2021-04-12
Ryley Walker
Course In Fable

Ryley Walker has proven himself a master producer, performer, arranger, interpreter, creator, instrumentalist, improvisor, stylist, mind. He can do it all, and his taste is consistently impeccable. But what he isn't a master of is songwriting. Everything else is there, everything sounds amazing, layered beautifully, played with heart, everything is interesting. But the actual melodies and progressions and words seem to always hit a little flatter than you'd expect. Not that he writes in a way that's simplistic or derivative, but he just seems to be searching and circling to find the song in his work, and finding a whole lot of other cool things, but never actually landing on it.

This is all laid bare in his full album of Dave Matthews Band covers from a couple years ago. Say what you will, of course, about Dave Matthews, but they had songs. When Ryley Walker went full steam into covering and interpreting and rearranging those songs, the results were truly incredible. Better than anything DMB ever released on their own (stripping away all of that band's magniloquent regard of their own material), and easily the best thing that Walker's ever released.

This record is good. I like listening to it. It takes you on a dozen different journeys, and like everything Walker records, there are layers to dig through every time you listen. I just can't wait for the day that he cracks his own cipher and figures out how to write a song. He'll be unstoppable.

2021-04-11
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!

I won't waste your time telling you how good this new Godspeed album is. It's exactly as good as you want it to be.

But what I will tell you is I think it might be Godspeed's most rock album. Parts of this thing sound like it could be Pink Floyd. In a good way. The best way. Fuck, I just thought about what would happen if GYBE got David Gilmour to sing on an album.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor would kill me and burn my body if they found out I compared them to Pink Floyd.

2021-04-11
Bruiser Wolf
Dope Game Stupid

Last week I heard one song from this Bruiser Wolf character ("I'm An Instrument"), and thought it was honestly one of the more unique sounding hip hop songs I've heard in a long time. In fact it's just occurring to me now that it reminds me of The Avalanches "Frank Sinatra" from a few years back, which ironically (or not) featured Danny Brown, who is also featured on "I'm An Instrument," and who runs the label that discovered and signed Bruiser Wolf.

So I heard the song, and had no idea whether I actually liked it. Yeah it was unique and kinda fun, but also a little grating and not particularly deep. I said "well that was interesting," and moved on, with no real interest in diving deeper into Bruiser Wolf.

By the end of that day I had listened to the song 4 more times and bought the whole album. And every other track is almost as interesting as that one.

2021-04-11
The Vernon Spring
A Plane Over The Woods

Solo jazz piano that's as profoundly chill as something like Grouper, but with chops.

I think there's an entire ecosystem of quiet piano solo projects floating out there on Spotify and Bandcamp, to fill up late night homework playlists, and otherwise make the artists who recorded them feel like they're making something sublime and heady. Mostly it's just people playing minor chords very slowly and maybe adding a lot of room tone. This, though. This feels different. This guy (I don't think his name is Vernon) can actually play. Of course these references are completely overselling it, but the quick names that come to mind are Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. Take the quietest, sleepiest, patientest Evans and Jamal recordings you can imagine, run them through Grouper's 4 track, and maybe let William Basinski accidentally let some of the tapes melt, and you have In The Aeroplane Over The Sea A Plane Over The Woods.

Oh and one track he plays like Alice Coletrane, which is also cool.

2021-04-11
ISGHERURD MORTH
Hellrduk

OMG I have so many albums to catch up with on this blog! Here's one: Hellrduk by ISGHERURD MORTH. All caps.

Weirdo black metal. I'd almost say "prog black metal" if that was a thing that didn't make me want to choke. But the long and short is this is a band that's ostensibly playing black metal, but is actually willing to go there, and do stuff that most other black metal bands won't—well, actually can't. I wish it was engineered a little better, and I wish the lead singer didn't sound like fucking Gollum. But otherwise it's pretty sweet.

2021-03-28
Mare Cognitum
Solar Paroxysm

Mare Cognitum makes great black metal in the same sense that the Foo Fighters make great rock music.

That's the end of this music review. But what I really want to review is Mare Cognitum's logo. Look at the logo. Beautiful. I could look at it all day.

2021-03-23
Poison Ruïn
Poison Ruïn

This debut album (or maybe it's a collection of two EPs? Hard to tell what's going on) from Poison Ruïn (fucking killer band name) is fascinating and good. I don't know if I really like it, but still: fascinating and good.

What we have here is ostensibly a punk band (or maybe it's a post punk band? Hard to tell what's going on). They play fast and dirty, the vocalist chants and barks, and it all sounds like it was recorded on two tracks of a 4-track recorder. Lo-fi, ever heard of it? But two things make Poison Ruïn stand out. One is their embrace of what weird music kids regrettably-yet-fittingly call "Dungeon Synth," a cliquey, Reddit-friendly micro-genre that uses dusty, distorted synth tones to recreate the kind of spooky, minor-key, pseudo-Medieval dirge you could imagine hearing in the soundtrack of a straight to VHS Dungeons & Dragons knockoff. Seriously, look it up. There's a shocking amount of Dungeon Synth out there, most of it all sounds exactly the same, but it certainly fits a mood. But Poison Ruïn doesn't lean too heavily into the stuff, mostly saving it for the occasional intro and outro and segue.

What interests me more, however, is the band's impressive use of chords. And notes. Music, you could say! That sounds stupid of course, but remember when I said up there that Poison Ruïn is a punk band? They very much are. But they're a punk band who's made the important realization that there are 12 notes in the Western chromatic scale. So much punk shit stops at 3. Maybe 4 if you're Green Day (6 if you're Bad Religion). But whoever is writing these riffs is having a damn good time just running up and down their progressions; a fill here, a counter melody there, an extra bass lick now and then, throwing two more ascending major chords up the scale before going back to the root. Playing music. With joy and verve. It's a pleasure just listening to the creativity in some of their riffs—it's fun and it hits hard, occasionally even leaning into the whole "dungeon" thing and sounding almost like a classic NWOBHM band. (There's a whole other aspect of this where I mention that they're from Philadelphia, and how their entire aesthetic, from the guitar heroics to the heavy metal zine cover art, feels umistakingly familiar to fellow Philadelphian band Sheer Mag, but I'd have to research that the really make sense of it. Maybe they share a band member?). In short: Poison Ruïn can play the shit out of whatever it is they play.

The only thing that stops me short of declaring total victory for this band is that barking, yapping vocalist. Everything I just said about their playing, the verve and the vigor and the musicfullness—their singer has none of it. He's just a punk guy being punk and honking like a punk. If there's even the faintest hint of melody in his vocals, I haven't quite yet ascertained it. It's frustrating. But it's not a dealbreaker. Sure I wish he brought more tunes to the party, but he still gives these songs energy and muscle, and I guess that's good enough. Oh also the lo-fi recording: I'm all for it to a degree, but I could go for just a little more fi in their lo.

Still. Poison Ruïn. (Did I mention that band name fucking slays?). There's a huge amount of potential for something here, and I'm excited to see how it pans out.

2021-03-16
Pino Palladino and Blake Mills
Notes With Attachments

Sometimes I try to write things on this music and food blog that will describe some music to you, why I like it, maybe some little backstory about it. I don't know, music blog stuff. But in this case I think I'm just going to keep it to myself. Or at least I'll leave it to this: Pino Palladino is incredible, Blake Mills is on the verge of incredibility, and this collaboration between the two of them actually lives up what I imagine could happen when the two of them work together. My biggest complaint is that it's too short.

Go listen to listen to the album and get back to me.

2021-03-11
Screaming Trees
Sweet Oblivon

Previously, on Music & Food...

"This is a Polish metal band that plays a sort of grimey doom metal that also happens at times to sound a weird amount like Alice in Chains and Screaming Trees, without being as fun or weird as either. I don't know if I like it? But it has made me want to go listen to Screaming Trees."

Hey, this Screaming Trees album is good! I've never actually sat and listened to this band before, but it absolutely hits an early 90s grunge sweet spot, and you can hear every bit of influence they had on the entire genre after them. Much more listenable than SUNNATA.

2021-03-11
SUNNATA
Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth

This is a Polish metal band that plays a sort of grimey doom metal that also happens at times to sound a weird amount like Alice in Chains and Screaming Trees, without being as fun or weird as either. I don't know if I like it? But it has made me want to go listen to Screaming Trees.

This is my review.

2021-03-07
Black Nash
Black Nash

I know you're not supposed to describe music by saying "it sounds like this combined with this." It's presumptuous and diminishing.

But Black Nash sounds like a combination of Steve Lacy and Devendra Banhart. Like precisely. Take Lacy's lo-fi minimalist recordings of whip-sharp old school R&B guitar work and pop melodicism, and run it through Devendra Banhart's psychedelic weirdo surrealist crooner filter, and you've got yourself Black Nash.

And damn, it absolutely works. I got this album on a whim during Friday's monthly Bandcamp sale, and on first listen thought maybe it was a bust, but since then I've zipped through it probably 4 times. It's fun and weird but totally vibes, with that Ween-like energy of total technical competency that doesn't take itself seriously. But thankfully, while we're talking comparisons, that's where that particular comparison ends.

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.

2021-03-10
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.

2020-12-31
F&F PizzaBrooklyn
Sausage and sage pizza

A few years ago, before I lived here, I made a visit to a restaurant called Frankie's 457 Spuntino. I wrote about it. Look it up, won't you? Well so about a year ago, Frankie's opened up a slice shop called F&F, right next door (although they also have a pizza restaurant called Frank's, on the same block. It's all very confusing), and I ran into one of those situations where suddenly, out of nowhere, every food-ish type media outlet was casually referring to F&F as one of the best pizza joints in the city. Lucky for me, I happen to get my hair cut at a place right across the street, and stopped by after a pre-pandemic haircut to get a slice. Pepperoni, I believe, because they were out of everything else that evening. It was good, but I wasn't fully moved to declare F&F the best anything.

Fast forward to this year—I dunno, August? (I'm just posting this now because I forgot to back then. It's been a stressful year okay?). I was in the neighborhood again, and thought I'd give it another shot. This time they were fully stocked, and specifically pushing this one particular pie, hot sausage with sage and brown butter. Say no more! And this time around, yes, absolutely ready to declare F&F the best something.

Without going too far, in terms of preparation or presentation or thankfully price, F&F is absolutely dabbling in "elevated" pizza. The dough has a sourdough bite, the sausage and sage are conservatively spread, and it's cooked to just a little more of a browned char than at your average slice place. And it all comes together absolutely beautifully, the cheese and grease and brown butter sage caramelizing together into a rich singular thing, all on a paper plate for about $4.50. Best pizza in the city? Impossible question. But as far as your standard NY style triangle slice joint goes, sure, yes, I don't think I've had better.

2020-11-13
David's BrisketBrooklyn
Brisket on rye

The last place that was on my list of food to finally eat before I leave Brooklyn for Queens (because once you move to Queens you're never allowed back into Brooklyn. It's the law.) was David's Brisket, a secret dark-horse competitor in the ongoing debate of What's The Best Jewish Deli in New York.

(It's still Katz's, but lemme keep writing this anyway). You don't hear much about David's Brisket. It's a nearly invisible hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Bed Stuy—not exactly Jewish deli territory—and doesn't visually impress much on either the outside or the inside. You'd barely even consider it a 'Jewish deli' when you're in there. I don't think it serves blintzes or latke or matzah ball soup or any of those other standards, just the basics: brisket, pastrami, corned beef, and maybe smoked turkey, along with some basic potato and macaroni salads. I think the pastrami is perhaps the "right" sandwich to order there, but I decided to go with the brisket. Because it's David's Brisket! It's right there in the name!

And it was great! Tender, succulent, flavorful! And whatever rye bread they used gave juts enough bite on its own, that I wasn't too bummed that they forgot to give me a side of mustard. Walked down, sat on some stranger's iconic Bed Stuy stoop, and enjoyed the hell out of every bite.

I'd love to go back for the pastrami, but I don't think Brooklyn will let me.

2020-11-02
Hassan Halal Meat & GroceryBrooklyn
Chicken kebab

Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery currently has 1 star on Google. I'm actually surprised you can even look it up on Google, because to some extent it may as well not even exist—I'm surprised simply by the fact that I was able to find that it's actually called Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery and not simply "that shitty bodega next to the other shitty bodega," or "that place where I think they sell meat in the back." There are innumerable places like this in Brooklyn, that you walk by 100 times without noticing, or when you do notice them, you have to wonder for a few seconds how they can possibly still be in business, or what their business even is, and then you consequently forget about them immediately.

Early last year I started frequenting the laundromat a few doors down from this place. It was bigger than the next closest laundromat, and they have a parking lot, so I could lug more bags there without having to hire neighborhood kids to help me carry it all. While waiting for the wash cycle to finish, I'd often walk around outside, and maybe hit up the other shitty bodega for a Coke or candy bar. It never even occurred to me to go to this one, the view from outside was so despairing.

Then one day, when the whether got nicer, a charcoal grill appeared outside. And the next laundry trip, a guy was out there grilling kebabs. Then the next time, he was grilling chicken legs. Every time I walked past, someone would be out there grilling, sometimes alone, sometimes with a few customers or friends—mostly likely Pakistani—sitting around. It always smelled amazing. But it was never clear who they were grilling for. Were they selling this stuff? Was it just for themselves for dinner? Nothing on the windows of this place advertised any cooked meat. Yeah there was seemingly a butcher that sold bulk cuts in the back, but this was not a place you'd stop in to get a bite at. I saw this grill outside for months, just assuming it was not for me. But shit did I love smelling them every time I walked past.

Then on a recent night, waiting for another wash cycle, the other shitty bodega was shuttered. Permanently? Temporarily? I don't know. But I wanted a Coke, and didn't want to go down the block to the other other bodega. So I popped in to Hassan. The grill wasn't outside that night, so I wasn't thinking much about it. I went to the fridge, grabbed a can of Coke, and went to give the man my dollar.

And there I saw it: sitting in an Ikea tupperware bin on the counter, unrefrigerated, probably breaking a dozen different health laws, unrepentant, a pile of kebabs. It was finally happening. "Are those kebabs for sale?" A dumb question in hindsight, but you have to understand the laissez-faire nature of this place's merchandising methods. He looked at me—I read puzzlement on his face—"Yes, one dollar. Do you want it heated?". I replied no, to another period of puzzlement, and he handed me the cold floppy kebab on wax paper and I took my Coke and left.

Cold, yes, floppy, yes, and one of the best kebabs I've ever eaten.

Nicely seasoned but still a good dark meat chicken flavor, surprisingly spicy, and a kiss of char. I immediately wanted to go back and buy three more. Maybe heated this time. Or at least catch them as they were grilling them rather than buying them out of the tub. That'd be weird though, right? Anyway it was a deeply rewarding kebab. This whole idea of finding a secret little hole in the wall; I mean, that's a dumb cliche and probably classist and racist on our part to think about, right? Like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry befriends Babu? But I can't stress this enough in this case, you guys: No cool white yuppies or Instagram food influencers are going in there to find the secret kebabs they read about on Eater or something. It's just an invisible Halal butcher shop that serves parts of the huge neighborhood of Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. But the feeling of knowing that this guy on his grill outside this 1-star nothing grocery store is making the best fucking kebabs you've ever eaten—it tickles.

Postscript: We moved to Queens last week, so I probably won't be back to Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery. But a week before we left, when I was out doing one last load of laundry before packing, I had to stop in to see if I was imagining this kebab experience. So I grabbed a pop, went to the counter, and interrupted the owner's conversation with the 4 guys that were all sitting around shooting the shit. "I'll have a kebab, heated please." There was a little puzzlement again, but of a different stripe. He grabbed the kebab from the tupperware, nuked it in the microwave for a few seconds, and handed it to me in the wax paper. As I paid, he stopped and asked me straight up, "How do you know about—", rough English kind of ending his question short. I told him how I see them grilling outside all the time and it smells great, and I bought one a few weeks earlier. Honest to god, I don't say this to make myself look like some fucking white savior do-gooder bravely supporting his neighbors or whatever—that Seinfeld Babu thing—but when I told him that, his face lit up with a genuine smile. I'm sure those dudes talked shit about me when I left, but whatever. The kebab was even better hot.

2020-11-02
KorzoBrooklyn
Korzo burger

Korzo is a Polish restaurant with some totally solid Polish food. But they're only really known for their house burger. I'm realizing now as I type this out, it doesn't sound very special at all, but just bear with me. The burger is a regular beef burger, topped with bacon and house-made pickles and European cheese and a sort of beet-mustard concoction. Fine, good so far. But instead of a bun, this is all wrapped—encased, really—in a totally sealed pocket of dough, and deep fried. The result is outstanding. I don't understand how exactly they get the whole burger sealed inside this thing, with the toppings sitting nicely on top, but they do it. Like you're eating a fried pierogi with a full cheeseburger inside. It makes for a totally satisfying bite—and the dough all holds together so well that you don't have that annoying thing you often get with regular burgers where the toppings or meat starts to slide away from the bun, or maybe you run out one and end up with just the other. It's a clean eat! Top it off with great fries, great goulash, great brynzové halušky (you heard me). It's fantastic. And now I don't live anywhere near it, so shit.

2020-11-02
The Kettle BlackBrooklyn
Buffalo wings

If you ever read a list of the best wings in NYC, you will likely see the Kettle Black. You might get so curious after seeing it appear so often that you will want to travel all the way to Bay Ridge (i.e. the place where all the cops live) to try them.

Don't bother.

2020-11-02
Ugly BabyBrooklyn
Kang prik, khao soi nuer

Ugly Baby is a hipster-but-in-a-good-way epicurean-but-in-a-good-way, minimalist-but-in-a-good-way Thai restaurant hidden behind an elevated subway track on the border of Carrol Gardens and Gowanus. It's absolutely delicious—some of the best and most interesting Thai food I've ever had. Their website is just raw HTML text telling you to go to their Instagram page to see their menu, in the form of a pinned IG story. But in a good way. Absolutely recommended.

2020-10-12
ZuriLeeBrooklyn
Jerk chicken pizz

I'm so far behind on food updates that I'm just gonna leave this one here and hopefully get back to it later. Things have been crazy, ok?

2020-10-12
Honey BadgerBrooklyn
Weird foraged spicy berry

I'm so far behind on food updates that I'm just gonna leave this one here and hopefully get back to it later. Things have been crazy, ok?

2020-10-12
Peter Pan DonutsBrooklyn
Donuts

Some people say Peter Pan Donuts are the best donuts in New York. Some people say that those people are just being tricked by the the aw-shucks old timeyness of Peter Pan's setup and the fact that those people probably just live in Greenpoint or Williamsburg or Bushwick already so Peter Pan just happens to be the closest cute donut place to them, and so they overrate Peter Pan's donuts as a form of atonement for their own guilt in gentrifying a large chunk of Brooklyn; begging for absolution through glazed donut consumption.

Except this time the first people are right.

2020-09-03
Gong chaBrooklyn
Bubble tea

This is the year I've gone fully headlong into icy milk-based drinks. Horchata, Thai iced tea, bubble teas of all sorts. If it's got milk and sugar and ice cubes, sign me the heck up. I even made homemade horchata, and it was great! I just didn't take a picture of it, so I'm making this post technically about Gong cha bubble tea.

That's all I really have to say though. Bye.

2020-06-15
HanoiBrooklyn
Noodle salad with pork

In the last couple weeks of this Covid lockdown, I've been enjoying the basic pleasure of eating outside. Not on a restaurant patio (they're still closed, and I've never liked those anyway), not in my backyard (lol) or fire escape (hmm...), but mostly just on random park benches. The street I live on is a big wide parkway that connects Prospect Park all the way down to Coney Island, and is lined with an ungodly number of park benches. Just one after another for about 5 miles. When I first moved here, it was November, so the benches were generally empty, and I almost had to laugh at the sight of them. Like, who's idea was it to invest how many thousands of dollars into what was probably literally 1000 park benches? But when winter ended and the weather improved, I'll be damned if there weren't people all over those benches. Old folks that can't walk too far from home, delivery guys taking a break, teenagers doing teenager things, entire multi-generation families just hanging out on the benches. And now while you can't sit and eat in a restaurant, it's become a minor pleasure to get some food to go from some place near the parkway, take it to a bench, and enjoy a half hour of eating in peace!

That's mostly what I wanted to express in this food post. Which is funny because the bench I ate my Hanoi noodle salad at wasn't even a parkway bench, it was a bench actually up at Prospect Park. But Hanoi is located on kind of the south edge of Park Slope, not just a couple blocks from the park, and I wanted some Vietnamese and I wanted to sit on a bench, so it all came together. I can't imagine you care that much about how the food was. But it was good. A little too sweet as I got to the end of it, but I'd go back.

2020-06-13
SansimianBrooklyn
Jerk chicken

About a mile east of me is Flatbush Avenue, one of the main avenues that spans the entire length of Brooklyn. The point east of here is basically the halfway point of Flatbush, and from this point until about 3/4 point south of here, you will find all the Caribbean food you could ever dream of. Jamaican, Trinidadian, Haitian, Guyanese, Bahamian, Grenadan. All of it.

Sansimian is one of them. Jamaican. They have jerk chicken and oxtail and rice and peas and cabbage and curry and roti and saltfish and everything else. All of it.

Anyway it's real good and like 10 bucks for a big pile of explosively flavored chicken and rice and cabbage. Then you can bike down to Marine Park to sit on a bench and eat it and then go take a nature walk in a salt marsh and get destroyed by mosquitoes except those mosquitoes will combust upon biting you because of the jerk rub and oxtail gravy that's flowing through your system.

2020-06-07
Tung TungBrooklyn
Char siu on rice

There's a lot of roast pork and roast duck on rice in this town. You can get it anywhere you see a duck hanging in the window. It's almost always 5 dollars, and it's almost always good. It's sometimes great. This pork from Tung Tung, way down in Bensonhurst, was great. Some of the best I've had. I picked it up to take home, snuck one bite on the sidewalk, and ended up eating every bite of it just standing by a fire hydrant trying not to get grease on my mask.

2020-05-20
Randazzo PizzaBrooklyn
Chorizo jalapeno pizza

It's possible you've read my precedent on this website that all New York pizza is equally good. More or less, exceptions to the rule, all that. As such, I'm not going around posting about all the pizza I eat on here, just trust me that it's generally good.

Randazzo is one of those good places, a regular ol slice joint within walking distance of my place. But the other day they had a new slice on offer: jalapeno, onion, and chorizo. I wasn't necessarily in the mood for this combination, but it looked fresh out of the oven and I was curious. My friends, am I ever glad I did, because this slice was good enough to break my rule and post about a slice of pizza. It's extremely probable that chorizo and jalapeno and onion slices can be found at random slice joints all over town, but on this one afternoon, for one sweet moment, during the global confusion of a mass viral pandemic, Randazzo PIzza was the best pizza place in town.

2020-05-13
SungaiBrooklyn
Nasi lemak, roti canai, rendang

I don't eat Malaysian food very often, but whenever I do I usually end up deciding it's my favorite of all the foods.

2020-04-17
Mia's Brooklyn
Cinnamon roll

Boy oh boy does it seem silly to write food reviews during this difficult time.

So I'm gonna write about how I went to Mia's in Carrol Gardens during the first weekend or two of this whole thing, and got myself a cinnamon roll.

You know what's weird? Cinnamon rolls aren't really a thing here. You can find them around of course, but there's no guarantee that any bakery you enter will have them. Even when you do find one, it's often the crustier deep-fried type like you'd get at Dunkin Donuts or something, rather than the big, gooey, bready, baked kind that us MIdwestern fatsos grew up on. I can get a bagel on any block in this city, a black and white cookie, a pile of cannoli—but I find myself longing for a quality cinnamon roll here more often than I ever would've imagined.

Anyway Mia's is pretty good. A little on the patisserie side of things rather than the Cinnabon side of things, but that's Carrol Gardens for you. I'd try to make a mission of finding this city's Best Cinnamon Roll, but you know—this difficult time.

2020-01-01
Steve's Favorite Food of 2019Brooklyn
A List

1. Olmstead (Brooklyn) - Dry rubbed scallops
2. Buttermilk Channel (Brooklyn) - Duck meatloaf
3. Mu (Queens) - Burger
4. Foxfire Mountain House (The Catskills) - Roast pork
5. Junior’s (Brooklyn) - Cheesecake
6. Alma (Minneapolis) - Turkey burger
7. Beefrria Landia (Queens) - Birria tacos
8. Buffalo’s Famous (Brooklyn) - Garbage plate
9. Prince Street Pizza (Manhattan) - Pepperoni pizza (Detroit style)
10. 5 Rabanitos (Chicago) - Pork mole
11. Joju (Queens) - Banh mi
12. Eastwind Snack Shop (Brooklyn) - Dumplings
13. Andrew’s Luncheonette (Brooklyn) - Cheeseburger
14. Roll n Roaster (Brooklyn) - Roast beef sandwich
15. Tony Luke’s (Brooklyn) - Philly cheesesteak
16. Hudson and Charles (Manhattan) - Roast beef sandwich
17. Captain James Crabhouse (Baltimore) - Steamed crabs
18. Shanghai 21 (Manhattan) - Spare ribs
19. Taïm (Manhattan) - Falafel
20. Momofuku Noodle Bar (Manhattan) - Sausage buns

2019-12-14
Eastwind Snack ShopBrooklyn
Dumplings

This is a little joy of a restaurant. A cozy luncheonette style nook off the main drag of a quiet neighborhood just a few steps from a hidden subway entrance that's only two stops away from us, which serves a confidently concise menu of dumplings and noodles, created as a back-to-basics project by a legit chef and lauded as some of the best dumplings in the city by a good number of magazines and websites—and given that Anthony Bourdain seal of approval—yet never at any point overwhelmed with crowds or wait times or hipster accoutrement that might otherwise tank such a perfect place. Since going there for the first time last week, we've already been back once more just a few days later for a quick pre-dinner bite. A year into living in this city and I think this is finally the first place we've finally decided is "ours".

2019-12-13
Defonte'sBrooklyn
Italian sandwich

My open ended (closed face) sandwich quest in this city finally brought me to a place I've had on my list for nearly all of it, hidden back in a weird corner of Red Hook, seemingly purposefully attempting to keep people away with its sheer inaccessibility yet still swarming with construction dudes on lunch break and weird old guys who've never left Red Hook but will still be there long after you die, it's Defonte's.

To be honest I went there so long ago now that I don't remember exactly the details of my sandwich. But I do know it was good—very good in fact. One of the better deli sandwiches I've had here. What I mostly do remember is that Defonte's is really truly the real deal. The sandwich was great, all their specials looked great, their hot deli items looked well above average, and they've got a whole menu of stuff that made me wish it wasn't located in a place that's physically exhausting to get to, no matter the method of travel.

(As an addendum, I'd like to mention that after I got my Defonte's sandwich to go, I took it to a nearby Fairway supermarket that Erin and I occasionally like to frequent, to eat in the seating area of their deli. The reason I mention this part is that the Red Hook Fairway's deli seating area is legitimately a hidden gem of Brooklyn tourism. The store is on the bottom floor of an old waterfront shipping warehouse [see: On The Waterfront], and when you go through the glass sliding doors of the deli, you'll suddenly be treated to one of the best views of the Statue of Liberty in the city. Sure it's still far away, but it's closer than the view from Battery Park in Manhattan, plus you actually get to see the front of her instead of just her butt. It's a really nice place to sit and eat lunch; totally silly that it's just part of a regular grocery store, but that's probably better than it being taken up by some restaurant or brewery.)