When three Trader Joe's opened last month in the Denver metro area, I couldn't wait to visit. As a matter of fact, I drove up the day before the big event for a sneak peek.
Dan "Captain Dan" Guajardo, general manager of the Greenwood Village store at 5910 S. University Blvd., showed me around. I asked him to show me some of his favorite foods bearing the famous store label. He went directly to frozen foods and grabbed a box of Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese, something I wouldn't have given a second thought to since it's so easy to make.
"It's indulgent," he said. "Not something you'd eat every day, but for an occasional treat, it's delicious."
Then he raised the bar by showing me Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese Bites. It's the same rich, creamy macaroni and cheese rolled into balls and lightly breaded, he said, "ready to bake and serve."
Guajardo got me with this one. I was eager to give the bites a try so I added them to my shopping list.
Next we checked out the fresh pasta, where he got my attention with the store-brand Butternut Squash Triangoli.
"This pasta is so good," he said. "It's so fast to heat and serve, you can have dinner ready in just a few minutes. I like to top it with our puttanesca sauce."
Both of those items went on my shopping list, too.
Guajardo took me by the dry pasta shelves and proudly pointed out the 12 varieties of pasta produced in Italy that sell for 99 cents per pound every day, not just occasionally with coupons or during special promotions. Similarly low prices apply to all Trader Joe's products, which is one of the reasons the store attracts legions of fans.
As I was preparing to leave, he told me about some of the foods that his crew would be offering as samples at the grand opening. One was Speculoos Cookie Butter.
"Cookie butter?" I asked.
He smiled and replied, "Oh, you have to try this."
Well, brace yourself. It's a product that is a lot like peanut butter but flavored with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. It's spreadable and really tasty but not for everyday consumption because it's so rich.
Guajardo then handed me a copy of Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer newsletter, which is packed with fun information about the store's products. It enticed me into adding several more items to my shopping list, such as TJ's Greek Yogurt ($4.99 for 32 ounces) and organic mayonnaise ($3.49 for a 16-ounce jar). Both were excellent and have become part of my must-buy list when I make that monthly trek to Denver for my TJ fix. It sure beats the drive to Santa Fe, N.M., which until now was home to the closest Trader Joe's.
And those mac and cheese bites?
They are delicious, crunchy bites oozing with a rich, creamy filling. They are impossible to resist so they, too, will be coming home with me.