Gelson’s, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s??

Slim photo    Golden Raspberries from Whole Foods

Whole Foods opened recently in Santa Barbara which means we now have the choice of shopping there, Gelson’s, Lazy Acres, Trader Joe’s, or Von’s. (I think there is a Ralph’s too come to think of it, also Smart & Final and of course the wondrous miracle that is Costco, which deserves it’s very own post)  I decided I would visit each of the first four markets the past couple of weeks and make a little comparison for you.  Because I’m a GIVER– THAT’s what I do 🙂  I actually don’t like grocery shopping very much.  I get flummoxed  and overwhelmed by the choices, particularly in household products;  What works? What’s right for the environment? What might ultimately poison my family if added to the washing machine or dishwasher?!   Also, I loathe being cold and ALL GROCERY STORES ARE TOO COLD.  I understand the reasoning behind this, but may I say they go overboard. I hate shopping hunched and shivering over my cart like a member of the Donner Party, freezing to death, in search of food.  Alright, a tad dramatic, but it’s not easy to make a post about buying groceries exciting.  My visit to Trader Joe’s was a success as on a friend’s suggestion, I bought their Frozen Lemon Bars. Trust me.  Get them.  Also Trader Joe’s frozen rack of lamb and lamb chops are DELICIOUS.  I always do lamb with mint jelly and baby potatoes.  Well, I actually make it for myself because my husband doesn’t eat lamb due to “The Lamb Incident” (when we were dating and my father served lamb so rare my husband swears he can still hear it calling for Mary)



Tangy little lemon squares


On to Gelson’s…  I love Gelson’s!  It’s big and has a wonderful selection of wine, which I know nothing about so I pick ones with pretty labels that are reasonably priced, if anything can be considered reasonably priced at Gelsons. I have pages of wine articles I’ve torn from Food & Wine magazine that I have never once remembered to bring with me but I might just make 2010 the year I learn about wine (then again, I might continue simply by process of elimination) They also have a great selection of weird beer.  I rarely drink beer but if I do, I like it to be unusual and love super dark, malty beers with winter food.  Last week I bought Banana Bread Beer- yum!  The best thing I discovered were the pecan bars from the bakery department- little rectangles of heaven. Gelson’s wins for Best Looking Store. We also love the Ito En White Tea “Tea Pear” flavoured iced tea, very addicting.  (You may also buy this on Amazon Grocery)


Lastly, I went to the new Whole Foods.  I must admit I was sorely disappointed because it wasn’t nearly as big or impressive as the Whole Foods I had been in in other parts of the country.  It didn’t feel great, the worst part being the colour of the wall tiles;  almost chartreuse with stale mustard mixed in.  I feel sorry for the girls that work behind those counters- there is no blush in the world to offset that shade.   Whole Food’s redemption came in the form of some pretty decent cheese selections, including a nice creamy Brillat- Savarin, one of my all time favourites, some divine golden raspberries that  weren’t expensive given the season, and an excellent Hippy section for vitamins, supplements and sulphate-free shampoos (more on that later).  I also discovered some absolutely delicious crackers from Canada called Rain coast Crisps.

Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps click here .


In the check-out line at Whole Foods there was a cute young woman with two identical looking baby boys in matching wool hats in a double wide stroller.  They were so adorable they were garnering lots of “oohs and ahhs”. One older customer asked the mother how old the twins were, to which the mother replied “They’re NOT twins”  Of course now she had everyone’s attention.  The older woman, looking extremely perplexed, said “Really?? but they look identical!”  the mother then said that in fact one baby was 8 1/2 months, and the other was 11 months.  Silence. Ya-You do the math…  Finally, she explained that she had carried one baby while her partner had carried the other.  How cool is that?!  Its an exciting new world out there- I think I have to get out more. By the look on the older woman’s face, I think she’s still there, trying to figure it out.  I mean come on!  You just don’t get that at Von’s.


Photo from


…I’ve just realized I never went to Lazy Acre’s.  Oh well.  What’s YOUR favourite new product or place to buy groceries?

PS.  Once I brought expired yoghurt back to Von’s because I had mistakenly just bought it and it was already past it’s due date.  A few minutes later I saw them put it back in the fridge. Oh yes they dihd!!


  1. I’m a Gelson’s girl. I don’t even look at the prices anymore. I don’t care. The deli has a wonderful chicken salad with slivers of almonds mixed in with big chunks of chicken. The turkey meatballs are superb, drenched in a tangy and lively BBQ sauce. The very best deli item however is their cheese enchilada with a yummy red sauce. One tray serves two. I do not believe I have ever waited more than five minutes in line, either.
    Trader Joe’s has a pretty decent Chicken Pot Pie, but be forwarned—the pie does not have a bottom crust—does not not have a bottom crust. Just the top. You have been warned.
    I can understand grocery stores being freezing, but why the chain video stores? The only way to last more than ten minutes without hypothermia setting in is to be dress like Nanook of the North.
    It’s all good, though. My city has much to offer.
    Again—great blog, Slim—‘Slim’ being the operative word. Not too sure the Donner’s would have found you that tasty. Me, on the other hand, would have fried up nicely 🙂

  2. Nanook aware.
    Nanook is a sucker for colorfully arrayed balloons waving her over to racks and racks of radically reduced priced DVDS—love BoGo’s.

  3. We are Trader Joe’s folks. The pellets (yes pellets) of frozen steel cut oatmeal are fabulous. A few minutes in the microwave (yikes, yes microwave) and you have a delicious morning meal.
    Another favorite meal is the Tarte d’Alsace, French style flat bread with ham carmelized onions & gruyere cheese. On a busy day, when a meal has not been planned, we eat that with a fresh salad. Perfect simple meal…

    • I brought the Tarte d’ Alsace to a party one night. I was our neighorhood tree lighting party. I was hopping in the shower and asked my husband to pop it in the oven quickly. After the shower, I ran downstairs to pull the creation out, and found it, cold, still sitting on the counter. I thought it was going to be a disaster, but I had to go, or I would have missed the Santa Lucia ceremony.

      Lo and behold, the Tarte, just thawed, still cold, was the hit of the party. Gone in seconds (and there was alot of other great food available!!)

      I always keep one or two in the freezer.

      I recently bought the frozen “Pithivier” at Trader Joe’s. I’ve pulled it out to thaw to try during our seance tonight. I love almond cream!

  4. Great blog Slim. I adore when you write about food. and throw in the adorable almost twin story. Imagine what you could have added had you gone to Lazy Acres. I agree the rack of lamb at Traders is always a treat. Pick up their creamy frozen spinach, really good (almost as good as mine) handy to have in freezer. Vons I refuse to enter, where I live any way. Freezing all the time. That’s hubby’s run.

  5. Meinhardt’s Fine Foods in Vancouver is my favourite store. It’s a perfect size, never too cold, has amazing deli food, and just has a nice cozy feel to it.They make the most fantastic roast beef sandwiches, the beef is nice and rare and doesn’t have that weird purplish silver hue that deli meats from the big chains often have….order it with the blue cheese mayo! They also have single serving of creme caramel (LK can you put in that squiggly thing?) that are fantastic.
    Meinhardt’s also owns this adorable tiny market next door called “Picnic”, where you can run in and grab food to go, or sit down at this really long picnic table for a quick snack.
    They also have a really beautiful floral department…. there are always employees outside making floral arrangements and supplying dogs with treats and fresh water while their owners are inside spending money….very sweet!

    The new Whole Paycheck in Vancouver is pretty amazing as well, but freezing and a little big for my liking.

    Lesley Stowe’s store is just down the street from me, she’s been a caterer in Vancouver for a very long time…..that I never invented those $7 raincity crisps (that probably cost 12 cents to make) is a constant source of frustration for me.

  6. First off, I am thrilled to hear Costco will be getting it’s own separate post. I look forward to that 🙂

    Trader Joes is my “Go To” store. I always start at TJ’s but more often than not have to go to a second, or third store to finish up my shopping. TJ’s just doesn’t carry it all and I rarely buy their produce (or bread) because it seems to be molded by the time I get it home (except they have a great deal on banana’s at 19 cents a piece and they seem to be fresh). Some of my families favorite TJ items: Frozen Soy Corn Dogs (they are far from Costco Hot Dogs) but not bad for a healthy alternative plus TJ’s sells good organic ketchup that does not have High Fructose Corn Syrup in it. My husband can eat an entire bag of the Kettle Corn that comes in the pink and white striped bag in minutes and we always have the Honey Wheat Pretzel Stix on hand. The Frozen Roasted Corn is a great accompaniment to a main dish and they have a great selection of dried fruit without any additives (love the dried Mangos). They have some great frozen dinners that come in handy when you don’t feel like cooking. Some of my favorites include: Rolled Chicken Tacos, Black Bean Enchiladas and the Margarita Pizza (I usually dress it up with fresh basil and tomatoes). Love the Rice Krispy Treats and right now they have Candy Cane Joe Joe’s, an oreo type cookie with peppermint filling. They only stock these during the holiday season and they are addicting! I am actually glad they are not offered year round 🙂

    Gelson’s has a great deli counter. I love the way they slice and package deli meats. Unlike Ralph’s where they present you with a mound of uneven turkey slices, Gelson’s carefully slices each piece evenly and then folds each one in half. They even go one step further and separate each layer of meat with paper. They sell the same exact brand of deli meat at Ralph’s as they do at Gelson’s at a lower price per pound but it’s worth it to me to pay a little more to have it packaged this way. Plus, at Gelson’s they actually use the “Take a Number” system and keep the line moving while Ralph’s displays a “Take a Number” system but nobody follows it which can be really frustrating especially when you notice people cutting in front of you.

    And while it seems like I am not a fan of Ralph’s, I actually do quite a bit of shopping there (it’s the closest grocery store to my house). The one I go to is a “Ralph’s Fresh Fare” which seems to be a little nicer than the regular “Ralphs”. The lighting and shelves are nicer and they offer a larger selection of fresh and organic produce.

    And the one thing that drives me crazy at some grocery stores are darn Club Cards. The person in front of me never seems to be able to find their card and then they try a zillion times to enter a phone number associated with the account. And then on top of that they never seem to be able to figure out how to use the credit card machine. I wish they would eliminate Club Cards and self check out machines and go back to having the clerk do it all. A machine even provides you with your change when you pay with cash. Actually, at the Ralph’s I go to they now have self check out and I advise to steer clear of this option unless you have less than 5 items and no produce (you have to search for the type of fruit/veg you have and then weigh it) and no alchohol (no matter how old/young you look, you get flagged by the attendant and they slowly make their way over to verify your ID).

  7. Regarding markets, the best on the west coast is The Metropolitan. A smaller group of stores than Gelson’s and waaaay better in all catagories! All are located in western Washington, “mine” was in the north end of Tacoma. When we go back to visit friends we normally shop there 2-3 times in a weekend. Each department is like a shop within the bigger store. With a manager and assistants who all know everything about their products. And if you are wandering the aisles at least two people will approach you to help you find what you are looking for or take you to someone who will know. Shopping there is always a fabulous experience! I will even treasure the time I discovered my 4 year old son had stolen a pack of gum and the lesson learned when he returned what was left of the gum along with pennies he had saved, to cover the debt. Monica the cashier, who handled that transaction/confession, still works there and that was 14 years ago! I have shopped Gelson’s in Monarch Beach for 5 years nearly twice a week and they still don’t use my name to thank me at the check out. Maybe they will learn about The Metropolitan and make themselves even better!

  8. Oh, I do hope that you will post about your experiences and thoughts on Costco. Unfortunately, there is no Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Gelson’s within hundreds of miles of my home. There is a Costco, however. I went once, was totally befuddled trying to locate items, and have not returned. I continue to hear how wonderful it is, but no one can give me specifics, as you did in this post on these three groceries.

Would love to hear from you!