In the food item as bowl domain, few have impressed me so much as the caramel apple dessert offered by the new North Park coffee shop, Deja Brew Lounge.
2528 University Ave, North Park
Situated in a converted craftsman bungalow on University Avenue, the new café finds sort of a middle ground between the austere photo-charisma of contemporary third-wave coffee shops, and the parlor comfort of 90s-era coffeehouses, which have become endangered species in recent years (RIP Rebecca’s and Clare de Lune).
Deja Brew reads perfectly instagrammable, with every corner composed in perfectly arranged scenes suitable for snaps of that So Cal lifestyle so envied by the folks back home. Yet, even as light backgrounds show off well-placed planters, artwork, and eclectic objects, laptop-functional tables and chairs give way to the odd sofa or day bed, outfitted with fur-trim lap blankets and other loungeworthy amenities. With the holidays ahead, the owners of the shop have even ornamented Christmas trees and hung stockings over the white brick fireplace. The fact it’s entirely dog friendly meant my pup could cozy up at my feet as I settled in to a low futon to await my coffee drink and dessert.
The photo-friendly design seems to have crept into the menu. From a slew of coffee beverages with self-explanatory names such as nutella banana, strawberries & cream, and peanut butter cup, I went for the white aloha ($4.50/$.95 large). Available hot or iced, this features white chocolate and hazelnut flavors in a double shot espresso and milk (or almond, soy, coconut milk alternatives). Served in a clear cup, I embraced the tricolor appeal of the cold version: hazelnut sinks to the bottom, lending a chocolate shade to the lower third of the milky beverage, while a late addition of butterfly pea tea colors the top third blue.
Secretly, I would have preferred hot coffee or something off Deja Brew’s matcha menu, but I wanted that photo opp. Fortunately, one of the owners suggested she could reduce the high levels of sweetness swirling in the white aloha, to better suit my personal, black-coffee-is-best palate. She nailed it, and the drink tasted as good as it looked.
Naturally, I ordered food based on appearance as well. In addition to baking its own pastries, Deja Brew features soft serve ice cream, flavored with a bevy of sauces and toppings. Yes, you may get a cone, but the caramel apple looked much more fun. Served in a hollowed-out granny smith, the soft serve is drizzled with caramel, topped by granola, chocolate, and toffee crumbles, and further prettied up with cookie straws and a flower.
That’s not to say the whole dish was designed around its looks though. As I started scraping into the bottom of the apple “bowl,” I found a welcome surprise waiting there: a second layer of toppings!
This wasn’t a sunny afternoon, but despite the fact I sat next to an open roll-up door on a cool day, eating ice cream and drinking iced coffee, I gotta say, I find myself warming up to Deja Brew.