Too Pretty to Eat
By Sarah Emily Gilbert
Thanks to Instagram, the gastronomic landscape of NYC has gotten a lot more colorful.
With over 400 million monthly active users sharing more than 80 million photos per day, Instagram is a social media force. Since Instagram’s advent in October 2010, we’ve been compelled to turn personal moments like watching a sunrise, opening a Birchbox, or getting engaged, into shared experiences. If there’s no photo of said horizon, makeup freebie, or ring uploaded to Instagram, is it as if the experience never happened? In a society that is increasingly turning to “virality” instead of reality, the answer is a resounding yes.
The desire to create a visual diary on Instagram is particularly strong when it comes to food experiences. Users are sharing “foodstagrams” with their social media networks in unprecedented numbers. Other photo subjects might appeal to a niche audience, but an appetizing image of food has universal appeal, translating into many Instagram “likes.” The keyword here is appetizing.
A customer armed with an iPhone can be a restaurateur’s marketing dream or nightmare, depending on the food photo’s quality. It’s not ideal to have your food establishment tagged in an Instragram shot of a scantily scooped ice cream cone or an insipid looking entrée, but when a foodie captures a menu-item’s “good side,” it becomes a free advertisement. In response to this Instagram craze, many food retailers are beautifying their food. While any edible can be primped and plated for a potential photo-op, desserts provide a unique opportunity for creativity. Other than being the key to every human’s heart, desserts are known for their indulgent ingredients and whimsical presentations. Since few are expecting to fulfill their daily nutrition requirements from a cupcake, food establishments are free to take their desserts to culinary heights. Literally. We’re talking foot-tall milkshakes, rainbow-colored batter, edible metallic paint, and unconventional garnishes. After all, sparklers and dry ice are only appropriate when embracing the “go big or go home” approach to food presentation. Perhaps that’s why 18.3 per cent of food photos feature sweets and desserts according to Foodtrends infographic on Mashable.com. That’s more than any other food group. As places cater more to the eyes than the stomach, these over-the-top desserts can make you wonder if you’re meant to eat it or take a picture of it. But really, who cares? Food has never looked so good and we’re not complaining.
As a culinary mecca, New York City takes the cake when it comes to the most over-the-top desserts. Photos of brightly colored confections held against the NYC skyline have cropped up everywhere on Instagram. As a result, the homes of these oft-Instagrammed desserts are overflowing with customers, clear proof of social media’s marketing power.
Urban Agenda selected some of the most photogenic foods in New York City’s dessert scene, and we fully encourage you to feast your eyes on these edible works of art.
They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but what about diamond truffles? Melanie Moss, pastry chef and owner of Mini Melanie, offers these and other treats at her Hot Bread Kitchen station in Harlem. The boutique bakery, inspired by Moss’s childhood memories of sorting through her grandmother’s jewelry box while baking, creates gem-shaped cakes and truffles that taste as good as they look. The 3-inch confections are covered with chocolate, hand painted with metallic colors, and decorated with luster dust and other forms of what Moss calls “edible bling.” One of Mini Melanie’s most eye-catching desserts are the Funfetti Jewel Truffles that are filled with rainbow cake filling, covered in Belgian white chocolate, and painted with a shimmering rainbo
Black Tap’s chef-partner Joe Isidori sought to recreate the classic NYC milkshake of his youth, but he ended up making a next generation dessert. His 12 varieties of milkshake stand close to a foot tall and are rumored to be close to a day’s worth of calories. Each shake is crowned with entire pieces of candies or cookies, mounds of whipped cream, and other delights. Their famous Cotton Candy shake features strawberry ice cream, vanilla cake icing, a whirly pop, rock candy, chocolate pearls, and of course, cotton candy. The dessert’s high calorie count doesn’t deter the crowds. Yelp.com users recommend arriving to Black Tap by 10:30 a.m. for its 11:30 a.m. opening to avoid standing in line for hours.
You should enter Michael Friedlander’s doughnut shop with a strategy. Holey Cream’s Donut Ice Cream Sandwich comes with endless flavor and topping combinations that will make your mouth water and your head spin. After selecting your hand-dipped doughnut and icing flavor, it’s time to choose what ice cream to place between the warm doughnut slices. Oatmeal Raisin Cookie? Red Velvet? Pirates Booty? Then there are the toppings. Customers can pick their favorite cookie, candy, and cereal as colorful garnishes. The result is a signature piece of food art that makes all the decision-making worthwhile.
photo courtesy of erica cardenas
Smorgasburg Food Market at the Brooklyn Flea Saturdays – 90 Kent Avenue & Sundays – Prospect Park (Inside);
Friends, Brooklynites, and Wowfull co-owners David Chan, Leanne Wong, and Peter Li are quickly turning a popular Hong Kong street food into a NYC favorite thanks to their post at the Smorgasburg food market. Their honeycomb-shaped “Wowfulls” are 1950s-style Hong Kong egg waffles known as Gai Dån Jai. The trio incorporates classic Asian flavors into their waffles like their Matcha Green Tea White Chocolate Chip Wowfull, topped with ice cream, mochi, and Green Tea Pocky. Other flavors include the Original Gai Dån Jai Egg Waffle, the Chocolate Wowfull, and the New York Pizza Wowfull. The sweeter varieties are garnished with fresh fruit, ice cream, and Pocky, while the savory waffle is complete with pepperoni, cheddar cheese, and marinara dip. No matter the flavor, the waffles’ crispy exterior and warm, soft interior truly make for a “wow” moment.
Founder of The Konery, Kristine Tonkonow, knows the importance of a good foundation. Her company hand-rolls artisanal waffle cones that are just as colorful as the ice cream they hold. The green, red, rainbow specked, and brown cones are made with fresh herbs, spices, natural extracts, and gourmet ingredients without any additives or preservatives. Offered in French Vanilla, Red Velvet, Birthday Cake, Chocolate Hazel, and Toasted Coconut, they are the “kone” of chose for popular NYC ice cream parlors like Ice & Vice, but they can also be found in dessert shops in New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky, and Florida. The Konery’s Brooklyn facility isn’t open to the public, but its cones can be found all over the city and Instagram.
Ice cream has never been cooler thanks to Ice and Vice owners Paul Kim and Ken Lo. Their ice cream was a hit at NYC’s outdoor markets, snagging them a 2014 Vendy Award for Best Dessert and a loyal following. In June 2015, the pair opened their brick-and-mortar location on the Lower East Side, and the community has fully embraced their playful take on ice cream. Ice and Vice has 12 rotating in house flavors like Opium Den, made with white sesame, toasted poppy seed, and lemon bread croutons. They also have two boozy varieties of ice cream: Devour Power, featuring DogFish IPA, toasted blue corn, and old bay “lobster” croutons and Spoon U that’s complete with Fireball Whiskey, flaming hot Cheetos ramen, and ramen spice brittle. Their ice cream is a true display of NYC’s creative dessert scene. It’s served in The Konery’s cones and can be “speared” with torched Squish Marsh Marshmallows, which are made by another NYC-based company.
Maybe bagels aren’t technically a dessert food, but when you top them with homemade birthday cake cream cheese and real cotton candy, things get a little sweeter. The Bagel Store’s owner Scot Rossillo, better known as the “Worlds Premier Bagel Artist,” has transformed the way the world views bagels.
His intricately designed rainbow bagels are perhaps the most photographed food in NYC. Their Instagram account has 81.7K followers, and 11,525 posts use #rainbowbagel. Customers wait hours for the famed treat, or what Rossillo refers to as “sunshine for the soul.” It takes him five hours to make a batch of 100 rainbow bagels—that’s 10 times longer than a batch of traditional bagels! In response to the high demand, The Bagel Store also ships custom-made bagels anywhere in the U.S., but first you have to make it onto their waistlist— I mean, waitlist.