08.05.2019
Miracle Legion
Surprise Surprise Surprise

You probably remember—fondly, I assume—The Adventures of Pete and Pete. You probably fondly remember the theme song of The Adventures of Pete and Pete. You might not necessarily remember that the theme song of The Adventures of Pete and Pete was called "Hey Sandy," and was by a band called Polaris. (Side note: If you were me, you probably spent almost 20 years thinking that Polaris was a local Minneapolis band, because you confused them with an actual Minneapolis band called Polera. But you aren't me). You might, after fondly remembering all of these things, go and look into Polaris's other music, but you'll find very little. But the one important thing you will find is Miracle Legion.

Polaris wasn't really a band; it was a one-off side project made up of a couple members of Miracle Legion, a New Haven based indie rock band which had released a couple college rock radio hits in the mid and late 80s and gathered a respectable regional following, as well as more than a few comparisons to their mid-late-80s indie rock peers R.E.M. In the mid 90s, when the makers of Pete and Pete—two of those devoted regional fans—wanted to get Miracle Legion to write and perform the theme song to the show, they discovered that they were just a bit too late; the band was basically on the verge of breaking up. Instead, Mark Mulcahy and the one or two other members that didn't currently hate each other got together under the name Polaris to record for the show.

The rest is history I guess. Except that Polaris never gained a following or recorded any other albums, and hordes of Nickelodeon fans didn't exactly flood record stores to pick up any Miracle Legion albums. But I did. 20 years later at least. And I'm absolutely delighted. Miracle Legion's discography is a secret cache of beautifully sentimental indie pop, sitting there unspoiled waiting for us. I'm probably more primed for this type of music than I might've been in previous years thanks to my recentish deep dive into R.E.M., because, yes, the old complaint is that they do sort of sound like R.E.M. But also not; Mulcahy's voice and vocalizations and lyricism immediately stands apart (not saying it's better, just apart) from Stipe's, even if some of the jangly, arpeggiating, clean electric guitar sounds and slightly wet straightforward drumming might, sure, come off a little Athens. But I've already wasted too much text talking about the comparison.

I've liked what I've heard from their few other albums, but I absolutely love Surprise Surprise Surprise. It's not the catchiest thing you've ever heard—I couldn't even hum you any of its melodies right now if I tried—but the mood and depth and sheer competency of the whole thing is a breath of fresh air. It's adult music. Maybe that speaks to how they never 'made it,' because there's no easy takeaways here for teenagers of the time to latch on to (as they did with that other band that keeps coming up), no obvious hit singles, nothing really in particular that would make them stand out. But hearing it now, at this age, it's clearly a special record, an honest record, and one that is giving me a singular sensation of feeling like it's been missing from my life until now. I mean, that sounds pretty dramatic I guess, but it's true.

I have a whole other paragraph to write about the serendipity of finding Surprise Surprise Surprise on vinyl at Academy Records the other week, but this post is so dang long already I'll not bore you with that. Just, hey, Miracle Temple is a miracle. That's not a pun.

11.21.2019 - by Steve
Junior'sBrooklyn
Cheesecake, brisket, latke

Junior's Bakery and Deli is a Brooklyn institution that I've just assumed—based on its cheesecake's ubiquitous presence in local grocery store aisles and its not one but two Times Square locations, as well as the general Perkins-level sleepiness of its interior that I see through its windows every time I walk by it—is past its expiration date. Comparing it to a place like Katz's, which revels in a dogged, hard-won legitimacy, or Russ & Daughter's and its craft-and-quality-above-all ethos, Junior's simply appears a place that's given up. Or rather, sold out.

I don't know what the going opinion on Junior's is amongst the locals here, but I'm comfortable taking this stand: Hey, Junior's is actually good!

Their cheesecake, obviously, is very good. I don't think that point is too heavily in dispute, even though the grocery store version lacks a little in comparison to the fresh stuff you find at their bakery counter—which is truly and non-hyperbolically the best cheesecake I've ever eaten. But what surprised me is that their actual food, at least what we ordered, is damn respectable! The menu, which I expected to be generic American/Greek diner fare, actually leans much more into the New York Jewish deli world, with pastrami and brisket and matzo ball soup. In fact, the item I ordered, which was featured years ago on the Village Voice's list of 50 Essential New York Dishes, was a monstrosity of a brisket sandwich that uses potato latke as a bun. It was truly obscene. But It was also truly delicious, far better than I feared it might be. Erin felt her matzo ball soup was a little canned tasting, but I honestly think it was better than she made it out to be, and even more enjoyable (really) than the bowl she had from Jack's Wife Frida a few weeks ago. I can't say it was better, quality wise, than Frida's, because it obviously wasn't. But I simply found it more satisfying to eat, which kind of sums up our entire meal. I enjoyed every bit of it.

And now I'm supposed to end this review like every Junior's review probably ends, by saying something like, "But you really go there for the cheesecake!" Which yeah is probably true. But y'know what? I just had such a fine evening from top to bottom at this place, that I'm not going to minimize it with the go-there-for-the-cheesecake bit. Junior's is a joy, and I hope they never actually sell out.

11.13.2019 - by Steve
Luke's Italian BeefChicago
Italian beef

Al's Beef is closed apparently. So I had Luke's instead. It was good.