04.16.2018
R.E.M.
Monster

I've been listening to "What's The Frequency Kenneth" endlessly in the last few days. It's a strange choice, I know, but the song has completely hooked itself into me. The proximate blame goes to Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's new podcast "R U Talking R.E.M. Re: Me?", where they talk about R.E.M. for an hour every week, even though they haven't even gotten to Monster yet, and really I don't find their analysis and discussion of the band all that interesting. It's just a fun goofy listen. But what it has done is made me revisit their records with fresher ears, and ultimately that's what's making me think I've grossly underestimated these guys my whole life. They're really fascinating once you lay it all out, almost by being so un fascinating. There are no major peaks and valleys to their career; there's no drama, no grand failed experiments, no major lineup changes. And yet since 1983, these dudes have released so many undeniable hit songs, entirely in their own voice, making (practically) no concessions to fashion or popularity. Every single album (at least until the 21st century, where you can forgive them for being 20 years into their career) has at least one song on it, usually 2 or 3 and sometimes 4, which would be any other band's creative pinnacle, most of which have since entered whatever we can describe as the modern rock/pop canon. It's remarkable.

Even Monster, which at the time perhaps got some criticism for selling out to some grungy, alt-rock zeitgeist, has mostly aged beautifully, and contains at least 2 all time greats. One of which, to take us back to the lede, is "What's The Frequency Kenneth", which, again, was kinda made fun of at the time for being alt rock nonsense. But listen to it! It's great! It's an undeniable jam. And even though they might've distorted the guitar a little more than previous albums, it is anything but a grunge cash in. It's pure and beautiful and perfect. And lucky for all of us, you can find dozens of copies Monster for $2 or less at every used record store and thrift shop in the country.

03.22.2011
R.E.M.
Automatic For The People

After years (decades?) of hearing "Everybody Hurts" coming out of tape players, MTV, FM radio, dramatic TV shows, gum commercials, grocery store speakers, Chris Farley movies, Applebees restaurants, and my own subconscious, I am just now sitting and listening to it, patiently and consciously, in a good pair of headphones. It's fun to do that sometimes, you know. Actually pay attention to music. And it makes an incredible difference. What I felt for years was an overblown, hyper-emotional ballad, sounds humble and quiet. The famous guitar arpeggios is nearly equaled in the left channel by an organ, which you can barely hear in any radio mix. It's really a pleasant little song. Plus, and this really gets me... this is practically an Otis Redding song! Listen to it. Imagine Otis moaning "When day is long..." Perfect, right? It could stand up right next to "These Arms Of Mine" and "Pain In My Heart." And when they hit that F# and the drums come in on the bridge? Awesome.

03.16.2019 - by Steve
Lions and Tigers and SquaresManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I'm going to try to keep this short. Because there's so many levels to it that I'm just exhausted from it already, especially having just written a 30 page essay about black and white cookies. Here's what's up: Detroit-style pizza is a thing now. It's a thing. Do they really make pizza like this in Detroit? Because if you ask me, what's known as Detroit-style pizza is what Rocky Rococo has been making my entire life. Square pan, thick crust with butter-crispy edges, personal sized pizza. You can even find versions of it in this city called something like "Sicilian style" or "grandma style." Where did this Detroit thing come from? Are you from Detroit? Can you help me?

That said: Detroit style pizza is delicious. Lions and Tigers and Squares, a new little shop that's decided to kickstart the trend in Chelsea, does a fine job of making it. It's probably an insult to them for me to say I like Rocky Rococo better though. But that's okay; Rocky Rococo is the best. Have you been there lately? There's one left in Brooklyn Center. Check it out.

And I have to admit, despite my annoyance at this whole "Detroit" thing, Lions and Tigers and Squares is an extremely clever name. Think about it.

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Zabar's Manhattan
Black and white cookie

I'm here to talk about the black and white cookie. This post specifically says "Zabar's" on it, which is where I purchased and photographed this particular black and white cookie, but having eaten a handful of different cookies from various locations—from trashy deli to beloved contemporary bakery—I have thoughts on this style of cookie in a more general sense, and subsequently thoughts about New York City's cultivation of a unique and hyper-local cuisine. If you would allow me to elucidate? Thank you.

There are certain foods that have been used for decades as a shorthand for "New York." Hot dogs. Bagels. Pizza slices. Pastrami on rye. These are all still pretty apt choices, but it's also an old list. It's 2019, times change, a whole new crop of people have been living here long enough to become a part of it. There's still a clear family of foods that are not necessarily unique to this city, but are so ubiquitous here while remaining somewhat niche in other places, that they feel truly like part of the makeup of New York's ecosystem. The list as I see it:

1. Halal chicken on rice
2. Pizza slices (going nowhere)
3. Bacon egg and cheese sandwiches
4. Bagels (going nowhere)
5. Boar's Head deli meat sandwiches (Boar's Head feels like a fancy good brand at stores in Minnesota. Here it is literally everywhere. You can't not buy it. Even the shittiest scariest lamest bodegas serve Boar's Head without fail.)
6. Seltzer
7. Jamaican beef patties
8. Hot dogs (going nowhere, but seemingly overtaken by halal chicken on rice carts)
9. Pickles
10. Black and white cookies

The black and white cookie might be the least visible of the items on this list, yet it's still extremely New York. It was even part of a Seinfeld gag! I don't think I ever saw one for sale anywhere in the Twin Cities. Maybe possibly once or twice in little bakeries, but not really. Here they're almost always right there in the pastry rack, next to the chocolate chip cookies and muffins and cakes, and just as often are up on or near the front counter of random crummy delis and bodegas, pre-packaged from whatever food distributers make them. What surprised me most about the black and white cookie, though, is that's it's barely even a cookie! I bit in, expecting sort of a standard sugar cookie, or perhaps something like a snickerdoodle, but really they're practically cake! They're extremely soft, like a very thin cake; or like a very wide muffin top. The icing, as you can see, is half chocolate and half plain (or vanilla?). And that's it.

I've had 3 or 4 at this point, and while the quality of course varies on the quality of the bakery. I've had them pre-packaged from a deli, and I've had one from a artisanal bakery in Prospect Heights that was listed on one food blog as the best black and white cookie in Brooklyn. In general they're always tasty. But they're too big, the icing sometimes gets weirdly chemically and kinda gives me a headache. But they're always satisfying.

This specific cookie that's up there in the photograph (and listed as the title of this post!) is from Zabar's, a "famous" Upper West Side grocery store that is supposedly famous for the black and whites. All I can say is it was good. Maybe the best I've had? It was certainly better than the cheap deli ones, and I actually didn't like the aforementioned Prospect Heights one all that much. So I guess Zabar's is technically the best I've had. But mark my word I'm going to track down the true king of black and white cookies in this town.

(Oh, also Zabar's pastrami sandwich was incredibly mediocre. Not worth a post.)

(Oh, oh, and the new Vampire Weekend music video was filmed in Zabar's! And Jerry Seindfeld was in it! We've come full circle!)