A lot of foods blow up on Instagram, but just how good are they in reality? Chowhound’s Social Media Producer Connor Bower is determined to find out which ones are worth your time and which are simply not worth the ‘gram.
I’m one of those annoying people who has a strong aversion to PB&J (don’t @ me), so it fell to my father to get creative with sandwich combinations when my brothers and I were in need of a quick school lunch. Banana & peanut butter would do in a pinch, and subbing marshmallow fluff in place of the bananas was a very welcome (and sticky) surprise. But for my money there was no greater joy than opening up my lunchbox and discovering that it was a cream cheese & jelly day, a winning pairing of sweet and fruity mixed with rich and creamy.
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Cut to 2019 where the CC&J (a.k.a cream cheese and jelly) is having a comeback year thanks to Davelle, a hole-in-the-wall Japanese café on New York’s Lower East Side. While they offer more substantial dishes for lunch and dinner (think curry, mentaiko spaghetti, omurice, etc.), it’s their breakfast menu of artistic $9 toasts that has made the biggest splash on Instagram.
These toasts boast toppings that are beautifully and meticulously presented atop hefty slices of Japanese milk bread in an assortment of flavors and patterns, reminiscent of the yōshoku-style toast that’s wildly popular in Japan. You might find circles of cinnamon dotted on a sprinkling of sugar or broad diagonal stripes of spicy cod roe and mayo. But the runaway superstar of the bunch showcases the humble coalescence of cream cheese and berry jelly dolloped into an absurdly ‘grammable checkerboard pattern. It’s been featured on Bon Appétit’s Instagram twice this year (to the sweet tune of 70,000+ likes both times), and a sea of photos from rabid fans of the now-legendary toast has taken over the Davelle geotag.
The Breadwinner of the Family
The berry and cream cheese toast has maintained a constant presence in my Instagram Discover for months now, so I knew it was inevitable that I’d end up trying it out. I made a detour during my morning commute right after Davelle opened at 8:00 a.m.. (The week prior I had arrived at the café a little after 11:00 a.m. and was met with a “sold out” sticker slapped across the illustration on the menu.) Ten minutes after ordering (plus a few obligatory photos), it was time to dig in.
Here’s the thing: If you’ve ever had cream cheese and jelly together before, you’re not in for a revelation of any kind. The jelly is still sweet and vibrant, and the cream cheese is unsurprisingly cool and tangy, so it should come as no surprise that the whole experience felt very familiar to me.
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But what did stand was the bread itself. Thanks to the thick hunk of bread and some tactical toasting, it’s golden and crunchy on the outside while maintaining its soft, tender breadiness inside. The pillowy interior is flavorful and present with each bite, but only subtly so, allowing the toppings to take center stage.
I understand why The Toast™ has taken off on Instagram, but after a taste it honestly falls into “fine” territory. It was nostalgic and comforting revisiting a childhood staple, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d have been better off making it at home—especially when handing over my credit card.
And I probably will: A quick online scouring of Japanese bakeries in NYC pulled up similar styles of loaves for about $5 each. After factoring in your preferred cream cheese and jelly (Temp Tee and Bonne Maman for me, thank you very much), it comes out to about $2.30 per toast—versus the steep $9 charge at Davelle for the very same thing. With a little determination, you can even mirror the artsy style at home: Using the back of a spoon, gently swipe spoonfuls of jam and cream cheese on your toast. Will it be as pretty? Probably not. Will it be as tasty? Definitely.
So thanks, Davelle, for rekindling an old flame. Looking forward to trying your karaage curry.
Header image by Connor Bower.