You had to know that Mr Foodie and I over here at WTEIB have been planning this post for the past year.
The concept for this post is simple. Whenever two people who have lived in cities with a Trader Joe’s but who are now deprived of such pleasures come together, the conversation inevitably goes something like this:
“I’ve been making special trips to Atlanta’s TJ’s to buy X.”
“My [mother/brother/cousin/best friend’s aunt’s co-worker] has been buying me X from their TJ’s and shipping it to me.”
“I’ve created a special recipe to make X and it is almost as good as the stuff I used to get at TJ’s but it’s not quite right.”
“I’ve been buying TJ-brand X off of [ebay/Amazon].”
“I am having withdrawal from X and am going to loose my sh*t if I can’t find a way to replenish my supply soon.”
“I’ve lost hope.”
Today, this conversation has changed forever here. Today is the day when this special brand of foodie -the TJ fanatic foodie – can learn to regain a sense of normalcy in the Magic City.
To illustrate the love that TJ fanatic foodies have for their favorite TJ’s products, I invited a small group to join me yesterday at TJ’s grand opening. We are all people who have lived in a city with a TJ’s and shopped there regularly until moving here. A true TJ foodie fanatic wouldn’t miss the grand opening – Summit traffic, the anticipation of lines or of empty post-apocalyptic-style shelves could not keep us away. Our task was simple: grab a few items off the shelf that we have fallen deeply in love with over the years, and tell you about them.
By the way, it’s a known fact that whenever people compare notes about their fave TJ products, no two products are ever mentioned twice. It’s as if everyone has found their own little corner of TJ’s – no matter how many times you go in that place, there are always new items that have been there forever for you to discover. It’s like the black hole of grocery shopping.
Today, our mission is two-fold. For our fanatic friends out there reading this post, you have already read every single thing written over the last year about TJ’s Bham opening. You will read this one, and you will love it no matter what because that’s just who you are. We are glad you are out there and we salute you. Plus, you will probably add one or two of the items we mention to your shopping list next time, because you’re always searching for your favorite can’t-live-without-it TJ’s product. Second, we are dying — dying — to share our knowledge of our most cherished TJ’s products with those who have never experienced the wonders of TJ’s. Those who may be excited, nervous, and maybe even a little skeptical that their first experience could be all that. Let us take you through the aisles of the Magic City’s first and only TJ’s and show you our favorite must-have obsessions.
First, some obligatory store opening shots. Mr. Foodie was dutifully there at 7:30am to capture the madness, including a live band.
Aisles are all named for neighborhoods in Bham.
Mr Foodie got lei’d. Photo edited to protect his (relative) anonymity.
Some pictures of the aisles. Note that when you walk in: produce to the right, frozen food in the middle, meat to the left, and a lot in between.
The tasting section in the back. They’re always cooking up something, usually from the frozen foods section.
Some more aisles. Note the incredibly reasonable prices.
OK, enough of that. Let the free-for-all begin. In case you’re wondering, we set out on this expedition yesterday around 5pm. I asked everyone to run through the aisles and return with a handful of favorite items, plus a few sentences of explanation.
Keya, formerly of the St. Louis TJ’s:
I really like Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burgers because they are not made of soy protein. Instead, they are made of vegetables—potatoes, carrots, green beans, onions—shaped together into a burger patty that is subtly flavored with Indian curry spices. For a light meal, the patty is good on its own or on a salad. A more filling option is to put it on a bun. Obviously. You know how a burger works.
Chile Spiced Mango—dried slices of mango seasoned with paprika, cayenne, salt, and sugar. These are a great healthy snack and they hit those flavors that make Thai food addictive and satisfying: salty, sweet, sour, and spicy. Perfect for the office desk drawer.
They’re cheap! Way less than ordinary grocery store prices and if you cook regularly with them, that’s significant.
Kristina, formerly of the Boston TJ’s:
I am lazy. I like to eat. I like to eat yummy, easy to prepare food. Apparently, I am a fifth grader. Healthy food is a plus. Therefore the veggie burritos at trader joes are a staple. Were a staple before I moved away from TJ’s. Now they can be a staple again!
Dark Belgian chocolate covered almonds. Just listen to that name for a minute. That covers the items trader joe’s really excels at. Nuts and chocolate. There is no place better.
Christina J, formerly of the Northville, MI TJ’s:
My favorite frozen veggies. The flavor is so pure, delicious fire roasted flavor. Excellent in fajitas or just eaten alone as a side item.
A combination of Aribica coffee beans and Piñon (pine nuts). Flavor is so smooth you definitely don’t need cream. Also the price. Just $6.99 for 16 oz.
Trader Joe’s stuffed peppers with seasoned turkey and rice. This was the first thing I put in my mouth (other than the praline pecans that I opened on the way home). Perfect blend of herbs and spices. Comes two to a package.
Ela, formerly of the LA TJ’s:
I have been making my own salad dressings for a while, and about a year ago they seemed to lose their “spark” – no combination of ingredients tasted quite right. It literally was not until I was walking through Trader Joe’s earlier today that I realized why – I had run out of TJ’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar. I had forgotten it even existed, and now I can’t imagine how I lived without it.
Trader Joe’s selection of nut mixes is beyond compare. I always have a least 5 different kinds of nuts at home (and several more jars at the office – I really like nuts), and no where else has as many interesting pre-made nut mixes. On this trip I bought a ginger-cranberry-macadamia nut mix, which I’ve never had but know that I will love. In fact, finding new nut mixes to try is probably my favorite part of the TJ’s experience.
Dustin, formerly of the Winston-Salem TJ’s:
The first time I had the vegetable gyoza was with a friend who whipped them up in minutes with sautéed bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and soy sauce. Eating them always takes me back to a happy place!
And a general TJ’s reflection:
When I lived near a Trader Joe’s I would generally walk out with 30 dollars worth of sea salt caramels, peanut butter cups, almond covered toffee, and other miscellaneous things in Candy Row. Here we go again…
Mr. Foodie, formerly of the Philadelphia and Manhattan TJ’s:
Sweet, creamy chicken tikka masala. Perfectly portioned so as to avoid guilt. Served with just the right amount of basmati rice. When combined with the appropriate amount of TJ’s snacks, this is dinner.
I know almond milk isn’t a TJ’s invention, but it’s where I started drinking almond milk. Very reasonably priced, with such beautiful packaging.
The best granola in the world. Sweet, vanilla-y, almond-y. Wonderful with TJ’s greek yogurt or with the almond milk. But don’t look at the nutritional info. Let’s just say it will break your MyFitnessPal app.
These chips are just a little salty, with great body and texture. I combine them with almost anything – salsa, guac, hummus, etc. And it kinda feels like you are eating something healthy because of the flax seeds and veggies, so you can feel free to eat the whole bag.
We ate these at least once a week in Manhattan. Taste just like the shu mai you get at a Chinese restaurant. Actually, I be these are the shu mai you get at a Chinese restaurant.
These were also a staple. Bake a bunch of them them in the oven to a golden brown along with some TJ’s sweet potato fries, and poof – a romantic dinner for two.
I cannot tell you how many TJ’s chicken taquitos I consumed during grad school. Too numerous to count.
After purchasing these and (of course) many other items, we returned to my house to eat. In this process, we discovered a few favorites, reviewed here by our TJ foodie fanatics:
Oh god those figs are awesome. Just defrosted one in the microwave for 15 seconds to see. They’re flash frozen whole figs so they are really juicy, fresh, and mild flavored when they’re defrosted. –Keya
I have never had bacon jerky before. I have never had Sriracha-flavored jerky before. Now I have had both, together with trader joe’s sweet Sriracha uncured bacon jerky, and it has introduced me to beautiful new horizons of jerky! –Dustin
It’s chunky. It’s spicy. It’s guac in a box and it’s pretty good. We ate all of it. –Ms. Foodie
I’ll close with this thought. The night before opening night, as I read al.com posts about the opening and watched peoples’ excitement grow on Facebook, I was getting pretty excited too. Actually, I was getting…. choked up? As I felt the tears come to my eyes and my throat tighten, I thought – hold on a second. What’s this about? Why am I getting so overwhelmed by the thought of being able to shop at a TJ’s in my adopted hometown?
So I did a little bit of soul-searching, and this is what I came up with. When we lived in Philly, we lived 2 blocks from the Italian market and did most of our grocery shopping there. For staples and specialty items, we drove across town to the TJ’s, which we always really enjoyed. Then, we moved to Manhattan, the Upper East Side specifically. There, our grocery shopping choices were extremely limited. We had a corner grocery store that was outrageously expensive and of poor quality, and shopped there a lot initially. Then, a month into living in Manhattan, a TJ’s opened in Chelsea. Although this was pretty far from our apartment, I was on a work assignment a block away. I remember going there on opening day at my lunch break, and just walking the aisles. A little homesick for Philly, being in TJ’s and seeing my favorite familiar store brand products was extremely comforting, and I appreciated them all the more. We began to shop there regularly, and soon a store opened right across Central Park from us. We discovered more and more unbelievably tasty items and incredible deals, and became more and more attached to each one. I discovered the blog Trader Joe’s Fan, which made me feel like I was part of a bigger following of devotees.
That’s the thing that makes the opening of the Bham TJ’s so darn special. When you enter a TJ’s, you are immediately able to time travel. You can go back to the time and place when you first discovered TJ’s. Maybe it’s where you grew up, maybe it’s the town where you went to college, or the city where you met your significant other (as in our case). Since TJ’s have nearly the same layout and carry mostly the same products wherever you are, and have at least as long as I’ve been shopping at TJ’s (10 years), it’s like walking through your childhood home. And at the end of it, there’s a chocolate-covered-something waiting for you.