozen berries this last Saturday and they were excellent. I also like the Soyaki sauce.

    The fresh produce veries in how good it is, I also don't like how they package things together. Can't I get just one pepper? Also, when I was in on Saturday, their fresh ginger was moldy. Like most grocery stores, I take the good with the bad, and appreciate the low price points on many items.
  • Post #28 - April 14th, 2008, 10:57 am
    Post #28 - April 14th, 2008, 10:57 am Post #28 - April 14th, 2008, 10:57 am
    Made a quick call to TJ on Lincoln, and the manager confirmed that the bread is delivered daily from a local bakery, so I will just assume that jlawrence01 had his facts wrong, unless he has some evidence to the contrary.
  • Post #29 - April 14th, 2008, 10:59 am
    Post #29 - April 14th, 2008, 10:59 am Post #29 - April 14th, 2008, 10:59 am
    nicinchic wrote:I think their pre bottled dressings and sauces are hit or miss


    Run as fast as you can from their Trader Giotto's Italian dressing. It's the only product we've thrown out after one use. :shock:
  • Post #30 - April 14th, 2008, 11:20 am
    Post #30 - April 14th, 2008, 11:20 am Post #30 - April 14th, 2008, 11:20 am
    we get stuck in the Sunday crowd very often. what would you local enthusiasts recommend as a cheaper (and perhaps less crowded) grocery store for 'groceries for the week' shopping, near the Grace & Lincoln location?


    I enjoy their 'Seeded Sour' bread every week. If I chop it & freeze it when I get home and then pull out my two slices for the toaster as I need them, it stays in great shape and tastes nice and fennelly.


    I'm a big fan of the 'Winter Blend' coffee.
    pizza fun

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