(Photo source: @mpbaldauf)

The Capital City is finally recovering from years of snubs from the Monrovia, California based Trader Joe’s as it prepares for the opening of Columbia’s first store at the former Columbia Athletics Club location on this Friday, March 22 at 8 a.m. with a ribbon cutting. Some folks in the area are already familiar with the hip grocery store chain, even taking trips to the nearest locations in Greenville, Mount Pleasant, and Charlotte, NC, filling their coolers with fancy but inexpensive cheeses, frozen pre-cut fruits and vegetables, exotic sauces, dressings and of course the beloved “Three (And a Half) Buck Chuck” wines.

What inspires such a loyal following to a grocery store? Variety and price are two huge factors. As quoted in the Charleston Post & Courier, “The company’s practice is not to offer sales, fancy promotions or discount cards. Its strategy is to change prices only when costs change”, Mochizuki said. “It also purchases from manufacturers and not distributors, helping to keep costs down. To keep a sense of adventure in the store, the company adds about a dozen new items every week. That also means an equal number of items are removed.”

For those who don’t know who this Trader Joe is or why people are going to be clogging up Forest Drive starting on Friday morning, here are a few of my favorite TJ’s products:

Why You’re Going To Want to Try:

Soy chorizo: This spicy Mexican sausage replica is well loved by meat eaters and meat shunners alike for its lower cholesterol dose of spicy meat-like crumbles. The faux-age is cased in plastic and when unwrapped, crumbles into a perfect ground beef like texture to add a sexily seasoned kick in the mouth to taco salads, burritos, quiches, breakfast scrambles and beyond.

Black pepper crusted toscano cheese– it is similar to Parmesan but with a slightly creamier taste but not texture and has a black pepper on the outer edges, making for a peppery but not spicy bite that contrasts perfectly with the salty, creamy cheese underneath. I always get two or three chunks of this on my trips. Perfect grated over absolutely everything, or eaten on its own.

Mochi– These Japanese dough wrapped ice cream balls are a perfectly portioned after dinner dessert. The green tea flavor is a light palette cleanser for hot summer nights. Other flavors that I have seen include chocolate and possibly strawberry.

Edamame hummus– there are at least a dozen varieties of hummus to choose from at TJ’s, and after trying most all of them, the creamy greenness of the soybean hummus comes out as a flavorful alternative to those based on the humble chickpea. Infused with a lemony, garlicky piquancy, it leaves you scraping for the dredges with your very last pita chip, not caring what coworkers think about your pungent snack and animalistic urges as you lick the container clean.

Sauces, Salsas and Nut Butters– see previous posts I’ve done on both the masala simmer sauce and green curry simmer sauce to see the massive amount of flavor that TJ’s can pack into those jars to make a vegetable stir fry into something a little more exotic and exciting in less than 30 minutes, including chop time on a plain ole Tuesday night. Salsas and nut butters are similarly exotic, exciting, and inexpensive.

Orange flavored dried cranberries– these are one of my favorite salad toppings. I’ll pick up three bags at a time to last me, since they are often snacked on as I make salads too. The orange flavor really cuts through the tartness of the plain cranberry and contrasts well as a chewy little garnet bite among crisp lettuce leaves.

Oils– TJ’s has the best inexpensive to high quality ratio for oils. I always stock up on olive oil and coconut oil there. Now that it’ll be a fifteen minute drive there won’t be quite as big of a need of keep at least two on hand at all times!

 Who’s going to fight the crowds this weekend?! Me too, sorry in advance for throwing elbows, but I gotta get to the cheese aisle.