Lord knows why, but this is a chain I've always wanted to try. Maybe because there arent any in the city…yet. Now that NYC has Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster, it takes more effort to get unique suburban style kicks.
I love cheesecake, but something about their name is grotesque. Do you really want to eat food food in factory churning out cheesecakes? Not that its really a factory, of course. Maybe to compensate for this disparity, theyve really turned up the volume on their non-dessert items. The dishes are out of control. Case in point: theyve concocted something called an avocado egg roll described as “Chunks of Fresh Avocado, Sun-Dried Tomato, Red Onion and Cilantro Deep Fried in a Crisp Chinese Wrapper. Served with a Tamarind-Cashew Dipping Sauce.” Enough already.
This location is in a small, weirdo mall (it doesnt have any lowbrow stores, just shops like Tiffany, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bebe, Bloomingdales, oh and Chicos which I don't know what to make of, up until this point I'd only heard of them via TV ads. It's like tacky, semi-bohemian crap that a drama teacher with a private school salary might buy.)
Arriving at only 5pm, the wait wasn't insane (I'm used to the 60 minute minimum), but it allowed enough time to take in the Las Vegas oversized stylings. This is the actual Hackensack faade. I don't know what to call that architectural style that seems grounded in the ‘90s but on some level is probably harkening to something Venetian or Tuscan or whatever overwrought Italian style it is that bourgeois folks think looks rich (though I do note that neo-baroque is all the rage in design now, and admittedly I like it. But thats not really the same…is it? ) It's new with a colorful yet dusty palette that feels like Disney World or some such theme park. I was bothered that James didnt think it was over-the-top, he worries me sometimes.
We discovered that we both over order and eat too slowly to cater to chain restaurant staging. They always end up having to bring the entree while were still eating our appetizers because were not following their pacing, which is very calculated. Once at Applebees they tried to get us to order dessert when we were still eating our mains, and after saying wed wait till we were done to decide, the waitress informed us it would take some precise number like 5.5 minutes for our dessert to arrive so maybe wed like to order it now so it could be ready when we finished. A well oiled (and highly greasy) machine. No matter where we go everyone who is seated after us, leaves before we do. I do know that when I eat at places like Olive Garden with my family, were easily in and out under an hour. It's the American way.
I took my sweet time eating my southern fried chicken salad: “Pieces of Lightly Fried Chicken Breast Tossed with Fresh Corn, Glazed Pecans, Red Onion, Cucumber, Shredded Romaine and Our Own Ranch Dressing,” and could only make a dent in about 1/4 of the behemoth. Thats the other thing with chain dining, leftovers are practically built into the eating process. You order knowing there will be food left over. That doesnt bother me, its an extra meal, but I suspect thats a low class notion. Somehow the concept of large portions and leftovers came up in a food writing class I took some time ago, and everyone in the room was disgusted by taking food home and never ever did it (of course these are all NYC women). I was the only one who didnt think there was anything wrong with it, and practiced it routinely. I was also the largest person in the class, so there's quite possibly a correlation between eating leftovers and heft. I'm just too thrifty to throw out one-third to half my meal.
The reason I had little room for my southern fried chicken salad is that we bulked up on hot spinach and cheese dip: “Spinach, Artichoke Hearts, Shallots, Garlic and a Mixture of Cheeses Served Bubbly Hot with Tortilla Chips and Salsa. Enough for Two” (I like how theyre recommending portion here, like all the other voluminous appetizers arent enough to share) and crispy crab wontons: “Our Version of Crab Rangoon. Fresh Crabmeat Blended with Cream Cheese, Green Onion, Water Chestnuts and Sweet Chili Sauce Fried Crisp in Wonton Wrappers.” They certainly know how to write a lengthy description. I think its because chain diners are terribly scared of surprises, if every single freaking ingredient isnt listed they would lose control.
If you split a dessert like we did, the Turtle cheesecake, it comes sliced perfectly in half on two separate plates and garnished with its own whipped cream. I kind of liked this in a sterile non-sharing way. James thought it took the fun out of splitting halvsies, which is odd because hes way more fussy and particular than I am.
No one ever need go out of their way for the Cheesecake Factory, but there are worse ways to waste an early Saturday evening in New Jersey.
Cheesecake Factory * 197 Riverside Square, Hackensack, NJ