I am not a food snob.
That will surprise many who assume that because I write about food for a living, I must perforce practice excessive gourmandism. But food snobbery is really the province of self-styled experts who confuse liking to eat with knowing about food.
Even as a I celebrate the joy of troweling caviar onto blini, I also acknowledge the pleasure of a Taco Bell bean burrito, extra “cheese,” the soft, thick tanginess of the burrito absolutely essential to hangover recovery.
You’d be surprised at how many chefs sometimes join Chef Boyardee for dinner, and not every food must be organic or local or tarted up with exotic microgreens (as appealing as all three certainly are).
Which brings me to the Dollar Tree on California Avenue, where I often stop by for cotton swabs or gift bags or votive candles — or to rummage through the food aisles and freezer cases.
While some items seem of dubious provenance or designed by an 8-year-old (like the chocolate-lollipop-cotton candy combo), I’ve discovered several foods of good quality that are worth a return trip; I’m sharing five of them here.
Beyond price, I love the transgressive feeling of food shopping at the dollar store. The mainstream grocery business is built on offering consumers the simultaneous comfort and coercion of familiar brands they’re brainwashed into buying.
But Dollar Tree foods, by and large, feature brands that aren’t famous. They require a leap of faith — and a willingness not to be a food snob.
1. PORK & VEGETABLE POTSTICKERS and CHICKEN & VEGETABLE POTSTICKERS (Fortune Avenue brand)
My homemade potstickers jabbed with ginger (adapted from a recipe by chef Martin Yan) are ideal but time consuming . When I want quick potsticker action (read: always), I steam a dozen dumplings for exactly 10 minutes. They reliably emerge with light chicken or pork flavor and the proper tender chew. Soy-sriracha dipping sauce completes matters.
2. DARK CHOCOLATE CRÈME FILLED WAFERS (Pirouline brand)
These crisp, rolled, gently sweet cylinders stand as the exception among my dollar store suggestions: Pirouline is a fairly well-known brand, and the wafers are typically called Piroulines. Each tin contains about a dozen wafers wrapped in crinkly silver. For your next party, buy several tins, then pile the Piroulines on a stylish plate. They’ll disappear.
3. CHICKEN WING SAUCE (Supreme Tradition brand)
A gentle hum of heat persists after I enjoy this condiment. In the past few weeks, I’ve sprinkled it on scrambled eggs or splashed it on quesadillas or used it to baste chicken thighs just before they’re done baking. A small glug or two of the sauce also improves a glass of tomato juice (for a bloody Mary effect without the buzz). Right now, wing sauce is my new salsa.
4. JASMINE RICE (So Natural brand)
The package is labeled gluten-free and non-GMO, in keeping with two of the food obsessions of our time. But I’m more pleased by the price ($1 for 16 ounces) and the consistently good rice that’s produced (exactly 18 minutes on the stovetop). Those chicken thighs basted with wing sauce? I paired them with jasmine rice the other evening for a Dollar Tree dinner.
5. CHOCOLATE CHIP MINI MUFFINS (Baker’s Select brand)
I’m not a dessert guy, but every so often, I want something small and dessert-ish after dinner. Hence the Piroulines and these mini muffins on the list. Like the jasmine rice, the muffins announce the boogeymen they’re not hiding: trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, palm oil, GMO. The muffins are tender and not too sweet and come in handy pouches of four.
Johnathan L. Wright is the food and drink writer for Reno News & Review. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsJLW or on Facebook personally or at @FoodNevada. Sign up here for the Reno News & Review free weekly newsletter highlighting our most recent stories.