Snacktastic

Grocer-with-a-cult-following Trader Joe's will make half your dreams come true

Trader Joe's
4500 Excelsior Blvd.,
St. Louis Park

952.285.1053
www.traderjoes.com

I, like most people of my generation, am very specific about my coffee. Every berry must be picked, fully red and ripe, by endangered songbirds wearing suit coats woven of hemp. Once dried, my coffee must be brought north by solar-enhanced pedi-cabs driven by prose-poets raising political awareness through community building. Oh, and I forgot: As they work, the songbirds harvesting my coffee must be serenaded by native peoples lifting their voices high in folk songs in extinct languages. These songs must praise the wise pale people of the north like myself who are so dedicated to fine, ethically made foods that, once the morning pot is brewed, we quickly slip out the back door in avoidance of Big Louie, the lout seeking to collect the vig on the Whole Foods bill.

Bill Kelley

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Trader Joe's

4500 Excelsior Blvd.
Saint Louis Park, MN 55416-5179

Category: Grocery Stores

Region: Golden Valley

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I was hoping the new Trader Joe's, which opened in mid-May to great media fanfare, could help my coffee (and such) habit, at less expense than usual. But I had my fears. Remember the last time we had a media circus around a new grocery retailer? It was Costco, a place I've been to twice, and each time the experience has lead me to resolve to either kill myself or to stand in the parking lot with a megaphone, advising, "If you think you need six liters of Pepto Bismol lassoed together in a value pack, as well as a 49-cent hot dog and a case of hazelnut-flavored nondairy creamer, you're wrong. What you need is a good night's sleep, a week off, and the love of a good dietician."

Anyhoo, Trader Joe's. Started life as a chain of California convenience stores, Pronto Markets, but then they added a hang-loose Hawaii theme and became known for private-label gourmet stuff for high-end customers: wine, snacks, the works. When the first Minnesota Trader Joe's opened in St. Louis Park, it turned the Lake Calhoun-ish streak of Lake Street and Excelsior into something of a Gold Coast of grocery shopping, with the Uptown Lunds, Calhoun Village Whole Foods, and now Trader Joe's, all in one straight shot.

So how is it? The first time I went to Trader Joe's, I went from skeptical news-gatherer to frenzied, desperate mad shopper in the space of a few seconds. The place was jam-packed with shoppers excitedly exclaiming over the deals. Some product spaces were conspicuously vacant, as if they had just been emptied by people luckier and quicker than I. People on cell phones were all around me, telling their friends things like, "I can't find my rice, I can't find my rice! I'm going to have to fly to California...thank God, there it is."

Soon enough I was tossing bargains galore into my cart: A 10.5-ounce loaf of highly prestigious Vermont Butter and Cheese Company Chèvre, for $4.69! Half a pound of dried wild blueberries for $4.99—almost a third what they cost at my local co-op! Frozen pizzas that looked all gourmet and stuff—for $3.99! The organic, ultra-virtue fiber silage sticks-and-berries mix with which I start most mornings—less than half what it costs at the co-op! Ooh, are our beloved local co-ops actually going to be forced to think about competitive pricing? Be still my beating heart!

And what's that? Unfiltered extra virgin Italian olive oil, $5.99 for half a liter, a whole pound of cold-smoked salmon for $10.99? Someone catch me, I just might faint, or throw a sudden dinner party! Of course, I also stood on line in the attached Trader Joe's liquor store (a separate store, closed Sundays, you know the drill) for a case of the famous Trader Joe's bargain wine, Two-Buck Chuck. While there were pallets of the wine stacked up in various areas of the store, the empty cases piled here and there were causing normally sane-looking men to whip through the empty boxes in a frenzy, finally shouting to their wives, holding a place on line, "I got one!" (FYI, it's actually Three-Buck Chuck here.)

Double anyhoo, I managed to spend $130 on groceries, and was strangely confused that night to find I didn't really have much to eat. There were a lot of snacks, certainly, but not really any dinner, in the "cooking some vegetables and putting them next to some other stuff" sense of the word. (Please know that the Day-Glo orange cheesy poufs I ate as I contemplated my snacky repast were not the low-class cheese puffs of the unwashed masses. These were cheesy poufs that were lower in fat and private label and from California.)

Anyway, I eventually managed to put together a repast that made me feel very much like I was eating at a nice catered cold buffet at a museum opening: balsamic-marinated precooked chicken breasts ($4.99), sliced (by me), placed on organic baby lettuce ($1.99) with a balsamic salad dressing I put together of previously owned non-TJ stuff with sweet dried cranberries ($2.49), TJ sweet-and-spicy pecans ($3.99), and that chèvre. It was a pretty good salad that had all the hallmarks of eating in a restaurant, but the chicken was kind of overly dense and overly sauced and...eh. It reminded me exactly of being in one of those neighborhood cafés that I can never decide whether to review: It's good, but is it good enough to tell people to visit?

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