Grocery Outlet is a chain of discount grocery stores in the western United States. The parent company has existed since the 40s and made a business of buying closeout or overstock goods and selling them to the public. Their stores have existed under other names, including Cannery Sales and Canned Food Outlet. Recently, the stores have expanded their scope to offer staples beyond their original purview of other store's marked down cast-offs. The stores consistently stock fresh produce, milk, bread, and lunchmeat to compliment their discounted goods.

On a good day, the Grocery Outlet is a museum of chunky, savory marketing blunders and great tastes that turned out not to taste so great together. On a bad day, it's a white trash Trader Joe's. One of it's most charming aspects is the sense of humor the company seems to have and encourage in its employees. The reader board outside my local "Groce Out" always has a topical, sassy pun related to their low, low prices. When they had a giant pile of packaged Ramen on display, one of the employees adorned it with a hand-lettered sign that read, "Get hooked on Smack!" (Smack Ramen being the brand).

Because there is still a stigma associated with discount shopping, most of your fellow shoppers when you visit the Groce Out will be people in their twenties or those in a very low tax bracket. So, in addition to being full of good deals, it's a great place to pick up cute college boys or watch people fight about how much of the household budget is going toward scratch tickets.

You need a special brand of shopping nonchalance to use the Grocery Outlet effectively. Don't bother with your shopping list; begin instead with a general idea of the meals and food groups that need attention. Despite the name change, Grocery Outlet is still awesome for non-perishables. If you're not one of those macrobiotic natural food kooks and can handle the chemicals, you could live off strange flavors of Campbell's soup and It's Pasta Anytime! till the cows come home. I offer as an example the menu from my Christmas brunch:

Bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese
Scrambled eggs with pancetta and Bleu cheese
Chicken Apple sausage
"Eggs Florentine" with gorgonzola on a bed of spinach wilted with garlic
"Eggs Florentine" with ham and cheddar on a bed of fresh spinach
Home fries with garlic, pancetta, and red wine
Cinnamon-apple waffles with ice cream and apricot syrup
Halved peaches filled with cinnamon, cardamom, and soy yogurt
Orange-passion fruit mimosas

(Not to be gauche, but...) Total cost: $40

As you can see, the Groce Out really rules for entertaining. A method I recommend is going through the store and grabbing all the ingredients that strike you as both a good deal and appetizing. Once you've made one circuit, put them into little piles, with each pile representing a dish you'll serve. Your piles should only be missing staple ingredients like eggs or milk, or things like spices that you have at home. Given the weird gourmet stuff that often shows up at the Grocery Outlet, you can make it look very much as though you spent a fortune. It's a magical place.

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