New York City has been blessed with yet another chain restaurant to turn our beloved metropolis into the suburban, mall-scaped wasteland we’ve always wanted it to be.
Today, Cheesecake Factory officially makes its high-calorie mark on Gotham, opening its first-ever location within city limits at the Queens Center mall in Elmhurst. The California-based chain is probably best known for its sprawling 250-item menu and notoriously enormous portions. But its signature foodstuff is, of course, cheesecake -- more than 30 kinds, in fact.
It’s a bold move, coming to NYC, where cheesecake is more iconic than even the unstoppable Cronut®. Cheesecake Factory spokesperson Alethea Rowe said the chain has been “eager” to make it to the Big Apple and compete with local cheesecake purveyors like Junior’s for years: “New York is an incredible, energetic city that’s known for great food, and we are excited to finally have a restaurant here!”
When many New Yorkers hear “great food,” their first thought is probably not White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake, much less other Cheesecake Factory staples, like Tex Mex Eggrolls or the infamous Louisiana Chicken Pasta -- a dish that has been ranked among the unhealthiest restaurant meals in the country.
Nevertheless, I wanted to see how the Factory’s standard cheesecake compared to the NYC standard-bearer at Junior’s. According to Rowe, the California version is designed a bit differently than what most New Yorkers are used to. “Our cheesecakes are considered to be ‘California creamy’ and are much lighter and creamier than New York-style cheesecake which is much denser than ours,” she explained via email. “Both varieties of cheesecake are delicious, but our creamy-style cheesecake is much more conducive to adding in ingredients such as candies, cakes, and toppings.”
For the purpose of comparison, I ordered the original, topped with strawberries, very similar to the way it’s served at Junior’s, the Brooklyn institution that we all know has the best cheesecake in all of New York. In a restaurant known for big portions, the slice was noticeably smaller than I expected, and at $7.95, not any cheaper than a beefy slice of Junior’s original. (In fact, it’s the exact same price.)
Topped with fresh whipped cream, this silky cheesecake was certainly light, like sticking your spoon into a blob of cheesecake-flavored yogurt -- the type that healthy-ish people in California probably love to eat after going to the gym (the same type of people who think In-N-Out is better than Shake Shack, but we can save that for another time). The light Factory cheesecake, which certainly didn't offer as much satisfaction as the more substantial yet still delightfully airy Junior's variety, comes on a cardboard-thin graham cracker crust, which was not at all crunchy or crumbly like a homemade cookie crust. That’s another major difference from the style at Junior’s, which uniquely features a thin layer of sponge cake on the bottom instead, giving legitimacy to the name "cake" being used to describe this dessert. Without that cake crust, you might as well call it a Wedge of Sweetened Cream Cheese. That said, I slowly ate the entire slice.
All things considered, the Cheesecake Factory version didn’t leave much to complain about -- except that it wasn’t Junior’s and never will be. NYC is certainly big enough for both styles, but it’s safe to say that the California transplant won’t be overthrowing Junior’s for the local cheesecake crown anytime soon.