In theory, this sounds delicious. How could it not be? Paper thin sheets of oven crisped filo dough filled with a thick and gooey blend of five delicious cheeses – surely that’s a prescription for gustatorial heaven, right. And while it’s close, Trader Joe’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral isn’t really all that good – as if it’s missing some essential ingredient that would have tied it all together.
|What it is:||Melted cheese in a pastry shell spiral.|
|Price:||$3.99 / 14 oz. disc|
|Worth it:||No. Too bland to justify that much cheese and dough.|
Looking like an over-sized lollipop, Trader Joe’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral is at the very least an intriguing looking appetizer. It’s essentially a single long tube of filo (AKA pie crust) dough, filled with tons of cheese and wrapped into a single snail-shell spiral. Like a cheese-and-pastry kielbasa, or a cheese-filled pizza crust gone wild. TJ’s isn’t kidding around about that “five cheese” part either – this big honkin’ disc contains nearly a pound of gouda, kasseri, kefalotyri, “semi-hard” and blue cheese.
The whole thing is placed in the oven (the oven explicitly – the packaging bans microwave use) and roasted for 25 minutes until golden, crispy, and filled with hot, bubbling cheese.
So why isn’t this better than it is? It’s really hard to go wrong with cheese and dough – and yet this Greek cheese spiral failed to illicit more than lukewarm reactions from everyone I called around to try it. The problem is that there’s just nothing interesting going on with this appetizer. Lots of cheese is good in theory, but the cheeses in this mixture end up as a single, salty, mild-tasting blend, without the intriguing charm or tang of the individual components. The filo dough is also unadorned, tasting of nothing much but a bland paperiness that makes for a very nice texture, but not much else.
There are no end of delicious foods that make use of cheese and dough, so it seems like a shame to waste it all on an appetizer that is merely acceptable. Pizza, for example, or any of Trader Joe’s delicious flat breads.
In fact, if there’s any potential to be unlocked in this 5 Cheese Greek Spiral, it’s in treating it as a pizza-like launch pad for more interesting toppings. With the application of a little imagination it’s easy to compensate for that missing X factor. Throw a tub of artichoke dip on top of these warm cheese coils and you’d really be talking about a delicious appetizer, or simply serve alongside a ramekin of marinara or other dipping sauces. Drizzle with honey!?!? That might just be crazy enough to work. Do anything, really, just as long as you’re not eating it plain.
Would I Recommend It: Not strongly. It’s pretty underwhelming.
Would I Buy It Again: Maybe – I might try fancying one up for my next soiree.
Final Synopsis: Lots of salty cheese in a bland crust. Should have been better.
What is a popper? The jalapeno popper is a thing certainly. Is it a class of things? Is it so different that we can’t consider it simply to be an “appetizer”, an “hors d’ouever” or even a “bite”? What makes cheese-filled jalapenos deserving of the name, but not – say – bacon-wrapped water chestnuts? Sadly, this is beyond the scope of our article today. Suffice to say that if the only requirement to be a popper is that you enjoy popping them in your mouth, then Trader Joe’s Southwest Jalapeno Poppers most definitely fit the bill.
Trader Joe’s has developed for us this tasty new appetizer to grace our plates at sporting events, birthday parties, themed get-togethers, or generally anytime you want people to come over and eat up all your food.
The southwestern popper is a combination of white chicken meat, roasted corn, black beans, diced jalapenos, spinach and jack cheese all rolled up and melted together a meatball-sized glob of mini-Mexican dinner. This glob is more or less held together by a coating of red white and blue tortilla chip crumbs because hey, why not, Trader Joe’s probably has a ton of left over tortilla bits from their bags of Red White and Blue Tortilla chips.
The result of all this are some really good, bite-sized, finger food appetizers that will be eaten up as soon as you set them out. Each popper is, essentially, just one-mouthful of chicken burrito – an idea so simple that it’s shocking Taco Bell hasn’t been doing it for years. It’s all the classic Mexican food ingredients you love (meat, cheese, beans, et al), but instead of bothering to wrap them up they’ve just been left at the bite-size level – perfect for picking up ‘twixt thumb and forefinger and, dare I say it, popping.
If there’s anything not to like about Trader Joe’s Southwester Style Chicken Poppers it’s that they don’t really hold together well. Look at that picture on the box again – notice that there are no toothpicks sticking out of them. That’s because a toothpick would be about as helpful for picking these up off the plate as an acetylene torch would be for picking up marshmallows. The tortilla crumb coating just doesn’t bind the contents very well at all, and even after a good long bake in the oven these poppers are still given to falling apart at the end of a fork.
That means that poppers are really meant to be finger food – but for such a snackable morsel, that’s not really a big problem. Just be sure to buy a couple boxes if you plan on entertaining – they’ll go fast.
Would I Recommend Them: Yup, these appetizers are both filling and tasty.
Would I Buy Them Again: I might set some out for the Super Bowl party.
Final Synopsis: Bite-sized burrito balls, minus the wrap.
The only real rule I have for myself with this blog is to review only those things which are unusual enough to catch one’s attention, but are too unusual to warrant an immediate purchase. This plan has guided me down some terrible alleyways and up some delightful avenues. Why then, am I bothering to review Trader Joe’s Southwest Chicken Quesadilla – one of the safest, least intriguing foods out there? After all, isn’t the quesadilla such a staple of kid’s food menus for its tremendously simple execution and supremely inoffensive recipe, namely melted cheese in a white flour tortilla?
Yes, all that may be true, but I was drawn to this product for one very simple reason – the “Taos Joe” brand name.
One of Trader Joe’s charming quirks is their penchant for tweaking their brand name to reflect the “ethnic” nature of some foodstuff or another. There is Trader Josef and Trader Jose, Trader Giotto and Trader Jacques, just to name a few.
Things get a little nutty after this, as Trader Joe starts breaking the pattern altogether with Arabian Joe and Trader Ming. What strikes me as particularly strange, is that Trader Joe’s sort of stops there. Despite having a huge range of Thai, Indian and even African cuisine, there are no labels that reflect these cultural roots. Why, Joe?
While this is all charming and clever, it also irks me deeply because of their erratic application of nomenclature. Why, in god’s name, is this guacamole not a Trader Jose product, but this guacamole is? Perhaps only Joe himself knows.
At any rate, the sight of a Taos Joe product stopped me cold. What I like most about the name is that it’s a sign of Trader Joe’s true commitment to this gimmick. A less devoted brand might feel tempted to just stick their quesadillas under the Trader Jose name, but not so TJ. Evidently they felt that the somewhat subtle difference between Southwestern and Mexican cuisine demanded the creation of the entirely new “Taos Joe” label.
Actually, come to think about it, that’s even more irksome. Going through all the trouble of generating a brand name just for southwestern food makes the absence of, say, a Greek brand feel like more of an intended slight than a simple overlook. Is it madness or brilliance? You be the judge.
That more or less brings us to the quesadilla itself, about which there’s not a lot to say. This quesadilla is a pretty comfortable quesadilla – it’s thick, cheesy, soft and tasty in that sort of way that melted cheese usually is. If you’ve ever had a quesadilla, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from this.
That said, Trader Joe’s does manage to work in a couple nice additions that elevate it above a microwave-it-yourself affair. The best addition are the titular seasonal vegetables – a phrase which in this case means corn, red bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, and strangely, spinach. The jalapenos, along with the blend of monterrey jack and pepper jack cheese, give the quesadilla a barely detectable blip of spiciness, but not so much that it really does anything for the dish.
The vegetables and white chicken are diced to rather small chunks, and spread evenly throughout the quesadilla. This gives it a nice body and something to think about other than the cheese while chewing, but doesn’t really effect the overall cheestastic taste of the dish.
Not getting too fancy with it is actually to Trader Joe’s credit. People don’t usually turn to a quesadilla because they want challenging food, but because they want something pleasant and reliable. This quesadilla may not hit any culinary heights, but it does satisfy on a basic, comfort food level.
In the end, it’s a pretty solid dish – some chicken, some vegetables, plenty of cheese, and microwavable in about 3 minutes. Perfect for a quick and easy frozen dinner any time.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, this is a pretty good quesadilla.
Would I Buy It Again: Probably not – it’s got lots of cheese, but not a ton of excitement.
Final Synopsis: A perfectly good quesadilla, suitable for whatever.