Over my birthday holiday weekend Trader Joe‘s (TJ’s) opened in Orlando. I’ve heard lot of people discuss it – you’d have to be crazy to head over there – and all that. Last Sunday, around noon, I asked Z if he wanted to go to Trader Joe’s with me. He politely declined. Since it is about a half hour door to door, I packed a cooler with ice in the trunk and headed over. It’s easy to find and only about five minutes from probably what amount to my three favorite restaurants in Orlando-Cask & Larder, Tibby’s and Four Rivers. So, going over there will likely be combined with the occasional dinner out and won’t be a ‘weekly’ type event. Driving up the street I could see the lineup of cars and decided to park about a half block away in the non-workday parking lot of the Civic Center. That served well as I would stay out of the fray and also be forced to limit myself to what I could carry by myself in the 90+ degree heat back to my car. I’ve only been in one other TJ’s during opening weekend so I have only that to judge by. This store was busy but not as busy as the Sarasota store opening weekend and the wine section was about 1/3 the size. You can judge that however you like.
I eased my cart inside braving the mixed crowd of Winter Park locals, Orlando hippies (I’ve never seen much of them before -maybe they are college kids from UCF and I’m just getting old?), regular old hipsters and me. I navigated through the dry goods aisles picking up na’an, pretzel loaves, and coffee and then the outer edges for cheeses, meats and prepared stuff like Wine Country Chicken Salad before hitting the center aisle that is what I’ve never shopped before on longer drives to the Sarasota store-the frozen stuff. Many people want to compare TJ’s to something. It isn’t like anyplace that you regularly shop–except just maybe slightly like Aldi. I only say that for the chaos and sort of self defined mayhem in the stores. That and they mostly sell private labelled products. At TJ’s though, they tend to be organic and internationally and otherwise ‘inspired’ type stuff. People who shop there seem to have their favorite items that they just don’t want to live without. Ours have always tended to be things I would best classify as snack foods – pita crackers & pub cheese, halloumi cheese, sea salt caramels, powerberries – with a few staples thrown in for the relatively modest prices on organic products – olive oil, thai chile & lime cashews, spicy pecans and coffee beans. I made this first local trip about trying new things and items that we could actually make for dinner. I tried a handful of new items out of the freezer sections like shredded vegetable nests (B+), poutine with cheese curds gravy (B) and spinach with paneer (don’t ask). I tried some new chicken sausages with Korean spices and bought a handful of different cheeses. All in all it was what I expected. The customers were actually quite a bit more polite than my expectations called for and I can see that there is a demand for it which gives me some hope for my developing neighborhood (WAY) across town.
Z and I were out to dinner the other night (Tibby’s to celebrate the 4th of July/Hurricane Arthur departure weekend) and decided to make a quick stop in. It wasn’t as busy the second go round and I was floored to see many absolutely empty shelves and coolers. Looks like they had a little trouble keeping up with this fierce new demand they have created. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. I was also excited to see a drop in under the TJ’s sign in the lot. Shake Shack is coming too. That’s another story.