When tourists think about visiting New York City and eating some of the “local color,” there are a few food items that come to mind as being quintessentially New York: thin crust pizza, hot dogs, and today’s national food holiday item, cheesecake. They literally call it “New York Cheesecake,” and for very good reason: we do it right! New York City didn’t actually invent the cheesecake : indeed, it’s been around long before we’ve ever been here. The ancient Greeks served a dish similar to cheesecake back in the day, using soft, creamy cheese as the base and a crust that is separately prepared and baked. That’s the broad definition of cheesecake, after all: a cookie-like crust (like graham crackers) paired with a mix of sugar and soft cheese. The kind of cheese you use–cream cheese, Neufchatel, or ricotta–and the additives, like fruit, nuts, or chocolate, all make up what kind of cheesecake you have on your hands. You can even not bake your cake, instead using all raw ingredients and still coming up with a delicious cheesecake.
The New York Cheesecake is considered “New York” because it uses cream cheese, which was created in Chester, New York, in 1872. (Philadelphia cheesecake uses a denser, richer farmer’s cheese, while Italian cheesecake uses ricotta or mascarpone.) As a baby Brooklynite, I was raised on New York cheesecake, the creamy, smooth interior blending so nicely with a graham cracker crust; the cream cheese filling being both rich and dense and light and fluffy at the same time. Cheesecake is one of those food things that everyone in New York has their own opinion on, and in turn has their favorite. I’m a classic Brooklynite who loves history, so I’ll always answer this question with Junior’s (but more on that later!) Here are some other cheesecakes around the city you might love to sink your fork into tonight:
Maybe I should have included this for July 20, National Lollipop Day: a lollipop tower dessert made out of cheesecake! How delicious and Willy Wonk-y does that sound? You can find a Cheesecake Lollipop Tower over at David Burke Townhouse, where they want to inject a little bit of whimsy into your stuffy, expensive dinner out. The tower includes eight little rounded bites of cheesecake–crunchy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside–on lollipop sticks, with whipped cream and berry dipping sauces on the side for even more variety and more yum. These would simply be delicious as stand-alone cheesecakes, but as cheesecake lollipops, they give it that extra something to push this over the top as one of the best cheesecake desserts in New York City. It’s so well-loved among the city’s culinary elite that Scott Conant agreed it was his favorite reinvented dessert on the Food Network show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” The dessert is the perfect size to share with someone else, so bring your favorite cheesecake-loving bud and dig in!
David Burke Townhouse
133 E 61st St
“The dessert part of the meal is not to be skipped. One of the most iconic menu items at David Burke Townhouse is the Cheesecake Lollipop Tree ($18). It’s literally a silver metal tree with leaves and eight cheesecake lollipops. With a crunchy exterior, the cheesecake is smooth and creamy on the inside. It was some of the best cheesecake I ever had. This is a MUST if you go to DBT!”–Resto Manifesto
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“My man and I ordered the cheesecake/lollipop dessert because it was shown on Food Network as something you have to try in the city. Their bubblegum flavored whipped cream that acommpanied the various flavors of cheesecake was yummy enough to eat by itself. A truly inventive and creative dessert and a fun experience.”–Lesley S.
“We finished the meal off with his famous cheesecake lollipop tree. Very rich and decadent, and the cheese filling was very creamy and soft. My favorite part was the bubblegum whipped cream on the side – so light, fluffy and not overly sweet! I dipped the raspberries in it.”–Kate Y.
Cheesecake lollipops stuck in a tower aren’t whimsical enough for you? How about a cheesecake served to you on a bed of ice? Once again I turn to Chikalicious Dessert Bar this summer for one of the most inventive and interesting desserts to come out of the city in years. They call this a “cheesecake” but die-hard cheesecake lovers in New York will beg to differ: a chilled fromage blanc is seated in a bowl atop a bed of crushed ice cubes to keep it cold as you enjoy. There’s no crust and it certainly doesn’t look the part of a cheesecake, but it’s got a very interesting sweet taste to it, the sweet heavy cream mixing well with the soft cheese–it’s definitely different from a Watson Baby cheesecake’s taste. The texture is much lighter than traditional cheescakes, which allows you to taste the subtleties of the cheese, making it a bit more sour than the sugar-laden cakes. It’s different, but undeniably, it’s good. It’s also been deemed one of the best things someone’s ever eaten on that popular Food Network show, this time by chef Johnny Iuzzini, who is also the head judge of Top Chef: Just Desserts (and definitely high on the list of my chef crushes!) The presentation alone is a reason to pick this dessert up: the bed of ice keeping it cold as you enjoy it makes this dish feel so transient, so fleeting; like you have fortuitously come across this dessert at this exact moment it needs to be eaten. So get to Chikalicious and eat it, dammit!
Chikalicious Dessert Bar
203 E 10th St (between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave)
“Take one of the 20 seats in front of their open kitchen to watch the staff take your dessert from preparation to plating. For $16, you can get their prix-fixe menu, which consists of an amuse, a dessert and some petits-fours. ChikaLicious has its own unique take on the classic cheesecake, offering what it calls Fromage Blanc on ice – we think it is a delicious diversion.”–CBS New York
“The dessert we chose was one of their signature dishes – the Fromage Blanc Island “Cheesecake.” We knew we were in for something special as we watched Chika’s assistant skillfully prepare this for us using a cheesecloth. The Fromage Blanc, served on ice, was a more elegant interpretation of the classic cheesecake. It was much more in line with the Japanese style of cheesecakes, but with a twist. It was unbelievably light and delicious.”–To Live And Eat In NYC
“Indeed, some of the creations have a jewel-like quality. Fromage blanc “cheesecake” (their quotes) is served over a glistening mound of meticulously shaved ice that could pass for diamonds. The dessert is one of a baker’s half dozen that can be made the focus of that prix fixe, which also includes an amuse bouche and petits fours.”–The Examiner
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Fromage Blanc Island “Cheese Cake” – was an alternative cheesecake. It looks nothing like the ‘norm’ but prepare for that at this eatery. The flavors worked well to create the familiar creamy and slightly tart texture and taste. The white soft cheese was served over ice and glazed with a seasoned heavy cream. I savored each bite until none was left, my mind all the while wondering how I could duplicate such a treat in my own kitchen.”–Andrew Y.
“The fromage blanc island “cheese cake” was otherworldly. The presentation was interesting – what looked like a scoop of ice cream in a white dish poised atop a bowl of ice. There is no way to adequately describe this, but I’ll try. It was like an airy melty scoop of the highest quality cream, not sweet, not rich, just cool and ethereal. If you get one thing at ChikaLicious, make it this fromage blanc island.”–Steph C.
But if you’re talking to me about cheesecakes in New York, you should know that I’m a staunch history fan, and I’ve got a super soft spot for the old classics. Ergo, when it comes to New York cheesecake, nothing in my book beats Junior’s. The old standard for creamy, dense New York cheesecake, Junior’s has become the world’s cheesecake, with locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Connecticut, and sold online nationwide. Although the restaurant on Flatbush Avenue and DeKalb Avenue, right at the start of the Fulton Mall, has always served a full-on diner menu, they’re best known for their cheesecake, whose recipe has been passed down through founder Harry Rosen’s family for three generations. The restaurant has been churning out cheesecakes since 1950, and both of my parents grew up with the Brooklyn knowledge that Junior’s was the best cheesecake you will ever find. As with a lot of legacy “family” restaurants in the city, Junior’s has been plagued with poor reviews and health code violations, and the quality of their cheesecakes has declined over the years. Even my parents, who grew up worshipping the stuff, say it’s not as good as it used to be. (Or, they could just be saying that about anything!) Still, if you’ve never tasted a New York cheesecake, or are curious as to the flavors that have made cheesecake synonymous with New York City, you HAVE to try Junior’s, either in its Brooklyn location, Times Square, or Grand Central Station. Like Nathan’s, Delmonico’s, and the Russian Tea Room, the heyday of Junior’s may be long gone, but its history should always live on.
386 Flatbush Ave Ext (between DeKalb Ave & Willoughby St ), Brooklyn
“The Brooklyn staple opened in 1950 and still retains the charm of that era. It’s undeniably the most famous cheesecake on this list. They offer their share of variations as well: strawberry shortcake cheesecake, tiramisu cheesecake, and so forth, but we love the original. It’s on the smaller side of slices on this list – perfectly creamy, smooth and light.”–CBS New York
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I just went here for the cheesecake. I honestly don’t see what the hype is. Anybody can mix cream cheese and crack together. Seriously, this is the best (insert expletive of your choice) cheesecake I’ve ever had in my entire life. I got a plain one and it was a very hefty sized slice for six bucks. It was creamy and delicious and cheesecakey, but not too heavy and dense where I needed to drink a gallon of water to wash it down. I didn’t have the fat man’s guilt that I usually get after downing a slice of cheesecake either. None of that “oh my head hurts, oh I ate too much” feeling.”–Ordale A.
“Junior’s is a Brooklyn icon. If you like a nice, dense, intensely flavored cheesecake, look no further than the bakery counter at Junior’s. The decor is classic diner, and it’s nice that it seems to stay suspended in time as condos rise around it. It’s also nice that it maintains its classy appeal, in spite of downtown’s sea of stores selling gold fronts, hair extensions, cell phones, and sneakers–under the same roof. Even though this is a full-fledged restaurant, and even though there are many other items to order in the bakery…I just don’t. The food here is standard–not great, not terrible, just average. That’s okay though, because a slice of cheesecake is heavy enough to be a meal.”–DeShaun C.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!