- HonnyBrown Apr 4, 2009 01:42 PM
I moved here from Los Angeles, where Trader Joe's was truly our corner grocery. The prices were great and the quality and choices were outstanding. It was a true alternative to the big chains.
I went to the TJs in Bethesda, and spent over $100 on 2 bags of groceries! I didn't even buy any wine because they don't sell it in their Maryland stores!!!! The only unique thing I bought was simple syrup, for drinks.
On top of that, the produce was old and dirty, and the selections were mediocre. I'm better off shopping at Safeway and Giant.
Why do you shop or like Trader Joe's? Give me a reason, because I would love to shop there again.
Where do I s tart? I love love love TJ's. I shop at the one in North Old Town in Alexandria. Apparently I'm not the only one--the store is expanding to more than double its current size, though the former store was quite small. I can fill one of their reusable bags for less than 40 bucks-- including whole grain bread, brown jasmine rice and whole wheat couscous, fruit and veggies, chicken and eggs (the "happy" kind, organic and cage free), yogurt ,milk, morningstar products, frozen fish and shrimp, and yes the occasional bottle of wine. And don't forget the English Toffee. Yum.
Store may vary in their quality but I am consistently amazed at how TJ's can keep their prices so low for quality food, at least the Alexandria branch! And no I don't own stock in TJ's.....maybe I should. Hmmmm......
To be honest, the produce is a fairly new addition to the Bailey's Xroads store, and I haven't checked out the quality too much, but I have a standard list of stuff I buy there on a regular basis; most everything I can buy elsewhere is cheaper there, and they always have a good selection of interesting frozen items & treats. I wish they had a better beer selection; all of the TJ branded ones I've tried are terrible, and they don't have much else.
You might want to check out the one in Silver Spring. It's new--open only for a year or two. It's definitely clean and bright though it's one of several places I shop--there's not enough there to be the only place I shop.
I think you may be looking for the kind of TJ store here (price wise and selection wise) that you had in LA. I don't think you will find it. There are tons of TJ stores in So. Cal. where TJ is headquartered. So. Cal. also has, I believe, a year round growing season for produce, unlike here. So you had a plentiful supply of local, fresh (cheaper?) produce.
I only buy about 5-7 things at TJ (Rockville) on a regular basis, but I enjoy going there and tasting the new items they stock. They have some specialty items not carried in regular supermarkets. It is certainly not my corner grocery.
If you want a larger selection of produce and cheaper prices than TJs or Safeway, Giant - try one of the large Korean supermarkets.
Some of the things at TJs are good values (jasmine rice, olive oil, some of the cheeses), and some things aren't (dijon mustard, most of the breads). The produce that's available at TJ isn't wide enough to make it an everyday grocery store, although I've been consistently underwhelmed by the produce selection everywhere (I haven't been able to find a parsnip in months). I use TJs mostly for frozen items that wind up incorporated into other dishes (eggplant cutlets, the nasi goreng, chicken sausages) or unique sauces that aren't readily available in other places at reasonable prices. TJs doesn't provide my meals - they provide the things that make my meals better.
Also, yes, the big Korean markets have cheap produce, but use it when you get home - that stuff goes bad quickly!!
Oh HonnyBrown, I'm with you. I too moved here from LA, and miss so many things from my old Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's sources much of their stuff locally, so it's just not the same nationwide, but on an ethical level that's part of what we love about it, right? TJs in LA had these great really small pork tenderloins that were a staple in my meal rotation and can't be found here. Though what I really miss is the year-round produce at Santa Monica Farmer's Market. I went from LA's gridlock city to living car-free in downtown DC (which I love), so I only make monthly or bimonthly stock-up trips to TJs in Foggy Bottom with a Zipcar. TJs here is still full of great bargains: hormone-free dairy and poultry, frozen wild salmon fillets, nuts, cheeses, organic tofu, earth-friendly cleaning (way cheaper than 7th gen, the only eco-brand carried by most places around here), and in the District they carry wine, including Barefoot Bubbly. Trader Joe's out here is not your neighborhood grocer, but it's a good edition every now and then.
I dislike the one in Bethesda, try other locations. The produce in local TJs is horrible because it is shipped quite a distance and not cost effective for their business model. I like TJs for frozen goods, some of their meats i.e. tri tip, and the sea salt brownies. I find grocery shopping in metro DC involves various markets (farmers, mega stores, local organic joints) in a rotation to cover your needs.
I know this isn't close to you, but I shop at the Annapolis store, and it is a great shopping experience. Very friendly employees, clean store and good selection of goods. I rarely get fresh produce except maybe some romaine hearts or herbs which generally cost less than what the supermarkets charge.
Eventhough I love to cook, the summer brings many visitors, especially on board our boat, so buying prepared and frozen foods for entertaining is one of the reasons I love TJ's. The mushroom tarts, pot stickers, artichoke dip, gruyere and carmelized onion flat bread, are delicious and so easy to prepare.
Their desserts are phenomenal. Since I put in so much effort in preparing appetizers and the main entree, I usually lose steam when it comes time for creating something sweet. But their selection is excellent, and folks just can't believe that what I served came out of frozen food section. A must try is their croissants. After visiting Paris several times, I refused to eat any I found in the US. But the ones they have that you take out the night before and then bake in the morning are pretty darn close to the real deal. I think they only have about 180 calories (small but very fluffy) so it's a guilty splurge with busting the calorie bank.
Tuna in olive oil is also a winner. I pay $1.99 and everywhere else it is over $4 bucks. As others said rice, olive oil, flavored vinegars, nuts, dried fruits are also excellent.
I sympathize, HonnyBrown. I prefer the Rockville Trader Joe's. It's much bigger and has better parking.
I can't depend on a single grocery store. Each has its advantages:
Trader Joe's - Nuts, chocolate, certain breads, organics, and lots of great gourmet items.
Shoppers Food Warehouse - Best bakery of any chain store (killer donuts!), great meat prices, excellent produce, lots of ethnic foods, and best prices of the big area stores.
The big Korean markets (Lotte, Hana Reum, and Korean Korner) - Great produce, seafood, well-prepared meats, and great Asian ingredients.
Every other store is average, in my opinion.
I agree w/ your take on the Bethesda TJ's. I prefer the one in downtown DC or Rockville location. Both are larger and have a good selection. In particular, the downtown DC TJ's has a very good wine dept.
re: hill food
TJ's in Reston seems to have a very enthusiastic staff, and decent produce, and a very nice selection of wine that is reasonably priced, unique things are good and their soap is good.
I like their Italian Blood Orange soda and their ice creams. Their cereal prices are much lower than the supermarket, and they do sell beer and wine in Reston. I wish they had fresher produce but it is acceptable. Their meats and frozen goods are nice. And I love the sweets.
All in all a nice neighborhood alternative to Giant or Bloom.
HonnyBrown: While TJ's very similar on the West Coast to the other ones in different parts of the country, there are some differences to note. First, the produce sucks on the East Coast. They ship it far and wrap it in that horrible plastic, which takes the taste away and ages it significantly. Almost every type of produce rots/gets slimy sooner (even the non-organic) than stuff I buy from other grocery stores. This includes the produce that comes in bags, like the pre-cut squash. I've had some issues with some of their cheeses, though. Secondly, while many of the "shelved" products are the same, sometimes there are some variation depending on region. You can sometimes see the differences in their Flyers. The thing that upsets me the most about the differences between West vs, East Coast are their premade food. California stores have amazing premade salad with delicious low aft dressing and tons of varieties. They also have great egg white salads to-go and other ready-to-eat foods. This section on the East Coast is pretty lame. Don't get me started on their sushi, though. I can't complain much on their wines. The rules of selling alcohol differs by state. VA and DC allow it but MD does not. You'll need to go across state borders to get some $2 chuck.