Why Trader Joe's?
For those of us new to Trader Joe's, will the loyal followers let us know what the magic is and what to look for when shopping there?
Well, that's a bit extreme. Are you implying that you never simply heat something up for dinner. That each and every meal need be a personal expression of love and skill? Certainly grabbing goodies at Trader Joes would hardly replace crafting something from scratch at home, but there's plenty to like about it.
First off, guilty pleasures: The soups, Indian meals, and other canned stuff is nice to have in the pantry if you need a quick bite. I think they're typically better than most.
Staples (that is where the place shines for me, especially at the restaurant): They sell a lot of dried fruits and nuts in nice small packages (8oz to 16oz) much cheaper than anywhere else I can find them. Lot's of things, like, say dried currents, I'd have to buy in 25# bags from my wholesaler if I wanted them for the restaurant. Well, what am I going to do with the 24.5 lbs I have left over after I made whatever special I wanted them for. When I had a TJs close by, I was able to keep a milk crate filled with small bags of assorted things like that and only open what I needed. I recall the TJs in Santa Cruz had french green lentils long before I could find them anywhere but by the case from my purveyor. I had a little bistro and didn't often need that much. They were often barely more expensive if that.
Besides that, things like chocolate and preserves are of high quality and much cheaper than Whole Foods.
So the staples are really what I like it for. That said, to be honest, when I went to Cary, I was pumped as time away had sort of built it up in my memory. All in all, I was a bit underwhelmed but certainly found enough things that I'm happy to see one coming closer by.
I've been hanging out on the "chains" board lately to find the answer to this question. There are loads of threads that mention specific products - as well as more philosphical discussions.
They have a ton of delicious options as far as frozen/canned/boxed meals are concerned. Much better quality than anything you get at a normal grocery store. Plus, the employees seem to really know their stuff and offer suggestions and advice.
What I get at my TJs that I can't get elsewhere for less:
Barbara's Puffins cereal
frozen fish and seafood
molasses chew cookies
2 buck chuck, in a pinch
prepared lentils and beets (in refrigerated section)
fat free plain yogurt
double roasted salsa
cocolate covered cherries
marinated tri tip