I just got back from a whirlwind trip to the Chicagoland area for my sweet cousin Allison's wedding (Hi, Ally!). A wonderful time was had by all, and somewhere in the midst of all the nuptial events, I managed to squeeze in a trip to Trader Joe's, that popular paradise-themed specialty grocery that has yet to grace Dallas with its presence.
In case you've been living on another foodie planet, Trader Joe's is known for its unique selection of international products, colorful island decor and last but not least, bargain-basement prices. (You've heard of Two-Buck Chuck, right? They invented it.) Here's the blurb from the website:
"Just what is this thing we call Trader Joe’s? Well, we’re a grocery store, sure, but really so much more. Our shelves are stocked full of delicious foods and beverages from the basics like milk, bread and butter to more exotic fare like imported cheeses, organic produce and hand-tossed pizza from Italy. We taste every product before we decide to sell it, and we guarantee you’ll like it. You might expect indulgences like these to come with unbecoming prices. But at Trader Joe’s, we’re as much about value as we are about great food...So you can afford to be adventurous without breaking the bank."
Contraband Photo 1
Thing is, though, Trader Joe's only has locations on the West Coast, East Coast and a few states in between - no Texas. So when I noticed an outpost near our hotel in Northbrook, IL, I motored on over in the rented Subaru to take a look. And that's where things got dicey...
Excited as all get-out, I speed-walked into the store with camera in hand, ready to document every inch of the place for DallasEats. Snapping away, I'd only made it about three yards into the store before a hula-shirted fellow sporting a wide, toothy grin approached me and asked why I was taking pictures. "I'm a blogger from Dallas," I replied (thinking the eager tourist routine was the best tack to take). "We don't have Trader Joe's, and I'm so psyched to finally visit one!"
Contraband Photo 2
He took a deep breath (still smiling) and then informed me, "The thing is, we don't allow cameras." I listened, wondering if this was the sort of rule that was strictly enforced, selectively enforced, or just stated out loud and then pretty much ignored. At that point, however, I also noticed that he had positioned himself strategically between me and the rest of the store. And he was a good six inches taller than me; no way I could take him. He continued - kindly but firmly, "I'm going to have to ask you to put the camera away." (Did I imagine the tiny beads of sweat forming at his hairline? The quick clench of his jaw?) Then, only after watching me secure the offending device in the side pocket of my handbag, did he allow me to proceed with my (now seriously impeded) fact-finding mission. And I swear, I wasn't out of eyeshot of an employee for the rest of my visit. Coincidence? I think not.
That being said, however, everyone was very nice and even under many watchful eyes, I was able to enjoy the experience. Plus, how can you stay mad at a guy in a multi-colored floral print camp shirt? Here are my top Trader Joe's observations:
1. The place was overflowing with snacks, both traditional and unusual. Wasabi Tempura Seaweed crisps and Lightly Salted Crunchy Green Beans were just a couple of the more adventurous offerings. (Personally, I'm of the opinion that most snacks of this ilk are purchased for shock value - so people will ask "WHAT are you eating?" when they see you eating it. You know, like Wasabi Peas ten years ago.)
2. GREAT prices on meal/energy bars. Luna bars and CLIF bars were both 99-cents a pop. Lara Bars were $1.29. Also, good prices on protein shakes and powders.
3. The wine selection was as wide and low-priced as I'd heard it would be. I was especially impressed with the up-and-coming varieties:
Zarafa Pinotage from South Africa ($4.99)
Espiral Vinho Verde ($3.99)
Abrazo del Toro Cariñena from Spain ($5.99)
Layer Cake Shiraz (love this one!) for $14.99 – not bad.
Santa Rita Chardonnay for $6.49 – a stock up price!
...But great wine prices can also be found right here in the Metroplex at lots of different places (Albertson's is one of my fave bargain wine stops - always something great on sale!).
I'm totally going to show off my new Trader Joe's reusable shopping tote around town. Like the foodie equivalent of a really sweet concert t-shirt.
4. Overall impressions: The store was small, with less wow-factor than I expected. I can't say whether all Trader Joe's are as small as the one in Northbrook, though. In selection and ambiance, it was sort of like the food and wine sections of World Market combined with Newflower Market. I’d go if I lived near one, but I’m not quite as bummed about not having one in Dallas anymore.