Scouting out a new grocery store

Yesterday a New Trader Joe's opened in my neighborhood, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn with a steady flow in to and out of its regal doors. Housed in an old bank building, the entrance is rather majestic, but is the crowning glory inside worthy of its throne? I entered to find out. After being directed to the correct doorway on the left, I entered unceremoniously into the food palace. Eyeing my surroundings, I proceeded to the first aisle...fruits and, whole foods, nothing out of the ordinary, but not all that comprehensive either. I did not note anything of special interest. I did notice though that most of the produce items were pre-packaged. At least the veggies looked fresher than ones I've seen at other Trader Joe's stores. I admit it passed muster. Funny thing is that there are no scales at the registers of this newly built store, the produce is paid for by the piece or package...which makes me think I'd be paying more here than elsewhere. Even though value is one of their founding principles. I'll have to investigate that further...nineteen cents for one banana, that's better than at the produce cart on the corner. Not too bad afterall.

The cheese selection was small, but okay, probably better than that of the local grocery store. Passing a very paltry meat, poultry and fish department, I moved on to the breads, nuts and grains. Here in lies the bounty of Joe. In the past, this has been the sole interest of my trips to this food emporium. Not just domestic almonds, but Mediterranean almonds and Marcona almonds, and salted ones, and sweet ones, sliced ones and crushed ones...cashews, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, trail mixes and dried fruits. Endless. The assortment of nut butters I found will have squirrels emigrating from around the world. In the words of Joe...paradise.

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The oils and canned foods aisles were next. Do I really want chili from a can, even if it is organic? Or Annie's mac and cheese from a box? I'd much rather have Aunt Angie's baked version with four fresh cheeses and toasted and hand-crumbled breadcrumbs atop. As for the snack foods, which like all of the merch sold here, are screened. The offerings had less fat, cholesterol and were generally much better for you than the average bag of chips. Into the next aisle, I began to notice that while it prides itself on its selection of natural products, what this store really pushes is frozen food. Not one for frozen food, unless it is my own leftovers, I found little to excite me. The sampling of orange chicken was an overly sweet version of Chinese sweet and sour sauce with a mushy texture. and while the frozen offerings do span the culinary globe, they are, however, still...frozen. Even the cereal aisle disappointed, although the selection of granola was plentiful.

I hail movement towards whole and natural foods, but isn't fresh the more appropriate choice in this category? I guess the same could be said of the housewares I normally tout. Sometimes people need appliances, fast gadgets, fast food. I just wish they offered more of the fast fresh than the frozen fresh. I just can't imagine being able to get all your groceries in that one store.

As I left, snacking on a delicious trail mix with almonds, cranberries and coconut, I couldn't help feeling slightly disappointed in Joe. I will return though, if even only for the nuts.

Gina Provenzano has worn many hats, including that of a stylist, producer, writer, and editor. With experience both on staff at national consumer magazines such as Bon Appetit and Family Circle and as a freelance contributor for independent companies, Gina is recognized as an industry expert in entertaining, kitchens, tabletop design, and home decorating. In addition to print and Internet media, Gina has appeared on many national and regional programs, including Weekend Today, Today in New York, and Fox News, and on CNN, Fox, WCBS, and Lifetime Networks.


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