Jan 7, 2014

A low productivity Cheesecake Factory

After a fun morning at the Naples zoo with Rod, Emma and their kids, checking out primates, big cats, giraffes, gators and birds of all kinds, we were overdue for a lunch break. Once Emma suggested The Cheesecake Factory, Mrs. Waffle enthusiastically agreed.  “I’ve always wanted to go to a Cheesecake Factory. That’s where Penny works!” she said, referring to the Big Bang Theory character.

I shrugged. Who wants cheesecake for lunch, I thought?  But in short order, we made our way to the restaurant, located a few blocks from the zoo, adjacent to one of those typical Florida shopping malls.

The first Cheesecake Factory opened in Beverly Hill in 1978, when David Overton founded the business as a spin-off of his parents cheesecake delivery service.  The formula was simple: a sandwich and salad place where people could go to enjoy one of the 10 original varieties of cheesecake from the family business

The Cheesecake Factory now operates 162 restaurants in 36 states, 1 in DC, 1 in Puerto Rico and 4 more in the Middle East.

We got there shortly before one – and were told there was a 15-20 minute wait.  Damn.  There seemed to be plenty of empty tables, I thought, but there were a lot of people lined-up at the front door.  We moved up the line slowly, and were soon able to check out the cheesecake display counter.

45 minutes later, we finally got our table. I was not pleased, but the size and age of our group made a move complicated, and Mel loves cheesecake. We were brought to a table in the back of the restaurant and quickly got organized.

Once our drinks were ordered, we were able to check out the extensive menu – over 200 items, and 50 cheesecakes! Pizza, “Glamburgers”, Pastas, Fish & Seafood, Steaks & Chops, Salads, Sandwiches, Eggs & Omelettes, and on and on. Oh, and to add another layer to the menu, they have a special “Skinnylicious” section with about 50 items promising to keep your calorie’s counter down.

Faced with that many choices, it took me a while to decide. Thankfully, it took forever for our drinks to arrive, so I could ponder. I was hesitating between the Factory Burrito Grande and the Famous Factory Meatloaf. I decided that Cheesecake Factory didn’t really sound Mexican enough to go for the Burrito, but that the Famous Factory Meatloaf ($11.95) had a good ring to it. I was also convinced to go for the lunch portion as opposed to the regular ‘dinner size’. It took some convincing, but I figured I could always order cheesecake.

Melissa wanted the soup of the day, a Mexican Tortilla Soup ($4.95), and she wanted to add a salad but wasn’t interested in the Soup and Salad combo on offer. Instead, she went for a lunch-size Santa Fe Salad ($10.50).

We waited a few more minutes then we got a few baskets of bread. Thank God, we were starving, it being past 2 already. The Mini-Waffle received a special treat – a few slices of their bread and a few slices of banana. Lucky him. We waited, and waited, and waited.

Our food finally arrived: Mel’s soup got there first, a very thick concoction topped with fried tortillas; the kids’ corn dogs ($5.95) – 3 small ones per order, served with fries or fruits, and heavy batter the kids got rid of immediately – and chicken strips ($6.50) – white meat, very crispy – with different dipping sauces, Rod’s lunch-size Spaghetti with Meat Sauce ($11.95) – a huge bowl that he almost completely killed, Emma’s Hawaiian Pizza and Salad lunch combo ($11.95) – she couldn’t finish the last piece.

The server came back, stating that the missing soup was coming, it was out of the bag. I chuckled and informed him that no other soup was needed and that they could put it back in the bag.

Melissa was thankful she had ordered the lunch salad – claiming she was basically full after the soup! The Santa Fe salad was quite a significant mound to climb

Lime-marinated chicken, corn, black beans, cheese, tortilla strips on a bed of mixed greens, mostly iceberg lettuce, tossed in a spicy peanut and cilantro vinaigrette. Overall, despite the size, this was a light and fresh salad. The chicken was rare, there was corn and beans is sufficient amount to give the salad a fun texture without overtaking the dish. The tortilla strips were out of a bag but were crunchy. Flavourwise, the peanut and cilantro dressing was more subtle than strong, and the lime marinade was also quite light. I would have chopped the tomatoes instead of going for wedges, and I would have served it with lime wedges to brighten it up to taste.

My Famous Factory Meatloaf was served with Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Grilled Onions and Corn Succotash.

This is the lunch portion. I can’t imagine how much food there would have been on that plate if I had ordered the regular portion. Here we had two thick slices of meatloaf, about an inch thick. They were covered with caramelized onions and smothered with gravy. So were the mashed potatoes, who also served as a receptacle for Lake Gravy. A generous portion of their corn succotash completed the dish.

The meat was very tender, yet held together nicely. There was a lot of flavour here: herbs, carrots, onions, garlic. Lots of salt. There was a nice beefy flavour, though it was subtle – clearly here we have a mix of pork and beef.  The gravy was made with mushrooms. And lots of salt. The mashed potatoes were made with red potatoes. There were chunks in it, some with the skin still on, and what felt like a generous amount of cream and butter. And lots of salt.

The corn succotash included zucchini and bell peppers sautéed in a generous amount of butter. I’m a sucker for corn, and this succotash version was pretty darn good. The corn was fresh, some kernels were caramelized in butter, and having zucchini in there was the textural contrast you usually get from lima beans, though obviously not as creamy. And of course, lots of salt.

I finished my meal last, getting help from the Mini-Waffle to kill the plate. Those who were ready for dessert thankfully knew what they wanted, so I figured this would at least go quickly. A mistake, as it took forever for our server to come back. At least, there was no need to look at the menu: the kids wanted to share the Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake ($7.50) while Mrs. Waffle wanted the Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake ($7.95), and they were so ordered.

And again, we waited. And waited. Not only did we wait, our tables weren’t cleared off. So Rod took it upon himself to take away the dirty dishes and pile them on a nearby counter to make room for the desert and facilitate the sharing operation once they would arrived. And they did arrive, eventually.

            

First, they get points for serving their cake with real whipped cream. Second, these are rich cheesecakes. Third, these were big servings.

The Chocolate Raspberry Truffle was what as expected: In my opinion Raspberry flavour is too strong and doesn’t actually marry very well with chocolate. Despite the Chocolate cookie crust, the Chocolate Mousse, the Chocolate Ganache, the cheesecake flavour had a strong undertone of fake raspberries and I didn’t like it. The kids, though they liked what they saw, didn’t seem too impressed either. In fact, despite the adults sampling it, there was about a third of it left at the end.

The Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake is probably their basic original cheesecake, with sour cream and on a Graham Cracker crust, garnished with a couple of fresh strawberries dipped in a strawberry glaze.  The cake was creamy, rich, dense. Not too sweet. A good cheesecake. “A perfect New York style cheesecake, only possibly made better by trading up the graham cracker crust for a chocolate one” Mel said, “but you do have to wonder who seriously needs two mountains of whipped cream with a cheesecake?” This one did better around the table – it was basically all gone.

We asked for the bill, waited another 10 minutes to pay and were out of there by 3:15 – or almost 2 hours and 30 minutes after our arrival.

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