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Chains of Love: Cheesecake Factory Elmhurst

I just said I didn’t eat at chains alone. This was an exception. It was bugging me that the city’s first Cheesecake Factory opened practically walking distance (a 12-minute bus ride, if you time it right) to my apartment but I hadn’t been yet. Queens already isn’t an easy sell as it is–Brooklyn people are very, very provincial/lazy–and I maybe have two friends that could be convinced to go to a mall in Rego Park (the Cheesecake Factory’s address is listed as Elmhurst–it’s very cuspy). I couldn’t wait any longer.

I used my trip to Target to return this ridiculous pepper grinder that had no obvious way to insert peppercorns (I’m not great with spatial logistics, but seriously) for my $7.99 back just before the 60-day grace period was up as an excuse to mall-hop.

chain nexus

This Cheesecake Factory, across the road from Shake Shack and up the block from a Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Joe’s Crab Shack trifecta, is the nexus of chain culture in Queens. This restaurant is palatial for the area, large-scale, properly Vegas-y, yet not as sprawling and labyrinthine as its suburban brethren. There also weren’t hour waits for tables, though there were expectant diners waiting in the lobby.

cheesecake factory bar

Just me, I went to the bar. I didn’t grow up with Cheesecake Factories, I’ve only come to know them in adulthood, and the first two times in two different New Jersey locations, you could still smoke at the bar, so that was pre-2006. It must be noted for The Middle Ages posterity that there was one solo woman at least a decade older than me wearing earbuds while she ate (realizing more and more this is very common) who ordered a virgin pina colada, something off the “Skinnylicious” menu, and then crab wontons to go when she saw mine and asked what they were. Another solo woman at least a decade younger was on her left and was gnawing on a pile of wings.

I couldn’t necessarily pin down the crowd. An ethnically ambiguous (the man seemed sort of Latino and the woman a little South Asian) 30something couple in workout clothes, or maybe just athleisure, sat on my other side. The man asked if they had any organic wine, which ok…no. Then he didn’t know what a flatbread was. Like I said, I can’t say exactly what kind of people these are.

cheesecake factory wontons

The portions are big and American so you get kind of screwed by yourself even if ordering appetizers like my crab wontons. It’s too much and you want another item. Tuna tartare was randomness because I wanted variety and lightness. 

cheesecake factory bread

I do like that you get a full bread basket.

cheesecake factory menu

There seems to be a misperception among those who have not had the good fortune to visit a Cheesecake Factory that all they sell is cheesecake. My god, no. There are multiple menus with more choices than a typical spaghetti-to-spanikopita Greek diner, and they are not averse to trends. They’ve got your kale, quinoa, and avocado toast, ok?

cheesecake factory cheesecake

I decided I would be remiss in not ordering cheesecake, at least to go. This is 1,200 calories of salted caramel madness.

Previously in Cheesecake Factory.



Cheesecake Factory * Queens Center, 90-15 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, NY


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Seattle Take 2

seven beef trio

Seven Beef Sometimes I go crazy, especially when time is limited, and this was a purely social long-weekend trip, not a food-focused mission. Originally, I reserved at this newish pseudo-steakhouse with a vague Vietnamese undercurrent because it seemed interesting and was walking distance from my Airbnb in a residential neighborhood, but then Bateau, seemingly more serious, also doing in-house butchery and serving lesser known cuts of locally raised beef, started getting buzzy (and Renee Erickson has since won a James Beard for best chef Northwest) so I scrambled to switch, only to get an 8:45pm slot, which would be fine anywhere else but is late-ish by NW standards, but more detrimentally because I’m a sweaty, anxious person, was the fear that only super expensive, non-optimal cuts of meat would be left, plus I already tried attached Bar Mesuline in January so I knew the vibe. So, back to Seven Beef where I didn’t even end up ordering steak but the namesake bò 7 món tasting. Big hunks of meat definitely seem to be the thing here–on a packed Saturday night I didn’t notice any other tables opting out of steak–but something must be done with all of the extra bits, hence lots of sausage (there is also a popular burger, which I totally would do for happy hour if I really lived four blocks away). You start with a beef salad with pickled vegetables and then there’s an onslaught including vinegared beef carpaccio and grilled sausage three-ways (lemongrass-skewered, wrapped in la lot leaves, and laced with five spice) served with fresh herbs, lettuce, and sliced fruit. Congee with meatballs and shrimp chips caps off the meal. It’s totally a deal for $40 per person, especially if you’re into variety and not married to the idea of eating a whole rib-eye. I also ordered fries because it was a birthday dinner and why not?

ian's on the hill pizzas

Ian’s on the Hill If you need any further proof that this was not a food recon trip, I ended up with Hawaiian and taco pizzas, the result of missing my reservation at Vito’s (loved the atmosphere so much last time that I was open to eating lasagna despite being an unabashed Italian-American disliker) the first night due to barfing that started at noon in the car service to JFK and lasted 12 hours, the exact thing that happened when I flew to Seattle three months ago and makes me think I should maybe never go back to Washington or ride in a car. Despite all the Caviars and Ubereats and Postmates that keep on coming and Seattle ostensibly being a tech city, food delivery isn’t much of a thing outside of NYC in my experience. I wanted pizza and this was one of only two options on Seamless. #seamlessinseattle, yes. Oh, I’m just now seeing that this is a Wisconsin-based chain. Even while nauseous yet hungry, I had the right instincts. 

ma'ono trio

Ma’ono Fried Chicken and Whisky I was recently asked what quintessential Seattle food was. “Is there a Primanti Brothers of Seattle?” Uh, no. Dick’s is an icon but that’s just burgers. An argument could be made for teriyaki. Hawaiian food is also relatively big in the Northwest considering the islands take as long to reach by plane as NYC. I just wanted some fried chicken. Here, it’s a thing big enough to reserve birds ahead of time. It just happened that brunch was a meal I had free, so I got the morning version with biscuits and gravy and maple syrup. A half order, so wonderfully crisp and crackly that it held up two days later, is plenty for two. If you want to die, feel free to also start your day with spam masubi and a fancy loco moco (Basil-mint chutney? Wood-grilled ground chuck?). I didn’t realize exactly what sort of place this was until my bloody mary arrived with a pickled sunchoke garnish. Now you know.

elliot's oysters

Elliott’s Oyster House Touristy doesn’t have to be bad even though there’s a lot of crap on the waterfront. I can’t speak to the rest of the menu or long waits for tables, but sitting at the small bar watching more than 20 varieties of regional oysters being shucked while drinking Oregon pinot gris is not crappy. You might even get a few freebies tossed in with your half-dozen.

charlie's monte cristo

Charlie’s on Broadway Finally got my damn West Coast monte cristo. What makes a monte cristo West Coast, you ask? It can’t be an open-faced abomination served with maple syrup. Raspberry jelly all the way. That’s it. These wedges were so perfectly battered and fried that the layers of turkey, ham, and swiss had nearly melded into one with powder sugar-dusted bread, giving a cake-like impression. It seems like it needs fries as to be less naked on the plate, not out of caloric weakness. Apparently, Charlie’s was recently redone after a closure, yet it still looks like a ‘70s fern bar, i.e. my kind of joint, so there’s that.

aoki chirashi

Aoki serves sushi that is neither fast food nor luxurious nor loungey and sharing a menu from other Asian nations. That’s not a simple ask for a spur of the moment choice in Capitol Hill. I just wanted some solid chirashi and got it.

honey hole sandwiches

Honey Hole I’ll admit I went just because that name? Walking past the nondescript facade a few storefronts down from a Babeland this winter, I automatically assumed it was a gay bar not a sandwich shop. And a good one at that. My dining companion also wanted the Liotta (an Italian sub with quality ham and salami) which warmed my heart to discover we have similar tastes in sandwiches, but I don’t allow parties to order the same dish, so a Corleone (no, the names are not all Italian though there is a Chachi’s Favorite) which sounded like a baguette reuben by description but was so pastrami-forward that it tasted more like a deli sandwich even minus the rye bread. I also consumed a coffee cider (local brewery unknown/unremembered–there is no evidence of this creation existing on either Schilling’s or Seattle Cider Company’s sites) which might be the most Northwest thing ever. I’m still not convinced those two beverages are meant to be one.

cheesecake factory duo

Cheesecake Factory My cross-country rendezvous was with someone who had never been to a Cheesecake Factory and hasn’t drank for the past 25 years, which is to say after 60 hours living my way there was serious malaise the final day in Seattle. And brutally, there was a huge block of time to kill between the Airbnb check out (even at an unusually civilized 1pm) and my 9:50pm flight. Being a near-90 degree day (as I currently sit in gray, damp 50s NYC) we did the only sensible thing and headed to the suburbs, specifically an upscale ghost town mall in Bellevue for good air conditioning. After paying $9 to take a nap in a completely empty movie theater across the escalators from a comedy club/pool hall/ping pong lounge and not sleeping because Boss, the lesser of evils playing at a workable time, ended up being more stupid-funny than expected (I literally LOL’d just because I could in this impromptu private screening) it was time to choose among the chains. P.F. Chang’s almost won out, and  I’m still curious about non-chain Tavern Hall, which has the post-millennium, upwardly mobile young adult trappings–Sazeracs on tap, shuffleboard, brunch–I would normally go nuts for. At Cheesecake Factory, which went from dead to completely filled during our stint, I loaded up on pre-flight fat and dairy with their version of crab rangoon, a bacon date pizza, plus a slice of salted caramel cheesecake. Even eating less than half of all that ended up feeling like a very bad idea. One must go out with a bang. That’s the rule.

Nothing like a roaring fire in full-on sweat weather

Nothing like a roaring fire in full-on sweat weather

You know you're in the Northwest when there's Dale Chihuly hanging in your mall

You know you’re in the Northwest when there’s Dale Chihuly hanging in your mall

Cheesecake Factory Westbury

At the Westbury Cheesecake Factory nothing was as it
seemed or should be.


Cheesecake factory vietnamese tacos

The Vietnamese Tacos were buns.

Cheesecake factory kale salad

The kale salad was frisee and radicchio with a few errant celery
leaves. I was just curious how kale would play in the suburbs, and apparently,
it doesn't. I ordered it because I like sweets and nuts with my roughage and this
one also contained dried cranberries, apple and marcona almonds (at least those
were legit).

Cheesecake factory crab rangoon

I would be surprised if the crispy crab wontons,
a.k.a. crab rangoon, contained real crab meat, but that's not the point. Fried
cream cheese is.

Cheesecake factory white chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake

The macadamia white chocolate cheesecake (recommended
my our server and nearly the highest-calorie cheesecake on the list–I would
tell you just how much but nutritional info isn't on the site) was kind of a blondie
with stuff on it. Ok, it was a cheesecake–and a damn fine one if you like violently sweet desserts.

At least my martini, The Well-Mannered Dirty Martini,
was a martini, the only non-sugared choice of the ten on offer. Most chain
restaurant cocktail menus will throw in one drink with blue cheese-stuffed olives
to appease sweet-resistant fat-lovers. (I love cloying desserts–see above–but hate sweet beverages.)

And I must say that the suburbs are for spacious booths,
not two-seaters inches from a banquette of birthday partiers playing music
aloud on their phones. I could stay in NYC for that experience.  When our server mysteriously disappeared for
what seemed like a universe in chain time, we contemplated up and leaving for
Grand Lux Cafe down the road–it's supposed to be classier, right? I will have
to get to the bottom of how once town can have both a Cheesecake Factory and a
Grand Lux Cafe when so many others have to do without.

Cheesecake Factory * 1504 Old Country Rd., Westbury,

Cheesecake Factory Edison

Sure, the light bulb was one of the worlds great inventions, but can glass encased filaments hold a candle to the Cheesecake Factory? These sprawling suburban chains are few and far between in the NYC area, so its only fitting that such a culinary innovator (fried macaroni and cheese, anyone?) would be in Edison, NJ. While seeking out the first American Uniqlo, we were ecstatic to discover Menlo Park Mall also housed a bustling Cheesecake Factory.


Cfrangoon I’m still not quite clear what its raison d’etre is, other than cheesecake, of course. Red Lobster is seafood, Olive Garden is Italian, Outback Steakhouse is about as Australian as P.F. Changs is Chinese, but they have focus. Only one page of the menu and a glass case near the front of the restaurant are devoted to their namesake dessert. The rest of the ten-plus-page menu is a hodgepodge. And the Atlantic City casino meets ’90s Adam Tihany décor only complicates matters further.


It’s best to put such matters out of your head, suspend belief and live in the CF moment. Order a passion fruit ice tea, share a crispy crab wonton appetizer and then order monstrous barbecue ranch chicken salad (that looked like ais kacang if you squinted your eyes), and pretend it resembles something healthy. But save room for white chocolate chunk macadamia cheesecake. This was my lovely meal. Next time Ill try a glass of “The Cheesecake Factory,” a merlot specially bottled by Robert Mondavi. Pure class.

CfsaladAn aside: It’s odd how quickly we become sensitized to new rules. Smoking in bars feels like a tiny luxury, but seeing smoking in restaurants seems almost archaic. It wasnt that long ago that the smoking/non smoking section was perfectly acceptable. And I don’t have a problem with cigarettes (though it was strange to be blowing hundreds of dollars in Hong Kong, seated in the nonsmoking section millimeters from Germans exhaling smoke all over our overpriced beef) but it always seems weird that New Jersey chain diners dont care. Maybe Ive been living in over privileged, raising-a-stink over everything Carroll Gardens for too long. I mean, what about the children?

I should’ve thought twice about ordering a salad since I knew I’d only eat half in order to justify ordering cheesecake too. Salads dont exactly travel well. And I’m not one of those picky put sauces on the side folks, but CF goes overboard with their dressing. It was like I’d ordered soup and salad. But being the cheapskate that I am, I attempted to rescue and revive my leftover “salad” which was really more like coleslaw with corn, beans, avocado and chicken, by straining it in a colander for a second lunch. Yes, I am gross and desperate.


Before: s.w. coleslaw slush


After: slightly less slushy

Cheesecake Factory * 455 Menlo Park Dr., Edison, NJ

Cheesecake Factory Wayne

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