Trader Joe's newbie
Trader Joe's is not in Canada so I am very excited about my very first visit to Trader Joe's (going to the Masonic Ave location). I'm hoping someone can help with a few questions:
1. Do they have a cafe where we can grab breakfast before heading out to Napa?
2. Any suggestions for what to buy to bring home? Weight is not an issue (I'm bringing 2 pieces of luggage - one that's empty!)
Trader joe's sells standard groceries and offbeat products of marginal quality for cheap. The cult following revolves around TJ's every day usefulness and pleasant shopping environment. I don't even shop there anymore, because I've had too many quality issues, but I can't imagine what you would want to fly all the way to canada. You certainly can't take their frozen foods.
For example, you can get rambutan on the branch there during the season. Which is cool. But I don't really like the quality of their rambutan, I'd rather go without and have it on my Cool Things About Hawai'i list.
Another example: they have decent deals on Valhrona chocolate, but they usually only have Noir de Americ (sp?), and I've moved on to Retucchi.
I'm afraid you've got somewhat of a misapprehension as to what Trader Joe's is like and are going to be disappointed. Trader Joe's is not Whole Foods. It's a small-ish specialty store for better-than-average quality, lower-than-average price package goods. No cafe. No hot foods. Where TJ's really excels is in snack foods and candy: good quality, interesting variety, inexpensive. Nuts. Dried Fruit. That's about all that might be worth lugging back to Canada.
For lugging back to Canada, I recommend:
- Trader Joe's Green Tea Mints. I think this item is relatively new. They are located among the candy at the front checkout.
- Trader Joe's Crystalized Candied Ginger, in the dried fruit / nuts section.
- A lot of people also like the chili dried mango. It's a bit too hot for me.
- They have some weird/interesting freeze dried fruit which sort of dissolves on contact when it hits your tongue.
- Some people rave about Trader Joe's peach salsa being better than any other peach salsa. I haven't tried it, but you might want to look into it.
- I recommend Trader Joe's whole Wheat Couscous, if you don't find that sort of thing in your local grocery; that could fit easily in your luggage.
Everything else I would recommend is either very perishable, comes frozen, or is not really luggable to Canada.
FYI: The Chowhound admins might move this thread into the National -> Chains part of the forum.
Unfortunately, most of the items I love about Trader Joe's are the perishable ones (pita pizzas, prepared meals, produce, cheeses, meats), so would be tough to lug back to Canada. In general, a lot of these are as good or almost as good as what you can get at Whole Foods but much cheaper.
One of the things TJ is most famous though is affordable but decent wines. That might be a good bet, considering I've seen how much California wines are selling for in Canada, but not sure how many of those you can bring back with you.
Here is what I recommend: When you come back to Canada and tell people that you have been to Trader Joe's, the first thing they will ask is "did you try the Two Buck Chuck?" It's wine that is famous for costing only $2, and some people consider it "decent wine, considering the price."
You say you will be stopping at Trader Joe's, then driving up to Napa. So, buy a bottle of "Two Buck Chuck" Cabernet, and bring it with you to Napa. Then, when you are picnicking at your favorite winery in Napa, do a taste test comparison with the winery's estate grown Cab, so that you can bash Two Buck Chuck with authority when the topic arises.
3 Masonic Ave, San Francisco, CA
Around our house, TJ is famous for "Vodka of the Gods" (TJ-label vodka), at some insane price - $5 per 1.5l or so. I took two cases to burning man and couldn't give it way. The nastiness is hard to describe - sort of the umami of awefulness. TJ finally stopped carrying it.
We also used to make a special trip for Double Rainbow Vanilla, but they've replaced it with an inferior house brand.
We still make special trips for their protein powder - $20 for a huge tub, and without any lousy fake vanillia flavor.
My one experience at The Burn belies your (quite correct and accurate) description of this vodka. Mixed with enough stuff everybody was drinking it, although after a while the mixers didn't matter, it seemed. The TJs here in SoCal still carry a Vodka of the Gods - maybe not the same stuff?