2021-02-27
Metallica
A Ranking of Every Metallica Song

My entire life has led me to this.

Originals only, official recordings. No covers, although that could be its own list. Oh and nothing from Lulu, because jesus christ. Stick around afterwards for some thoughts.

Here we go:

1. One
2. Master of Puppets
3. Battery
4. The Unforgiven
5. Dyers Eve
6. Damage Inc.
7. Wherever I May Roam
8. Orion
9. Creeping Death
10. Enter Sandman
11. Bleeding Me
12. Blackened
13. Escape
14. For Whom the Bell Tolls
15. Hero Of The Day
16. My Friend of Misery
17. The Four Horsemen
18. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
19. Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)
20. Disposable Heroes
21. Sad But True
22. …And Justice For All
23. Nothing Else Matters
24. Fade to Black
25. Harvester of Sorrow
26. Ride the Lightning
27. The Outlaw Torn
28. To Live Is To Die
29. Leper Messiah
30. Hit The Lights
31. Ain’t My Bitch
32. The God that Failed
33. Frayed Ends of Sanity
34. Until it Sleeps
35. Fight Fire With Fire
36. Fixxxer
37. King Nothing
38. The Thing That Should Not Be
39. The Call of Ktulu
40. No Remorse
41. The Unforgiven II
42. The Shortest Straw
43. Phantom Lord
44. Carpe Diem Baby
45. Fuel
46. The House that Jack Built
47. Eye of the Beholder
48. Spit Out The Bone
49. Whiplash
50. Through The Never
51. The Thorn Within
52. Mama Said
53. Of Wolf and Man
54. Jump In The Fire
55. Where the Wild Things Are
56. The Memory Remains
57. 2 X 4
58. No Leaf Clover
59. Ronnie
60. Poor Twisted Me
61. Low Man’s Lyric
62. Seek & Destroy
63. Metal Militia
64. Cure
65. Motorbreath
66. Struggle Within
67. Don’t Tread on Me
68. Trapped Under Ice
69. Holier Than Thou
70. St. Anger
71. Slither
72. I Disappear
73. Devil’s Dance
74. Dream No More
75. Broken Beaten Scarred
76. Halo On Fire
77. Now That We’re Dead
78. Wasting My Hate
79. All Within My Hands
80. -Human
81. Halo on Fire
82. Cyanide
83. Man Unkind
84. Moth Into The Flame
85. Atlas Rise
86. Dirty Window
87. Better Than You
88. That Was Just Your Life
89. Judas Kiss
90. Attitude
91. End of the Line
92. Hardwired
93. Confusion
94. Lords of Summer
95. Am I Savage?
96. Bad Seed
97. The Unnamed Feeling
98. All Nightmare Long
99. Shoot Me Again
100. My Apocalypse
101. Unforgiven III
102. Some Kind of Monster
103. Frantic
104. Murder One
105. Prince Charming
106. The Day That Never Comes
107. Sweet Amber
108. Purify
109. Here Comes Revenge
110. Suicide & Redemption
111. My World
112. Invisible Kid

This started two weeks ago when I did my once-per-decade dive into St. Anger to try to once and for all figure it out. There's a big long stupid writeup about it a few posts down if you care, but I hope you don't care too much. The main takeaway from that listen is that almost every track on that weird fucking album had something interesting in it—even if that interesting thing was in service to an awful song. It got me in a state of thinking about Metallica, which is something that happens to me sometimes. I then spent the last two weeks doing a deep, deep dive into every album, especially their newest ones, which, like St. Anger, I never really investigated thoroughly enough to form any strong opinions about. Going back and forth from the old stuff to the new stuff to the middle stuff and back, I actually started seeing it as a whole body of work, rather than a walled-off series of eras. I even started liking the "new" stuff more than I ever did? Inasmuch as anyone is actually able to "like" it.

Then I remembered I have a music blog. So here we are. Here's some important thoughts:

Surprised how quickly it got difficult. 1 and 2 are "One" and "Master", no questions asked. I've looked at a lot of other lists that websites have put together, and many of them have "One" lower, but as far as I'm concerned, it's still the best thing the band ever did, and one of my most beloved pieces of music by anyone ever. And then "Master," many sites' #1 choice, is obviously a perfect piece of heavy metal. It's untouchable and inarguable. But then immediately at #3, I wasn't sure what felt right. On a personal level, I almost went with "Dyers Eve," but after listening through to my favorites multiple times, I just felt like it doesn't have the objective strengths of something like "Battery." Again, most lists I read put "Damage Inc." higher, even on top, but I think "Battery" is a much stronger composition.

The first real place that some fuckin hesher longhair might scoff at this is with "The Unforgiven." When I was just kinda mind-compiling this list before actually writing anything down or even listening too deeply, I don't think I considered this song so high. Yet when I went through the Black Album, it really stuck out and I couldn't ignore that it's truly been a favorite of mine ever since I was a kid. And not that I'm trying to sequence this list in any way, but 1–3 are pretty heavy thrash, and it just felt like one of their mid-tempos or ballads needed high placement. "Unforgiven" felt very right, even more than "Nothing Else Matters" or "Fade to Black" (the former of which, I must admit even as a snob, is better than the latter).

"Orion" in the top 10. I think this has been a favorite of true-heads forever, but I always thought of it as "just one of the instrumentals." Like, it's okay I guess, and with that little bass lick in the middle, but I never really canonized it growing up in the same way I did their "real" songs. It's only been in recent years of my adult life that I've gone back to it and realized how absolutely perfect of a piece it is, and that maybe there was something to all that Cliff Burton worship after all. It rules.

"Bleeding Me" introduces Load all the way at #11. I've long been a staunch defender of Load for literal decades now. I won't waste your time with my essay here, but I think it is a good and sometimes great album, despite being a point of mockery with certain sects of metal dudes. I don't think any list I saw online had anything from that album anywhere in the top 20, and even then it's often "Hero of the Day" or "Until It Sleeps" that sneak in. But I think "Bleeding Me" is a beautiful piece of work, and I almost wish I could've snuck it into the top 10. But there's no way I'm moving "Orion" or "Roam" or fucking "Enter Sandman" for it.

Fuck you, I'm going with "Escape." James Hetfield has publicly hated "Escape" for three decades. Fans have long dismissed it as absolute filler on an otherwise killer album. I too would almost always skip it to get to "Creeping Death" on my Discman. But about 6 or 7 years ago, I was listening to Lightning in my car, and "Escape" came on and something clicked. "Escape" rules, you guys. Yes it does stand out from their work at the time for its simplicity—no tricky riffs, no complex interludes, an easy bopping mid-up-tempo, a power metal singalong melody for the chorus. It's almost their first pop song? It's stuck with me ever since that listen, and I truly think it's one of their best pure, simple compositions. It's #13 and you can fight me behind the gas station.

"Spit Out the Bone"? WTF? Before this exercise, I couldn't even have told you which of the 3 "newest" albums "Spit Out The Bone" was on. Magnetic and Hardwired in particular were just a blur in my mind. But part of this whole thing was just to be able to dig in to those two albums to make some more sense of them, actually hear the songs as songs rather than just passing them off as late-era old-men-trying-to-find-that-old-flame bullshit. I ended up being more impressed with both of these albums than I was before, but I was fully awestruck by the final track on Hardwired, "Spit Out The Bone." I think in previous (rare) listens, I barely even got to the last track, or was otherwise so exhausted or bored that it didn't even register. But when I finally gave it my attention... holy shit "Spit Out The Bone" is great! It fucking thrashes! It's got hooks! It's got riffs! I don't want to say it's like "old Metallica" again, but it's the absolute closest they've gotten since Justice. And the fact that it landed as high as #39, ahead of a handful of tracks from Justice and Lightning, is mind-blowing to me. I didn't think they had it in them. But it also pisses me off, because if they did have this in them, why did they save it all for this one track??

"Carpe Diem Baby" is actually good? I know, weird. ReLoad is almost entirely filler, very little killer. And over the years I've melded all that filler into one lump of forgettable nothing in my mind. But going back and doing deep listening for this exercise, I'll be damned if "Carpe Diem Baby" isn't actually one of the best tracks on that album. Stupid title aside, it's a good tune, good melodies, weird cool harmonies, groovy riffs. I think the stupid title is maybe what made me pass it off this whole time.

How does each album fare? Interestingly enough, ranking by the average placement of each album's songs, the rankings more or less align with my head-canon of which albums are the best-slash-favorite, with maybe a little surprise or two.

If you held a gun to my head over the years, I would've told you Justice is my favorite Metallica album. The numbers say otherwise, and I'm okay with that. "Favorite" and "best" are maybe two different things. There's no denying the greatness of Puppets. My biggest surprise here is how well Lightning fares. Honestly, in my heart, I'd put both Black and Load (I know, right?) above it. But I think when it comes to ranking these things song-by-song, there's just so little chaff on Lightning to weigh it down. "Trapped Under Ice" is the closest we get, whereas Black and Load both have 3 or 4 (or 5) tracks that place so low that they pull the averages down. But if this was a desert island situation, honestly, I'd keep Black before I keep Lightning. Heresy, I know.

The bottom half of the list is less surprising. St. Anger stinks. There's no denying it. But I'm a little shocked how close it came to Death Magnetic, only about 2 points separate them! And yet I can barely sit and listen to St. Anger without bashing my head against a wall, while Magnetic, especially after hearing it multiple times throughout this little exercise, has grown damn-near enjoyable to me.

Here's a chart to visualize the dominance of Puppets and Justice.

What I did here, see, is to block out each album on the list (in chronological order), stretched from their first appearance on the list to the last. I was just curious to see how often the worst song on one album places higher than the best song on another. As you can see, Puppets and Justice far outpace anything from St. Anger and Magnetic, as does Kill, Lightning, and Black. This would almost be the case with Hardwired too, if it wasn't for that pesky and shockingly good track "Spit Out The Bone," which placed much higher than anything else on any of those albums, and sort of skewed the results of this exercise. That song placed just one spot after Justice's "Eye of the Beholder." An earlier edit of the list actually had "Spit" beating "Eye," but I did one last listen and decided that just wasn't the case.

The other flukey thing here is the title track of "St. Anger," which I placed farther up than it might deserve, keeping it from being shut out by Load. As it looks, it just barely got beat by Black. I still don't know how exactly I feel about placing this song so high—as I feel about a lot of that album, it's fucking weird, and has some moments that make me want to chuck my headphones out a window. But it also has some ferocious momentum and energy, and some cool weird vocal shit (there's a theme here) and interesting call backs to some of their very early work. It's interesting. Does it deserve to be at #70? I wrote the list so I guess it does.

The Listenability Horizon

Something that impressed me is that, considering how long this band has been around, and for how intensely mockable much of that career has been, when I look at the full list of songs, there are many more that I enjoy listening to than not. The point at which this break happens is right there at #86, "Dirty Window," still somehow the third best song from St. Anger. Anything above "Dirty Window" I'll gladly sit and give a spin and bob my head and make secret little metal horns with my fingers. Everything below becomes a chore. A little math tells me this that break happens at the 78th percentile of the list! I'd say that's pretty good! If you were to ask me before this list, I would've guessed something closer to 50%. Still sad how much of the new albums find themselves below that threshold though. I'd say this is maybe because I'm underrating these Magnetic songs in particular, but I think it might actually be that St. Anger is slowly and unexpectedly impressing it self onto me. Like maybe it's actually a little good and weird and cool? Maybe?

I should note also that "All Within My Hands," the only other song from St. Anger above the Listenability Horizon, is there almost out of a grudging respect rather than any actual enjoyment I get out of the track. It's a fucking weird song. Easily the weirdest thing they've ever done (Lulu not withstanding), practically "experimental" as far as these things go. Is it fun to listen to? No. But out of sheer respect for committing it to tape and keeping it in the cut, I placed it higher on the list than it probably actually deserves.

And funny to see how so much of Hardwired juuuuuuust squeaks its way on the listenable side of the line. And that plays out in reality—a whole lot of that album is just interesting enough to keep my attention. But just barely.

One more thing stands out from this graph. Lookie here:

Song placements on the list generally cluster pretty cleanly from album to album. But I noticed two large gaps, where the distance between the worst (and best) song on an album is much wider than most other gaps. The songs in question are "Trapped Under Ice" from Lightning, and (here we go again) "Spit Out The Bone" from Hardwired. Both are crazy outliers on their respective albums. In the case of "Trapped," it's also an outlier in my own opinion. I hate that song. Never liked it. Don't know why, most lists place it pretty high, some people think it's one of their better pure thrash tracks. Whatever, I think it stinks and I always have. And its low placement really drags down Lightning's average. Funny because my high opinion of "Escape" goes a long way to even it out. As for "Spit Out The Bone," look—it's 3 minutes too long, but when it's humming, it actually kinda rules. Far and away better than anything else on Hardwired.

Okay, just one last chart:

Just about sums it all up huh? (Actually while we're here, I just want to mention that "The Unforgiven II" is a way, way, better song than it has any right to be. A fucking sequel to a song that literally puts a "II" in the title, and then has the gall to use the phrase "You're unforgiven too" in the lyrics? Fuck you! But I'll be damned, it's a totally solid song and genuinely works as a sequel to the original. I don't know of any other instance in popular music that this has actually happened before or since. The third one, though, is garbage.)

That doesn't actually sum it all up. This does. My ultimate takeaway from this whole thing isn't particularly earth-shaking: Metallica is a good band. Wow, right? But seriously, I've been listening to so fucking much of this stuff for the last week—I've been listening to so fucking much of this stuff for my whole life, really—and at no point have I started to see any cracks. On the contrary, the stuff that I assumed was nothing but cracks has proven itself much more competent than I gave it credit for! Yes, all my old critiques of their newer records still apply: they're trying way too hard to impress everybody who "doubted" them, they're throwing around way too many intros and transitions and tricky time signature breaks and adding too many bridges and outros, it's all way too much. Too many notes. But when they fucking chill out and jam, and most importantly land on actual melody (melody, as stupid as it sounds, has truly been Metallica's sharpest weapon since the 80s; for all the emphasis on speed and aggression and heaviness in this stupid genre, this band has always outdone their peers in the simple ability to write a good song), they can still put together some amazing moments! And they're pushing 60!

As for the old stuff, there's truly not much else to add, other than an unceasing admiration for all of it. Those classic albums are every bit as good as everyone has been making them for decades. There's no "um actually" to be found. Nobody can argue their way out of Master of Puppets, you know? It's undeniable. Quintessential. People can try to argue out of The Black Album, but at some point they need to just give in. Listen to that thing. Dud songs aside, the killer is killer, and it sounds like the greatest heavy music ever engineered. I'm even getting the sense in recent years that Load is starting to get some amount of respect that it has long deserved. Doing this stupid deep listen into all this stuff hasn't spoiled any of these old records.

Ok so I guess is the part where I restate my hypothesis and bring it to a close or something. But I'm not going to because I just learned that Rob Trujillo has now been Metallica's bass player for longer than Cliff Burton and Jason Newstead combined. This fun fact has shaken me to the core, and means I'm far too old to waste any more time writing this longform analysis of a 40 year old band. Yikes.

Join me next year when I will rank every Grateful Dead live bootleg.

2021-01-29
Metallica
St. Anger

Okay. I'm about to write about St. Anger. I just need a minute. Gimme a minute.

Okay.

St. Anger is an absolute mess. There's no arguing that. Every few years since its release, I've thought to myself, "Hmm, what if St. Anger is secretly great? What if I've been missing something?". And then I play the album and realize it's not and I haven't. And then I hide it away until I start asking myself those questions again. This has happened many times over the last 15-whatever years.

And so then in 2021, the world is topsy turvy, America is melting down, but then Joe Biden got elected and everyone gets excited about a photo of Bernie Sanders wearing mittens at the inauguration. The picture goes viral, memes are made, Bernie is placed in a hilarious and unending set of circumstances. It's funny for a day and a half. One of these memes places Bernie's mittened hand atop the illustrated hands of Godspeed You Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. I chuckle and I think maybe I should make one with the mitten on the cover of St. Anger. And then I think, "Hmm, what if St. Anger is secretly great? What if I've been missing something?"

And so I listened to it and here we are.

What struck me on this listen, which has struck me before but never so profoundly as this time, is that yes it is still a mess, as noted above, but there are some deeply weird, deeply experimental, and genuinely cool things hidden throughout this album. And I do mean hidden. Like, maybe one particular vocal harmony in the bridge of a track. Or one weird scream during an outro.

An abbreviated list of these moments looks like this: The interesting clean-guitar and bluegrass harmonies in the chorus of "Frantic"; the "feel my world shake" part during the title track, as well as the use of "fuck it all and no regrets" as a callback to their debut album (in general the chorus of "St. Anger" is almost really fucking good, but it's just not); the clicky-clack tin-pan-alley percussion in the bridge of "Dirty Window"; the spooky "IIII" harmonies and James' unhinged laugh also at the end of "Dirty Window"; the vocal harmonies in the chorus of "Invisible Kid"; James totally losing his shit in the "answer/question" part of "My World"; James' vocal performance all over "Sweet Amber"; some cool dual-guitar stuff in the middle of "Purify"; the impressively non-conformist arrangement choices in "All Within My Hands," particularly the combination of clean guitar and double-time drumming throughout, and James once again losing his mind (this song might actually be one of the most experimental recordings Metallica has ever made, there's so much notably bizarre shit happening throughout it, it's probably worth its own entry. The problem is by the time you get to this song, you're so fucking sick of the album that you have no interest in hearing it).

That's the list. What's noticeable throughout is that the vast majority of these moments come directly from Hetfield's vocal performance. The man is absolutely unhinged throughout a lot of this thing—and it works! Throughout Metallica's discography (let us take a moment and recognize of course that they still have one of the greatest bodies of work of any metal band to ever palm mute an E string), you of course get to know Hetfield's voice, his "ooh"s, his "yeah"s, and then in the 90s you get to hear him start to expand a bit more, experiment with tones and harmonies, actually sing a little bit. He has an underrated voice and his singing on Load and ReLoad is depressingly overlooked. But on St. Anger, he absolutely fucking lets loose. We all know about the therapy and the sobriety that was going on during these sessions, but you can hear it. He sounds like a man shouting primal screams into the wilderness, and he doesn't give a fuck about how he sounds on the mic. It's completely from his gut, for better or for worse, and that's actually an amazing thing to hear, from a band that was so often about being tight, focused, and controlled. He goes to Mike Patton places on some of these songs, different octaves, different tones, occasionally just just screaming or laughing or doing god knows what. But he also adds some left-field harmonies in places that are weirdly beautiful. These particular Hetfield-ian modes of harmony started around Load, and seemingly are inspired Layne Staley's not-quite-in-key choices in that era of Alice in Chains. They're weird, dissonant, country-adjacent, spooky, and fully unique. It's something that Hetfield has never really been given credit for, and he goes all out on this album. It's legitimately impressive.

But the album is still an absolute mess and I don't want to listen again for at least 4 years.

2013-10-24
Metallica
Master of Puppets

I was wrong to have ever thought (or opined, rather) that Metallica's best album was anything other than Master of Puppets. The uninformed middle school me probably said it was the Black Album. Contrarian high school me likely went with ...And Justice For All. Reverse contrarian pragmatic post-college me would've circled back to the Black Album again, or maybe even tried to make an asinine case for Load (really! It's good!). But no. I've been doing it all wrong. Master of Puppets is an unimpeachable work of insane magnitude, and it sits heads and shoulders above the rest of a catalogue that itself sits heads and shoulders above the work of nearly any other metal band ever to have palm muted an open E string. I wish I could've been 18 when the motherfucker was released in 1986. I can't even imagine. To go from the precision of the title track, to the sublime middle section of "Orion" to the brutality of "Damage Inc.", and all with such ease. I'm a 31 year old man and I still feel like an awe struck 6th grader when I hear these songs. I honestly think no metal band even approached the talent level of these guys until Opeth's 1998-2005 run. And even though Justice and Black (and yes, Lightning) all remain classics, Puppets is untouchable.


(4)
2011-07-11
Metallica
ReLoad

An uninteresting sequence of events* led me to sit and listen to "The Unforgiven II" this evening, for the fist time in a long time. A very long time (for as much as I love and defend Load, even I have to admit that ReLoad is total B-squad material.) My first impression: Not bad! It still holds up as being a very nice little song, some good vocal lines, good guitar parts, and it ties in to the original "Unforgiven" without coming off as tacky or disrespectful. All in all a great effort. My second impression: Oh my god is that Autotune??? Seriously, on a handful of the harmony parts, and maybe one or two pieces of the lead vocal, I heard the distinct remnants of Autotuning; vocals that are just a bit too smooth and perfectly-pitched to actually be James Hetfield singing live. I mean, this album came out in 1997, so it's borderline. I know Cher's "Believe" was the first mega hit to openly use it, but that was 98. A quick check says Autotune was originally released in 97, so it's possible. It's just crazy to think about, since back then we never would've noticed it; it simply wasn't something people did. Now, where most (probably every) Top 40 pop hits are swimming in Autotune, it's far easier to distinguish real and fake. And when I listened to the Metallica track, I swear it was Autotune. Very weird. Makes me want to go back to other songs from back then and see if it's hiding anywhere else.

* (I was skipping through my iTunes randomly, and landed on "The Unforgiven III" from Death Magnetic. I had completely forgotten they tried to stretch this thing into a trilogy. Part III, however, is clearly the black sheep of the group. It's a different key, different tempo, shares none of the lyrical or melodic themes as the first two. It just seems like they named a random song "The Unforgiven III." There's a cello/guitar part at the end that comes from the original, which is nice, but that's all it has going for it.)

2021-04-11
Skylight DinerManhattan
Cheese omelette and sausage

It's been so long since I've sat in a diner and eaten breakfast. So long. You know this, why am I telling you? We've all gone through this shit at the same time, I don't need to sit here and tell you how much I missed eating breakfast in a diner.

This very average omelette and sausage links and home fries at the very average Skylight Diner in Chelsea on a very average Saturday morning was the absolute best kind of average. I loved it and I can't wait to do it again.

2021-04-11
Joey Bats CafeManhattan
Pastéis de nata

Just need to update you that I ate another pastéis de nata. This one at the incomprehensibly named Joey Bats Cafe in the Lower East Side. It's far hipper than the Teixeira Bakery in Newark, more expensive than the Teixeira Bakery in Newark, but not as good as the Teixeira Bakery in Newark.

Don't get me wrong, it was good. If you're in the Lower East Side and want a pastéis de nata, by all means absolutely do it. You'd be crazy not to. But if you can only eat one pastéis de nata this year (that would be a weird situation... what would lead to that?), get yourself to Newark.

2021-03-28
Chip CityQueens
Cookies

I was out near Long Island City the other day and wanted a cookie, so I did what anyone in my position would do and I searched "cookies" in Google Maps. This place called Chip City came up, and I eventually found it, a tiny little storefront on the first floor of some new development mixed-use building. Basically just a little bakery case with just 4 trays of cookies, maybe they had a coffee machine and a fridge of milk or something, a cash register, one employee, and that was that.

What I didn't know until just now is that Chip City (as far as I can tell?) primarily markets itself as a home-delivery cookie dough company. Direct-to-consumer, disrupting the cookie dough industry, all that. I bet they've at least discussed sponsoring a podcast. But this just happened to be one little local outlet—possibly even connected to their main kitchen? Who knows.

Anyway their cookies are oddly massive—thick like a muffin top or a dang scone or something. But I gotta say, they were good! I worried they'd be either overcooked on the outside or overly dense on the inside, but no, they were go good consistency all around! Just absolutely way too huge, especially since I (oops) bought 4 of them. Two chocolate chip, one s'mores, and one peanut butter & jelly. How have I never had a PB&J cookie before? Seems so obvious! I'll go ahead and say the s'mores was the best, and maybe chocolate chip, followed by the PB&J. But they were all good!

They won't exist beyond 2021.

2021-03-23
Teixeira's BakeryNewark
Pastéis de nata

Did I write a while back about Newark's surprisingly extensive Portuguese neighborhood? Hopefully I did because I don't want to get into it here. The short version: a ton of Portuguese immigrants moved to New Jersey in the early 20th century (around the same time as the Italians), and many settled in this one neighborhood called (seriously) the Ironbound. Everywhere you look there are Portuguese and Spanish restaurants, as well as a number of Brazilian and other South American ones. It's wild; I certainly haven't been to any other Portuguese enclave in this country. I'm sure one exists, but I don't know where.

So we were in the area this weekend, and had pastéis de nata on our mind. Pastéis de nata is a small flaky pastry filled with custard and browned on top, like a little bite sized tort. From what I can tell, they're wildly popular in Europe (particularly in England), and are one of the first things anyone thinks of when they think "Portuguese food." Not sure if they've fully caught on in the US yet. Have you heard of them? Is this news to you?

Anyway, of the number of Portuguese bakeries in the Ironbound, this place Teixeira's seemed to be the best rated...

(Siggggggh, I'm realizing there's a much longer story here about our trip to Teixeira's, involving vehicle collisions and angry Newarkers and us making an audacious escape from the city, but I just don't have the energy to type the whole thing at the moment. I'll just skip to the end...)

...Teixera's is amazing and their pastéis de nata is absolutely worth the hype and New Jersey drivers are indisputably the worst in the country.

2021-03-16
Mom's MomoQueens
Momos

Some day in the moderately-near future, I'll be able to sit down and construct my Best Momos list. Mom's will be on this list. Not very high, but it'll be on there.

2021-03-10
Roberta'sBrooklyn
Lil Stinker pizza, split pea soup

It's been damn near 10 years since I last went to Roberta's. From that time it's gone from a secret hipster foodie paradise to a well-known hipster foodie paradise with a line of frozen pizzas and a second location in LA. Roberta's is a deeply loaded concept at this point, and has gone through a mind-numbing series of hype and de-hype cycles over these years, and I don't feel the least bit interested in trying to unravel what Roberta's means in 2021 right now. Mostly because I have no idea and I don't usually go to that part of Bushwick anyway.

What I do know is that the pizza was real good, and the split pea soup was real good, and the bread that came with the split pea soup was real real good. It also took an hour for them to finish my order, they ran out of two different things I wanted, and then never alerted me that my order was ready so I waited an extra 10 minutes while it sat getting cold—but dang Roberta's is still pretty good u guyz.

2021-03-08
Xing Fu TangQueens
Brown sugar boba milk

Back around Christmas time, I was walking through Flushing and noticed a new-looking storefront with a line bursting out of the door and around the corner. (I mean, social distancing and all, maybe it wasn't that long a line, but still). Passing by, it at first appeared by be just a fancy boba tea shop, but right by the window was a steaming wok full of this rich black goo that a worker was stir frying and slopping up into cups. And the people leaving had the most absolutely luscious looking marbled drinks in their hands, and someone had an equally luscious looking ice cream sundae! I didn't look up what was going on here, but clearly it was some sort of phenomenon.

Fast forward to last week, we're back in Flushing (see Maxi's Noodle, below. Excellent). After eating, I remember the black goo place from December, and we set off trying to find it. Sure enough, still lined up outside, it's Xing Fu Tang.

As it turns out, Xing Fu Tang is a very popular—and seemingly somewhat new—Taiwanese chain. This Queens location is their very first in the US, and clearly the word had quickly reached the Taiwanese and Hongkonger populations of Flushing. I quickly learned the black goo is slightly less mysterious that I imagined—Xing Fu Tang is ostensibly a boba tea shop, but their specialty is this brown sugar boba milk. In one corner of their kitchen, they have a special built machine that molds little spheres of brown sugar, mixed with tapioca bubbles, which are then all stir fried in a hot wok, creating that luscious goo. The goo then gets ladled into a glass, ice is added, then milk and tea, then they pour a latte-style foam over the top, and a dusting of a sugar concoction. As if this wasn't already way too much, they then bring in a butane kitchen torch and run it over the top of the drink, crème brûlée style. The whole process is impressively hands-on for a tea shop, there's a large staff of people behind the counter running drinks through the numbers. Oh, and for $10 more, you can top your drink in gold leaf. Not even kidding.

The result is truly one of the most beautiful looking fast food items I've ever seen. The impossibly dark inkiness of the sugar goo sits on the bottom and marbles up with the white of the milk, topped off by a lightly golden torched foam. Truly, I've seen plenty of similar things from bubble tea shops and the Starbucks of the world, but something in the visual chemistry of what Xing Fu Tang makes is absolutely tantalizing. You see that photo up there, right?

The best part, somehow, remarkably, unbelievably: it tastes just as good. This is an amazing drink. You'd expect it to either be too rich, or too sweet, or possibly burnt or bitter, but it's none of these things. It's a perfectly balanced experience. Like casually drinking a crème brûlée. Rich and sweet, yes, but not overly so; the two of us shared a single drink, but I easily could've finished one on my own. Then you have the hot sugar mixture and the cold milk and ice playing off each other from sip to sip, and of course the bubbles making themselves known now and then.

Oof. I'm telling you. You can probably find brown sugar boba at various bubble tea shops around, but this Xing Fu Tang is doing something on its own level. There's nothing like it. I posted a comment afterwards on Instagram, and I still believe it: Five years from now there will be a Xing Fu Tang in every metropolis in America, and I'll probably be fucking sick of them by then. But you heard it here first!

OMG they also do ice cream sundaes. Absolutely can't wait for ice cream sundae weather.

2021-03-04
Maxi's NoodleQueens
Lo mein with beef stew and dumplings

Hong Kong style noodles are the noodles for me. I've decided. The Hong Kong version of lo mein, in particular, I'm realizing is right to the heart of what I want out of this sort of thing—thinner, almost vermicelli style noodles, sitting and basting in stock (but not swimming as a soup), salty and not too sloppy, and topped with a couple hunks of meat.

Maxi's in Flushing does Hong Kong style noodles (probably one of about two dozen places in Flushing that does Hong Kong noodles really), and with the beef stew on top for an extra dollar—don't get too excited about the spicy pork—they're probably as good as you'll find anywhere.

2021-03-04
Sushi FellaQueens
Sushi

There's a Polish guy in my neighborhood operating an underground sushi takeout business out of his apartment while the restaurant he apprentices for—under the leadership of one of the Jiro Dreams of Sushi masters—is closed for the pandemic. You text him, he asks you how many people will be eating and when you can pick it up, you go to the corner outside his apartment building and he brings it down for you, you ask how to pay and he says "You can Venmo me tomorrow, or later this week, it doesn't matter. Please just enjoy your sushi." You can tell this man truly loves sushi. And emojis. Especially sushi emojis.

It might be the best sushi I've ever had.

2021-02-27
Belleayre Mountain Ski CenterCatskills
Chili dog

We went skiing last weekend, which was a first for me. I fell down a lot and it hurt. Still had fun though.

But this is a food blog and I'm here to tell you about the hot dog I ate from the truck outside the ski lodge. My friends, maybe it was because I was cold and tired, maybe it was because I was primed for new adventures and thrills, or maybe it was because my body was desperate for nourishment to replenish all the energy reserves it was burning in order to heal all the bodily damage the ski slope had inflicted on me that morning, but I tell you it was one of the best chili dogs I've ever eaten.

2021-02-22
Untitled al pastor taco cartQueens
Al pastor tacos

I can now finally be a guy who says the best al pastor he's ever had is from an anonymous taco cart under the 7 train.

2021-02-15
MincaManhattan
Ramen, gyoza

Minca is pretty old as far as American ramen shops are concerned—it was apparently one of the first to open in New York City during the initial ramen boom of the early 2000s, and it's still going strong 20 years later. Impressively strong, actually, considering it's still just a tiny little kitchen with a bar and a couple tables in the Lower East Side. Considering time and its reputation, you'd imagine someone would've convinced them to expand or otherwise upgrade over the years, yet they've seemingly decided just to keep it simple and make good ramen. Even the menus look like they were designed in Microsoft Word and printed on someone's inkjet in the basement.

As for the ramen: excellent. The pork was maybe the best pork I've ever had in a ramen bowl—it was fatty and melty like you'll often find, but it also had a perfect caramelized char on the outside, a little smokey even, which led to some perfect bites on the edges. The pork alone made the trip worth it. The rest of the ramen was delish, no complaints at all, but was outshined by the pork.

Meanwhile, the gyoza: unbelievably almost as good as the pork. And also maybe the best gyoza I've ever had. Just about perfect.

Also worth mentioning we ate in an outdoor Covid cabana on a 25 degree day, right next to a space heater. Which I think might actually be the perfect way to eat ramen.

2021-02-15
Little Cabin Sandwich ShopCrompond, NY
Brisket rueben

I've learned through the years that sandwich shops run by old Deadheads are the best sandwich shops. If you walk into any small town sandwich joint and "Box of Rain" is playing over the speakers and there's a guy with a white beard behind the counter, you're in good hands.

2021-02-15
FuskahouseQueens
Fuchka

Oh you've never heard of fuschka? The popular Bengali street snack? Oh, well, that's funny because I live a few blocks away from the first and second fuschka carts in America, so I don't know I mean it's not even that exciting for me anymore. Yeah it's fucking delicious and exploding with flavor and somehow light as a cloud, but when you live so close to the best fuschka in the western hemisphere, I guess you kinda just forget it's even there. Anyway, you probably don't have any in your town anyway, so don't worry about it y'know? I guess I'll take you to Fuskahouse (lol, no it's not "Fuchkahouse", everyone knows that) or Tong (it was the first one but actually all the locals eat at the other cart anyway) next time you're in the big city to visit.

2021-02-08
La Gran Uruguaya BakeryQueens
Donut

I've posted once or twice already about the depressing state of donuts this neighborhood. You just would think that Queens would be a donut borough, right? Just seems like it has donut energy. But outside of Dunkin, there's hardly any places to get them, and the two that should've been home runs—the vintage diner Alpha Donuts and this other new little shop called Go Nuts Donuts—were both deeply and insultingly disappointing. Now I'm realizing I didn't write about Go Nuts Donuts, but don't worry about it. They were basically ring-shaped cupcakes. One was actually good, but it wasn't even a dang donut!

Enter La Gran Uruguaya.

This hit me fully out of the blue, a sucker punch from behind while I was tying my shoes. This neighborhood is heavily Colombian and Colombian-adjacent, and what I've learned being here is that South Americans love their bakeries. There are so many around here. I walk by 6 or 7 between my place and the train, just one after another. But they mostly make South American pastries, sometimes French style stuff, sometimes Italian style stuff. It's often less sweet that our usual American bullshit, flakier, more breadlike, layer cakes that lean into fruits and cream rather than mounds of chocolate and frosting. Some of it is wonderful, of course, but my point is these aren't donut bakeries, that's not what they do.

I'd been to La Gran Uruguaya once before, had some quality sweets, the names of which I've totally forgotten—little croissant-like cookies with a caramel filling. It's a big place, with tons of options, as well as a menu of Uruguayan entrees, and usually soccer playing up on a TV. Anyway I popped in the other morning to see if they might have some pan de Jamón (basically ham and cheese croissants) for a quick breakfast bite. But there on the top rack, was a single tray of sugar-coated donuts. They didn't frosted or sprinkled, they didn't have Bavarian cream, they didn't have blueberry glazed or powdered sugar donut holes, just this one little try of plain looking sugared raised donuts. But they looked good, and I figured there's no way they could be worse than my recent Alpha experience. So I skipped the jamón and got the donut.

One of the best donuts I've had in this city! Seriously! Like not the best (Peter Pan, I got you), but I'll happily say top 4 or 5 (there were a few good Dough and Donut Plant experiences mixed in there too, and one surprisingly satisfying Dunkin). This was practically perfect donut. A little bit of bite and chew out the outside, soft as a damn cloud on the inside. Everything you'd want from a donut! I'm not the biggest fan of sugared-style, and it didn't hit me with a full-on dopamine rush like the Peter Pan donut did, but hell, this is just about a perfect donut. From a Uruguayan bakery that seemingly doesn't give a shit about donuts!

Which maybe has something to do with it—they're not pumping out a thousand of these things every morning, so they can actually take care and make them right. I actually went back a few days later, and they had no donuts at all. So casual about their donut mastery!

So I'm feeling better about this situation now. I have a donut place. For the most part. But I still want a donut place, y'know?