Warning: I am about to vent. If splenetic ranting is not your
thing, back outta here now, for I am seriously pissed off.
I’m four days into an intense seige of work at an
I-can-tell-you-but-I’d-have-to-kill-you location in suburban New York,
toiling away at a worthy cause. I’ve been at it for twelve hours, and
I am truly ready for a decent meal. (Lunch was skimpy Japanese.) My
colleagues and I send out for a massive order of comestibles from a
place called the Cheesecake Factory.
The Cheesecake Factory is a chain joint, but the locals think it’s
OK. And indeed my “Ton O’Fun” burger is reasonably well made, if of a
size I normally associate with minor planetary bodies. One of my
colleagues looks at it and mutters in a nearly reverent tone “Arteries
be damned!” This fails to disturb me. I consume it with
All goes well until I come to the alleged cheesecake.
At this point I need to explain that I take my cheesecake pretty
seriously. Given that I am averse or allergic to most forms of
cheese, this might strike some as mildly odd — but it’s the
molds and fermentation products that make me go ick, not the dairy
proteins or lactose. Cream cheese and I get along just fine, and one
of my favorite dessertlike things is a good old-fashioned
By “good old-fashioned”, I mean what is sometimes called the New
York style — immensely rich, made with pure cream cheese. It is
not “lite” or “fluffy”; indeed, it rejoices in a density only slightly
less than that of neutronium. Your true cheesecake is flavor-dense as
well, requiring no silly embellishments like frosting or fruit sauce;
this cheese stands alone. Though there is sugar in it, sugar should by
no means dominate in the flavor, which should rather be savory and
The most important test for a proper traditional cheesecake is
simple. Stick a fork in it vertically. A metal fork, not a silly
lightweight plastic one. Now take your hand off the fork. If it
falls over of its own weight, tearing a messy divot in your dessert,
the cake is fake. A true cheesecake supports the fork indefinitely
without so much as a quiver. Another test is the texture. A properly
made cheesecake shows a distinct grainy texture when cut with a fork,
slightly moist but not expressing liquid to the surface.
Color is also significant. Your good cheesecakes are usually pale
yellow rather than white. The truly superior ones tend to have an
ever-so-faint, nigh-indetectable bluish tinge. I have studied these
nuances with attention and care.
I’m ordering from an entity called “The Cheescake Factory” in the
New York heartland of the cheesecake. I order the variety labeled in big
bold letters “Traditional”. And what do I get?
A vile, revolting, over-sweetened, bland cheese gelatinoid thing so
lacking in integrity that it slumps on the plate.
OK, I’m cool with free markets. I’m even cool with free markets
when they produce lowest-common-denominator results I don’t happen to
like. It may be that most of the consumers out there adore the gooey
studge that the soi-disant “Cheesecake Factory” passes off as
cheesecake. If its crappiness were confined to atrocity-of-the-week
flavors like “Coffee Heathbar Crunch” or “Craig’s Crazy Carrot Cake
Cheesecake”, I could sigh in resignation at the wretched tastelessness
and endure it nevertheless.
But, dammit, advertising the characterless pile of goo they gave me
as “traditional” is fraud. And it’s not a harmless fraud, it’s
an act of subtle but damaging violence against good taste. It
de-educates the palate; it lowers everybody’s standards until we lose
the capability to tell the real thing from a puddle of ersatz shite.
This is how civilization ends, not with a bang but with a jingle.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather live with bad desserts than have
anybody’s culinary standards, even my own, rammed down peoples’
throats in the name of ‘civilization’ by some snotty academie of
iron-fisted connoisseurs. Civilizations can die that way too,
constipated on their own stuffiness.
But when some soulless android of a chain restaurant designer
willfully perverts the meaning of “traditional” so he can sell dreck
to the ignorant with the illusion that said dreck is just like what his
Yiddish grandma made, that’s where I reach my limit. The Cheesecake
Factory must die.