Bob Dunning

Grazing at Costco, for free

By From page A2 | February 26, 2012

As our Frugal February challenge moves on toward Miserly March and maybe even Abstinence April, we decided it was time for a short weekend trip down Road 102 to the nearby Costco, where “free samples” are the rule of the day. Not that Costco’s prices aren’t the next best thing to free anyway.

According to the unofficial rules of this sometimes difficult game, we promised to fill up the fridge, fill up the pantry and fill up the gas tank — all on the last day of January — then not make any purchases during the month of February, save for the occasional gallon of milk as the need arises.

Now, it’s true that a visit to Costco will use up valuable gas, but that loss will be more than made up for by the free lunch. And I do mean lunch. Plus, as long as we don’t run out of gas and have to fill up again, we’re still staying within the rules. Interestingly, Costco does have a gas station beating any price around, but it doesn’t give free samples.

While the sample portions of every edible product under the sun aren’t huge, they aren’t stingy either. Let’s just say they’re about the size of the offerings at your average upper-end French restaurant these days. Long on flavor without the fear of filling you up. Unless, of course, you sample everything in the house, which we did.

As we approached the entrance, one of the kids asked if maybe we shouldn’t grab a cart and at least pretend we were buying something.

“This is embarrassing,” she said.

“Hush. It’s Frugal February. We’re here to eat.”

Before we were halfway in the door, another kid spotted the Nature Valley trail mix bars in bite-size samples. A little dry in my estimation, but what’s that they say about beggars not being choosers?

Within steps of the trail mix display we were able to sample sourdough crisps and whole-grain toast soaked with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. I can’t believe I was still hungry after having four or five pieces of toast, then circling around the aisle and coming back for four or five more, until the nice lady handing them out slapped my hand.

Costco’s own organic strawberry preserves were a hit, again on whole-grain bread, but it was hard for them to compete with the sausage pizza style Bagel Bites, followed by taquitos and finished with a generous slice of Costco’s own microwave bacon.

I don’t know about you, but microwave bacon is the most convenient product invented in the last 100 years, perhaps in the history of mankind. You can now make a perfectly decent BLT in under 30 seconds, which is darn near immoral. I’m sure WeightWatchers has picked up thousands of clients since microwave bacon hit store shelves a few years back.

There are now all sorts of microwave bacon brands flooding the market, but none come close in quality, quantity, price or flavor to Costco’s own house brand known as Kirkland. Trust me on this.

After a sample of fresh-brewed coffee to wash down all that bacon, we took the kids to the bakery for a free black-and-white shortbread cookie of the jumbo variety. What they didn’t finish, I did.

The organic polenta was smooth and creamy, but if it were up to me, I’d have poured syrup all over it and asked for seconds. The Morton’s grilled tri-tip was to die for, and the jalapeño-artichoke dip on crackers barely edged out the nearby fire-roasted veggie dip on the “yum” meter.

But wait, it was time to pull up a chair and sample every flavor of sausage in chef Bruce Aidells line, plus the company’s melt-in-your-mouth teriyaki meatballs. Right next door were six or seven flavors of Yancey’s Fancy cheese, including maple-bacon, champagne, steakhouse onion, buffalo wing cheddar and my all-time favorite, peppadew cheddar.

I had to pass on the Healthy Choice chicken soup partly because I’m not a soup guy but mostly because there was nowhere in my body to put it.

OK, so I did have another cup of coffee and a few more slices of bacon and one more Bagel Bite and yes, a final piece of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter toast. But other than that, I was done.

They had to call security to bring one of their super-sized grocery carts and roll me out of there.

And at that point I wouldn’t have minded if Frugal February went on forever.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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