Alabama Shakes
Sound & Color
This is Alabama Shakes' "difficult third album." Problem is it's only their second album. I really, really wanted that second album. It was going to be a serious step up from their promising debut, the capital-R Rawk album from a super tight band just getting better and better after a couple years of touring. But they skipped right past it, and instead decided to record a D'Angelo album, Radiohead album, Bon Iver album, at the same time as an Alabama Shakes album. And it's the damndest thing—it works! I wish the songs were better, and I wish the instrumental performances were a little stronger, but as a whole, it sounds great, it's moody and interesting, and I keep going back to it. I just wish it rawked a little more.
Throwing Muses
I got it in my head this winter that maybe I'd like Throwing Muses. I tried my best, with The Real Ramona and their self-titled, and it almost clicked, but ultimately felt a little empty. Not bad, just not enough to hook me. But now, months later, after having a very serious introduction to the newer, fresher band Screaming Females, I've returned to Throwing Muses, and it suddenly makes sense. For as much as I like them and their new record, Screaming Females are just doing Throwing Muses!. Okay, that's a bit reductive, because they're also doing Sleater-Kinney and Dinosaur Jr. and Sum 41. But those are all tangential references... I'm listening to Throwing Muses' Limbo right now, and I'm seriously forgetting that I'm not listening to Screaming Females. Though, sadly, I still like Screaming Females better.
Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell
Everyone's flipping out about Carrie & Lowell, calling it maybe Sufjan's best album, praising its deep honesty, all that stuff. Look, I like it. It's super pretty to listen to, it has some lovely and dark lyrical moments, great restrained arrangements. It's a great piece of work. But it's certainly no Illinois or Michigan. I'm not even sure it's better than Seven Swans. But it's plenty good to make me forget about The Age of Adz.
Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp a Butterfly
Speaking of geniuses: Kendrick Lamar. This guy is the best rapper currently rapping. His lyrics are sharp and thoughtful and gut-punching. His delivery is dramatic and honest and musical. His choice in producers and collaborators is impeccable, and their work is seamless and progressive. To Pimp a Butterfly (as well as M.a.a.d. City) is an host-to-god work of capital-A Art. It should be playing on repeat in a museum somewhere. It's incredible. And it's no fun at all.
Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
I was on board the Courtney Barnett Is A Genius train before this album, and I'm still on the Courtney Barnett Is A Genius train now. I think she's a fantastic writer and interpreter of said writing, and brings real honest integrity to an indie music world often needs to be reminded what that means. She's great. That said, I feel like most of this album pales in comparison to her (admittedly instant classic) EP from last year. It's all good. It's all very good. Some of it is almost great. And moments of joyous surprise and serendipity appear in her verses enough to keep you listening. But none of the songs on here get to the sublime level of perfection that 3 or 4 tracks did on A Sea of Split Peas. In fact, only 3 or 4 tracks on this one would even be good enough to stand up on that collection. This all sounds bad, but let me state again: that last record was damn near perfection. Absolutely no shame in coming up a little short this time around. I'm still listening to it like crazy.
Dick Diver
Melbourne, Florida
I'm not sure how exactly to quantify or qualify my enjoyment of...sigh...Dick Diver. They're just a good tight band that write good tight songs without too much extraneous bullshit. And they're Australian. Stylistically, there's some amount of Australian pub-rock in there (think: Men at Work, Hunters and Collectors, et. al.), but in a totally natural way, not aping or faking. Maybe some Pavement. There's also a bit of New Pornographers happening, in that they seem to separate songwriting duties between three different members (one female), who then each sing their own songs. One even has a bit of Dan Bejar-ian lilt to his performance. But above all, it's just a good honest band playing good honest songs, with a regretful, regretful name.
Screaming Females
Rose Mountain
This! This this this! This is what I want in a rock band! I can't stop listening to it. It's got riffs. It's got hooks. It's got melodies. It's got rhythm. It's got cool guitar stuff. It's got a chick singer who doesn't give a shit about being a chick singer. It's got 10 tracks that all feel like equals. All killer no filler, and I'm not afraid to italicize that. Every song here feels right. As if you've heard it 100 times before, and can sing along halfway throught the first chorus. And I mean that in a good way. It's pure, distilled, laser-focused rawk, that's somehow managed to out Sleater-Kinney Sleater-Kinney, only a month after Sleater-Kinney released a kickass record of their own. Don't be surprised if this is my album of the year.
Jose Gonzalez
Vestiges and Claws
I love Jose Gonzalez. I love what he does. He's great. But this new one, I'm sorry to say, just never gets off the ground. Beautiful cover art though.
Natalie Prass
Natalie Prass
I should be so excited about this new crop of "Nilsson and Newman and Joni and Laurel Canyon Inspired Oh My God They Play the Piano Real Actual Singer Songwriters," Tobias Jesso leading the pack, and Natalie Prass right behind. In reality, I can't stand any of them. They're boring. They bring nothing to it. They're playing some modal chord changes and singing like Joni Mitchell (or in Natalie Prass's case, singing like Joanna Newsom singing like Joni Mitchell. But Joanna gets a pass because she's perhaps the greatest composer of this generation). This is so dull, so toothless, so forgettable, that I'm not even going to waste energy finishing typing this
Mount Eerie
I think I've said this about every Mount Eerie album, and then immediately regretted it, but I'm sure about it this time: This is the best Microphones album since The Glow Pt. 2.
Belle and Sebastian
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
I can't call this a complete dud, because it's still Belle and Sebastian, and they're bound to write a few great songs even by accident. But grading on a pure belle curve, it's a complete dud. Sorry.
Benji Hughes
I'll get to this soon.
The Decemberists
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
I'll write something here eventually.
Steve's Favorites of 2014
A List

1. Adult Jazz - Gist Is
2. Blake Mills - Heigh Ho
3. Sun Kil Moon - Benji *
4. Courtney Barnett - A Sea of Split Peas **
5. Augie March - Havens Dumb
6. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
7. Mirah - Changing Light
8. D’Angelo - Black Messiah
9. Future Islands - Singles
10. Morgan Delt - Morgan Delt
11. Spoon - They Want My Soul
12. Mastodon - Once More Round the Sun
13. Beck - Morning Phase
14. Benji Hughes - oxoxoxoxox
15. Flying Lotus - You're Dead
16. Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
17. Courageous Endeavors - Prototype
18. Pink Floyd - The Endless River ***
19. Nude Beach - 77
20. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

* If I was making this list solely on artistic achievement and emotional power, and pure quality, this would easily be #1. However, it's such a dark, emotional album that, frankly, it's hard to listen to unless you're in the mood for it. So for that reason, it's hard to be a "favorite." Still, #3 isn't bad.

** I know this is technically just a compilation of 3 EPs, which technically came out in Australia in 2013. I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, it's an album. And it was released in the USA this year, so deal with it.

*** Really.

1. The Both - “Milwaukee”
2. Courtney Barnett - “Avant Gardener” *
3. Courtney Barnett - “History Eraser” *
4. Courtney Barnett - “David” *
5. Morgan Delt - “Barbarian Kings”
6. Future Islands - “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
7. Beck - “Heart is a Drum”
8. Adult Jazz - “Am Gone”
9. Flying Lotus w/ Kendrick Lamar - "Never Catch Me"
10. Mastodon - “High Road”
11. St. Vincent - “Prince Johnny”
12. Ought - “Habit”
13. Sun Kil Moon - “Jim Wise”

* See footnote ** in the Albums section.
04.01.2015 - by Steve
Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits - Chicago
Malted chocolate pie
So here's Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits, a cool homey little nook of a cafe in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, that makes, yes, pie and biscuits. It's a totally righteous little spot; cool but not annoying-cool, a clearly focused menu that's small but not too small. But mostly it's got delicious pie. I got the malted chocolate, which was sort of like a french silk (my favorite thing in the world), but had a thick, almost torte-like texture, on a graham cracker crust. Guess what? It was great. Not too rich, not too malty. It was a subtle malt, not like a goddamn Whopper or something. I tried to go back the next morning to get a breakfast biscuit, but it was a Saturday morning, and every cool mom in the city was lined up down the block for brunch. I hightailed it out of there. Next time, maybe.

04.01.2015 - by Steve
Al's Beef - Chicago
Italian beef
Al's Beef isn't a quality establishment. It isn't grass fed beef and locally-pickled peppers on home-baked buns dipped in craft-ale au jus. It's garbage food for drunk people to eat at 1 in the morning, for construction workers to stuff in their gullet on their lunch break. It's a Chicago chain that has probably seen better days, and isn't necessarily universally beloved. But their garbage sandwich was so, so, so tasty at midnight after a day of endless walking. I loved every bite of it. Possibly the most satisfying thing I ate in Chicago.
03.27.2015 - by Steve
Do-Rite Donuts - Chicago
Lemon pistachio donut
I think beyond being "trendy," good quality donut shops are in for the long haul. Because donuts are great. They're way better than cupcakes. And while the Twin Cities hasn't quite experienced the full-on renaissance yet (close, though), it seems Chicago is well into it. I basically picked Do-Rite by closing my eyes and putting my finger down on a map. And I wasn't disappointed. Just look at that donut up there. Doesn't it look tasty? It was. And there's probably a twenty other equally good donut shops in that city. I am not complaining.
03.27.2015 - by Steve
Green Street Smoked Meats - Chicago
Chopped brisket sandwich
Surprisingly affordable barbecue in a super cool "hidden" warehouse space in between a bunch of much more exclusive restaurants for much more exclusive people. There's definitely a regrettable sense of trying-too-hard-to-make-it-look-like-you're-not-trying-hard at Green Street Smoked Meats (like, just call it "barbecue, man!"), but they pull it off. This is a cool place, with great, but not epiphany-inducing, barbecue and interesting sides. It's cheap for what you get, the service is fast, and the seating is plentiful. My only complaint is I should have ordered the sliced brisket rather than the chopped. The chopped tasted a little like it had been sitting in a pot for too long, rather than the fresh cut juiciness that the slices would've got me. Oh well. Next time!
03.27.2015 - by Steve
Cozy Noodles - Chicago
Crispy pad kee mao
Wrigley Field is an American treasure. I love it. Wrigleyville, its surrounding neighborhood, is a nightmare. A Bud-fueled, tramp-tatted, Tapout-shirted, frozen-chicken-wing defrosted dude-bro nightmare. It also hosts the surprisingly hospitable Wrigleyville Hostel, where I decided to stay for my Chicago weekend because I'm a cheapskate with little self respect. But since I at least have some self respect, I skipped all the Wrigleyville sports bars, and instead had dinner at the one place in the entire neighborhood with dignity, Cozy Noodles. It's small and tucked away, and inexplicably decorated with all sorts of retro Americana ephemera, but it serves totally solid Thai food. Their "specialty" is that they do crispy fried noodles in their pad thai and pad kee mao, which ends up being just too crispy for my taste. But otherwise, it's a great place. Don't go out of your way (I'm sure there are plenty of equally good Thai restaurants in Chicago), but if you're stuck in Wrigleyville, you'll have no other choice.
12.21.2014 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2014 - South Minneapolis
A List

1. Little Red Market Cafe - Duck Breast
2. Stockholm Pie Company - Pecan pie
3. Eat Street Social - Smoked pork chop
4. Hola Arepa - Shredded beef arepa
5. Sunshine Kitchen - Sweet and spicy burger
6. Bayport Barbecue - Barbecue
7. Rabbit Hole - Korean brisket fried rice
8. Kramarczuk's - Cabbage roll
9. Sea Salt - Shrimp posole
10. Butcher and the Boar - Target Field rib tips
11. Lake & Irving - Pulled pork sandwich

A side note. As this year was a particularly interesting one for me, for many reasons, I feel like I didn't really get out there to lots of new or good restaurants. So this list feels a little bit bland. Nothing too crazy or exciting. But it's the stuff I liked of what I had! If you want more excitement in next year's list, I'll happily accept financial contributions to the Steve Eats At Better Restaurants Fund. I'll post a link soon.
12.16.2014 - by Steve
The Rabbit Hole - South Minneapolis
Korean brisket fried rice
About a year ago, the Left Handed Cook shut down their measly food court operation to open up a full-service restaurant in the Midtown Global Market, The Rabbit Hole. God knows why it's taken me this long to make it to there, because the Left Handed Cook was, from day one, perhaps the best food spot in the Global Market. It was, at the very least, neck-and-neck with Sonora Grill. I'm happy to report that the Rabbit Hole carries over most of LHC's menu items, from bibimbap bowls to the amazing Korean curry poutine, and 21-spice fried chicken strips. I'm less happy to report, however, that despite the new sit down digs and larger kitchen, they haven't added much to the menu. I was expecting more entrees, specials, and some mindblowing new Korea-via-Los-Angeles surprises. But there's not much; a few burgers (which look amazing), a pork something, a fish something, but that's about it. I don't think I'm complaining, though. I'm not complaining, am I? No. I'm not. Because the food is still awesome, the interior is very cozy (nothing but private booths!), and its food is unlike anywhere else in the city. Recommended!
12.13.2014 - by Steve
Bogart's Doughnut Co. - South Minneapolis
In the rush to create some sort of post-ironic, industrial-minimalist, Instagram-ready, food-blog-friendly millennial donut shop, it seems that Bogart's forgot that you can't fill a donut with earnestness alone.
12.13.2014 - by Steve
Godfather's Pizza - Burnsville
Pizza buffet
I hate myself.

12.10.2014 - by Steve
Freddy's - Savage
Bacon cheeseburger
I hadn't heard of it until I drove past it tonight, but apparently Freddy's is kind of a big deal. Or at least it would like us to think it is. A small regional favorite, from Kansas or some such place, Freddy's is dying to grab some market share from people who think Culver's is just too dang fancy, using some of that "Hey, we just make tasty burgers like the olden days, man!" goodwill that Five Guys has sewn over the last few years. If you can handle salt overload, It mostly works. It's a near-Culver's-quality burger without Culver's extended menu (or root beer). It's Five Guy's simplicity without Five Guy's endorphin-spewing tastiness (or hand-cut fries). But to say it's not as good as those two places isn't that much of an insult, considering they offer perhaps the best fast food burgers in the midwest. On the plus side, Freddy's burgers do feature extra large pickle slices, so that's something.
12.10.2014 - by Steve
Bronco's - Anoka
Roast beef sandwich
The two establishments are unrelated, but Bronco's, from the menu to the name to the corny horse decor, is remarkably similar to Maverick's in Roseville. Most similar of all is the empty sense of disappointment you feel upon eating their roast beef, which you think should be great, and isn't not great, but you actually forget you're eating it while you're eating it. I'll give Maverick's a bit of the edge on their roast beef. But Bronco's also has homemade donuts. So let's call it a draw, and just go to Q Fanatic instead.
12.10.2014 - by Steve
Eat Street Social - Uptown Minneapolis
Smoked pork chop
My brother's wedding was held this weekend, and for the big fancy rehearsal dinner, we (perhaps on my nudge-nudge recommendation) brought a big group into a private room at Eat Street Social. It obviously wasn't a standard dining experience, with a crew of 20+ and a small prix fixe menu for such an event, so I won't get too much into detail. But here's the gist of it—Mixed greens: dull. Curry pumpkin soup: interesting, but too rich and strong to have an entire bowl of. Fried calamari: as goodas it's supposed to be. Cranberry thyme sausage: Really, really good. Smoked pork chops with white bean carbonara and ratatouille: Really, really, really good. One of the best entrees I've eaten all year. And the portions were surprisingly big. After the desert of pretzel bread pudding, me and everyone else were about ready keel over. Overall, I think I really like this place. I should go back again under less unique circumstances.
11.26.2014 - by Steve
Public - St. Paul
We've done it. We've reached the Restaurant Singularity. The Monoraunt. Critical Restaurant. Every new restaurant is every other new restaurant, and Public is the event horizon. Public. What is that? What does that mean? Who is it for? The menu. What are you doing? Comfort food? Haute cuisine? Bar food? American? Italian? What is that art on the walls? Why is your printed menu clipped to a specialty clipboard that has clearly been created solely to clip haute American comfort food restaurant menus on to. The logo. Plain black letters. "PUBLIC kitchen + bar." Why should I care about this? The ribs were braised rather than smoked, which is totally fine, but I could get better a few train stops away at Big Daddy's. The jo jos were seasoned with what seemed like the same "cajun" seasoning you'd get at most bars. The sauce was somewhere between Italian and Mexican, sweet and spicy, but afraid of... being. Still, it was exactly as good as it had to be to not get bad online reviews, which seems to be exactly part of the plan of someone who would name their investment restaurant "Public."
11.23.2014 - by Steve
Hen House - Downtown Minneapolis
Biscuits and gravy
I wanted to make this post a eulogy for Peter's Grill, Minneapolis' only truly historic diner, which shut down and is now Hen House. However, that would have been disingenuous, because I only ever at at Peter's once, and felt the food was truly uninspiring, no matter how historic it was. So as much as I hate that it closed, I was part of the problem. But now we have Hen House, which at least kept a lot of Peter's cool old style booths and counter. They also kept Peter's uninspiring food. It's really just standard, slightly-better-than-Perkins breakfast food. You could get the exact same quality of meal literally two blocks away at Key's (where, I was not surprised to learn, Hen House's ownership began their food careers). That space deserves better.