Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tampa Road Trip: Our Pilgrimage to the Naples Florida Trader Joe's

Note:  It has been reported that the Sarasota, Florida Trader Joe's store will open September 7, 2012.  (How about adding a Tampa Bay store, Trader Joe's?)

Once upon a time, I lived in Los Angeles and I loved going to Trader Joe's for my grocery shopping.  When I moved to Florida in 2004, I was very sad that not only did Florida not have any Trader Joe's but also that TJ's had no plan to open a distribution center that would make it profitable and easily accessible to open stores in Florida.  I know the state is really long, but come on!  

I would console myself by stopping at Trader Joe's whenever I went home to Minnesota to visit family.  However, I was only limited to buy non-perishable and non-fragile items to bring with me on the airplane back to Tampa.  I would walk by the Trader Joe's freezer section and be bitter when I saw all the great products I could not purchase.  Bitter, bitter, bitter!

So last year, I was absolutely beside myself with delight when I heard that Trader Joe's was going to be opening a location in Naples, Florida in 2012.  Eight years of waiting had finally paid off!  Welcome to the Trader Joe's family, FLORIDA!

So two weekends ago, Miss LM and I grabbed a cooler, a load of reusable grocery bags and headed on down to Naples to stock up on Trader Joe's purchases!  I was going to be concentrating on buying all the items I did not want to carry on a plane - wine, frozen foods and fragile items.  I was surprised that it seemed that the majority of patrons were not locals but also road trippers like Miss LM and I.  We chatted with many people from out of town and my cashier asked me how far I had driven to come to Trader Joe's.  Evidently I don't look like a Naples local!

So if you're planning a road trip to Trader Joe's or to Naples Florida in general, allow me to share some of my recommendations for the drive down there.

First Recommendation:  drive safe!  We saw five major accidents during our road trip to and from Naples.  Including one car that was flipped on its side in a residential area.  As someone who recently lost the battle of BMW vs. deer, make sure you drive safely whether its a drive to the corner store or a road trip.

Brunch Recommendation En Route:  We left Saturday morning and stopped in Venice, Florida for brunch at The Lucky Dog Diner.  Unfortunately by the time we arrived, the diner was out of eggs!  So much for my breakfast cravings!  I seriously wanted to run to the convenience store nearby and buy a dozen eggs for the diner.  We were pretty disappointed.

However, Lucky Dog Diner is ADORABLE.  Look at the cute exterior.

The inside of Lucky Dog diner is small - with a few bar stools and a couple tables, but it is so cutely decorated in kitsch-craziness!  Gotta love any place with Scooby Doo memorabilia!  Plus the small size allows for conversation with the locals.  We had a nice chat with a family of three sitting next to us at the bar.

Any diner with a Scooby Doo cookie jar is tops in my book!

Lucky Dog Diner makes great food in a very small kitchen space.

Since The Lucky Dog Diner was out of eggs, Miss LM had the berry pancakes with whipped cream.  I loved that they did not skimp on the whipped cream!

I ordered a Philly cheesesteak and fries since they were out of eggs.  I received this MONSTER sized sandwich!  Very good.  Fresh ingredients and tasty!

I really enjoyed my time at The Lucky Dog Diner - and I especially love any place that has cute merchandise.  I bought a Lucky Dog t-shirt and 2 shopping bags!  MERCH!

The Lucky Dog Diner was a great first stop on our Tampa to Naples road trip.  I just wish we had left earlier to partake in having some eggs as many of the patrons had said Lucky Dog's omelets are the best!

We then continued on to the Trader Joe's in Naples.  It is located in a portion of a former Borders Bookstore.  If you want to read about some of the items I purchased at Trader Joe's, just look in the left hand column of the blog for the Trader Joe's category of blog posts.  You can also read my latest blog post about Trader Joe's products I enjoy, by clicking here.  

Here are some pictures of our 45 minutes shopping spree inside Trader Joe's.

Two buck chuck is now $2.99 chuck!

I did buy a few things for friends, but yeah this pile is mostly mine!

One cart for Miss LM, one cart for me!

Dinner Recommendation:  Before leaving, we wanted to grab a bite to eat before the three hour drive back to Tampa.  We weren't sure where we should eat, so we drove down the street until we saw Mel's Diner in Bonita Springs.  Miss LM and I love a good diner, so we decided fate was telling us that this was our dinner destination.  Is it wrong to eat in two diners in one day?  I don't think so!

I knew fate definitely intended us to dine here when I saw that Mel's Diner also had a full bar.  Score!

And another point in Mel's favor - lots of merch to purchase!

The atmosphere at Mel's Diner was homey.  I saw a lot of families enjoying quality meals.  I felt at home at Mel's.  The restaurant had good customer service as well.

Miss LM - a connoisseur of funnel cakes, was delighted to see that Mel's Diner sold funnel fun fries!

Whereas I was interested in the mile high pie!

We looked at the extensive menu and had no idea what "Wets" were - after some thought, I am assuming it is fries covered in gravy.  But we forgot to ask!

Miss LM ordered a burger with fries.

I decided to go old school and get an open faced meatloaf sandwich.  The meatloaf was OK.  I have to say that the presentation was pretty sad.  It was a panorama of white and brown, not appealing looking at all.  I should have ordered a burger instead!

Miss LM ordered the "world's smallest sundae" off the menu.  I beg to differ.  The "world's smallest sundae" is actually one from the Nitty Gritty Restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin.  (A place where I spent much of my college years!)  The Nitty Gritty serves theirs in an egg cup and it's the perfect bite.  Plus at only 99 cents it is a great deal at the Nitty Gritty.  But since Miss LM and I were not game to fly to Wisconsin, she went with Mel's Diner's one scoop of ice cream sundae.  Miss LM was not complaining about the size.  She thought the combination of funnel fries and ice cream would be a nice dessert.

Not the world's smallest sundae, but still great!

The funnel fries were laying on top of a caramel type sauce, which made them soggy.  The fries had an old oil aftertaste.  They tasted like they were cooked in oil that had been used to cook a lot of fish.  Miss LM and I gave these funnel fries a thumbs down.  Cook them in fresher oil and serve the caramel sauce on the side and they'd be much better!  

Sad funnel fries soaking in caramel

And then of course there was my lovely mile high pie.  I devoted an entire blog post to this pie.  You can read it by clicking here.

We very much enjoyed visiting the first ever Trader Joe's in Florida.  Well done, Naples Florida team!  

But I will be even more happy when the much closer Sarasota Trader Joe's opens.  Originally the Naples location was supposed to open in 2011, instead it opened in Feb 2012.  The Sarasota Trader Joe's is slated to open in 2012, so I wonder if it really won't open until early 2013.  

Other Places to Check Out:  I suspect I'll be heading down to Naples again at least once or twice before the Sarasota Trader Joe's location opens.  The next time I head down to Naples, I want to check out the homemade donuts at Trackside Donuts and Cafe in Bonita Springs.  Plus one of my favorite Minnesota restaurants, Cafe Lurcat, also has a location in Naples.  

The Venice and Naples area in Florida have a lot of great places to visit.  Check out these places on your next road trip!

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