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15 Delicious Cheesecake Destinations Worth the Drive

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The evolution of the cheesecake began with the Greeks, who, based on the first recorded mention, served it to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 BCE on the Isle of Delos. Later, Romans deemed it worthy of offering to the Gods at their temples. Much of Europe and Great Britain were introduced to cheesecake as the Roman armies conquered their land.

Technically, cheesecake is not a cake—it is a baked custard. Historically, there have been different types of cheeses used, including ricotta in Italian cheesecake, quark in German cheesecake, and any number of curds like farmer’s cheese, pot cheeses, and cottage cheese. There is one, however, that forever revolutionized cheesecake: William Lawrence’s invention of cream cheese in 1872. This creamy new concoction made possible one of today’s most iconic desserts: the New York cheesecake. Four simple ingredients—pure cream cheese, cream, egg, and sugar—combined to produce the stuff of culinary legend.

There are numerous innovative twists and iterations of cheesecake to be found today, but New York is still rich with cheesecakes that have stood the test of time. Many claim to be the best, but a few have consistently earned kudos decade after decade. Here is a sampling of noteworthy cheesecakes from around the USA—from tried-and-true to unconventional, all are worth digging into.

1. JUNIOR’S // NEW YORK

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Places like Junior’s—opened in 1950 by Harry Rosen on the corner of Flatbush and Dekalb in Brooklyn—have enjoyed celebrity status and accolades from the press for decades. In 1973, The Village Voice proclaimed it "...the best cheesecake in the material world," and restaurant critics have also described it as "edible ivory." Recently, cheesecake production was moved across the Hudson River to a 103,000 square-foot facility in Burlington, New Jersey, where 40,000 pounds of cream cheese go into producing about 10,000 cakes on an average day. Junior's has locations in Brooklyn, New York City's Grand Central Terminal and Times Square, and at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut.

2. THE DESSERT LAB // NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA

With over 30 flavors to choose from, the Dessert Lab offers up cheesecake for any taste, including saffron, rose, and French toast with bacon. They use all natural ingredients, too, so there won't be any artificial preservatives, flavors, or additives in your cake. While cheesecake isn't exactly "healthy," you can take solace in knowing you're getting high-quality ingredients.

3. CAPITAL CITY BAKERY // AUSTIN, TEXAS

If you're on a dairy-free diet, there’s no need to skip the cheesecake. There are plenty of vegan options to be had, and deep in the heart of Texas, Capital City Bakery is all about local, organic ingredients. The company culture here is "preserving the environment, protecting animals, and uniting people." This bakery even got billing on PETA’s Top 10 Vegan-Friendly Cities list. These 100 percent vegan cheesecakes are every bit as delicious and satisfying as their traditional dairy counterparts—and a slice of good karma, to boot.

4. VEGGIE GALAXY // CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

Another vegan restaurant offers several flavors of cheesecake, including a Taza chocolate cheesecake that rotates flavors monthly. You’ll feel like a kid in a candy store with flavors like Snickers or Almond Joy, and layers of creamy coconut, dark chocolate Taza, and almonds. Recent rotations have included chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate-covered pretzel, and peppermint brownie.

5. ZANZE’S // SAN FRANCISCO

With 31 years of experience, Sam and Joyce Zanze make and sell whole cheesecakes, not individual slices. They have no website, don’t take credit cards, and keep limited hours. Unfortunately, this ethereal cake is not available by mail, either. But the Zanzes believe in having one good item and doing it right, and it works. Octogenarian Sam Zanze’s cheesecake is “not overly sweet” and it is a crustless European-style cake which he learned to make from his Croatian father, a trained pastry chef.

6. S AND S CHEESECAKE // NEW YORK

S and S Cheesecake has taken top spots on numerous top ten and best of lists. It has been described by customers as creamy, silky, and smooth, but with more sweetness than some other cheesecakes. Pro tip: Customers going in person need to ring a doorbell outside the residential Bronx warehouse and pay in cash only.

7. VIVE LA TARTE // SAN FRANCISCO

Belgian couple Arnaud Goethals and Julie Vandermeersch of Vive La Tarte started business in a bright orange Volkswagen Westfalia in 2012, delivering orders tweeted by customers. Their cheesecake is a take on the traditional New York style, but with a touch of Belgium—the crust is made of Belgian Speculoos instead of traditional graham cracker.

8. UNCLE TETSU // HONOLULU, HAWAII

In Hakata, Japan in 1985, Tetsushi Mizokami created a cheesecake that takes inspiration from the traditional Japanese style. It has the lightness of a French soufflé, with balanced sweetness and the richness of an American cheesecake. They are baked fresh in small batches and served straight from the oven with the signature trademark logo stamped on top. With the help of Andrew and Peggy Cherng—the founders of Panda Express—the first U.S. Uncle Tetsu location opened in Hawaii this year.

9. GREENBLATT’S // HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA

Opened in 1926 while Sunset Boulevard was still a dirt road, this iconic Hollywood deli has catered to the entertainment industry for decades. Hollywood regulars included Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Groucho Marx, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, and many more. If you’re looking for a late-night cheesecake nosh, this is your place—they’re open until 2 a.m. daily.

10. JACQUES-IMO’S // NEW ORLEANS

Jacques-Imo’s takes a particularly savory twist for their cheesecake—made with fresh gulf shrimp, alligator andouille sausage, and smoked gouda, it is a salty, tangy, spicy version of cheesecake served NOLA style. If you’re into Cajun cuisine, this one’s the ticket.

11. EILEEN’S // NEW YORK

The winning recipe for success at Eileen’s Special Cheesecake is "keeping it old school." Eileen Avezzano, who started her one-woman operation in an apartment in Queens and moved to Soho in 1976, bakes her cakes the way she always did, and still separates eggs by hand. If you can’t decide which fabulous flavor to try, there is a spectacular sampler cake which includes 12 different slices of different varieties. You’ll get seven of the most popular: plain, strawberry, blueberry, cherry, pineapple, caramel pecan, and rocky road, plus five "surprise" slices that Eileen was baking up in the moment.

12. SKY'S GOURMET TACOS // LOS ANGELES

Sky’s Gourmet Tacos has one of Los Angeles's 10 best cheesecakes, according to L.A. Weekly, and was even featured on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. It has been a brick and mortar operation since 1992, expanding to a food truck in 2010. Owner Barbara Burrell's cheesecakes are inspired by South American tradition and are available in plain, caramel crunch, mango, and pineapple.

13. ELI’S // CHICAGO

One of the most iconic cheesecake purveyors in the Windy City is Eli’s, which has been the number one dessert at the Taste of Chicago Festival for over 30 years, and was described by Oprah's O Magazine as “a slice of heaven.” Famous moments in the company’s history include a 1992 visit by Bill and Hillary Clinton on the eve of the Illinois primary and the production of a 500 pound cheesecake in 2005 to celebrate the White Sox World Series victory.

14. PACIFIC CHEESECAKE COMPANY // GLENDALE, CALIFORNIA

Known for their mini cheesecakes, this is the perfect spot to give savory cheesecake a spin. There are over 10 options available, including customer favorites like spinach-feta wrapped in toasted walnuts, and cheddar sun-dried tomato basil (though they also have a seemingly infinite number of sweet options as well). Free samples are available at the ordering counter and owner Karen Freeman is open to customer flavor suggestions.

15. RODINI PARK // LOS ANGELES

Rodini Park in North Hollywood has created the perfect mash-up of two iconic desserts: baklava and New York cheesecake. Made with a traditional graham cracker crust and filo dough, its cream cheese filling is topped with classic baklava made from filo, ground walnuts, almonds, and sugar. Opa!

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9 Royally Interesting Facts You Might Not Know About King Cake
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It’s Carnival season, and that means bakeries throughout New Orleans are whipping up those colorful creations known as King Cakes. And while today it’s primarily associated with Big Easy revelry, the King Cake has a long and checkered history that reaches back through the centuries. Here are a few facts about its origins, its history in America, and how exactly that plastic baby got in there.

1. IT’S BELIEVED TO HAVE PAGAN ORIGINS.

The king cake is widely associated with the Christian festival of the Epiphany, which celebrates the three kings’ visit to the Christ child on January 6. Some historians, however, believe the cake dates back to Roman times, and specifically to the winter festival of Saturnalia. Bakers would put a fava bean—which back then was used for voting, and had spiritual significance—inside the cake, and whoever discovered it would be considered king for a day. Drinking and mayhem abounded. In the Middle Ages, Christian followers in France took up the ritual, replacing the fava bean with a porcelain replica engraved with a face.

2. IT STIRRED UP CONTROVERSY DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

To bring the pastry into the Christian tradition, bakers got rid of the bean and replaced it with a crowned king’s head to symbolize the three kings who visited baby Jesus. Church officials approved of the change, though the issue became quite thorny in late 18th century France, when a disembodied king’s head was seen as provocation. In 1794, the mayor of Paris called on the “criminal patissiers” to end their “filthy orgies.” After they failed to comply, the mayor simply renamed the cake the “Gateau de Sans-Culottes,” after the lower-class sans-culottes revolutionaries.

3. IT DETERMINED THE EARLY KINGS AND QUEENS OF MARDI GRAS.

A Mardi Gras King in 1952.dulouz cats via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Two of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes (NOLA-talk for "crew," or a group that hosts major Mardi Gras events, like parades or balls) brought about the current cake tradition. The Rex Organization gave the festival its colors (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power) in 1872, but two years earlier, the Twelfth Night Revelers krewe brought out a King Cake with a gold bean hidden inside and served it up to the ladies in attendance. The finder was crowned queen of the ball. Other krewes adopted the practice as well, crowning the kings and queens by using a gold or silver bean. The practice soon expanded into households throughout New Orleans, where today the discovery of a coin, bean or baby trinket identifies the buyer of the next King Cake.

4. THE BABY TRINKETS WEREN'T ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO HAVE RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE.

Although today many view the baby trinkets found inside king cakes to symbolize the Christ child, that wasn’t what Donald Entringer—the owner of the renowned McKenzie’s Bakery in New Orleans, which started the tradition—had in mind. Entringer was instead looking for something a little bit different to put in his king cakes, which had become wildly popular in the city by the mid-1900s. One story has it that Entringer found the original figurines in a French Quarter shop. Another, courtesy of New Orleans food historian Poppy Tooker (via NPR’s The Salt), states that a traveling salesman with a surplus of figurines stopped by the bakery and suggested the idea. "He had a big overrun on them, and so he said to Entringer, 'How about using these in a king cake,'" said Tooker.

5. BAKERIES ARE AFRAID OF GETTING SUED.

What to many is an offbeat tradition is, to others, a choking hazard. It’s unclear how many consumers have sued bakeries over the plastic babies and other trinkets baked inside king cakes, but apparently it’s enough that numerous bakeries have stopped including them altogether, or at least offer it on the side. Still, some bakeries remain unfazed—like Gambino’s, whose cinnamon-infused king cake comes with the warning, "1 plastic baby baked inside."

6. THE FRENCH VERSION COMES WITH A PAPER CROWN.

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In France, where the flaky, less colorful (but still quite tasty) galette de rois predates its American counterpart by a few centuries, bakers often include a paper crown with their cake, just to make the “king for a day” feel extra special. The trinkets they put inside are also more varied and intricate, and include everything from cars to coins to religious figurines. Some bakeries even have their own lines of collectible trinkets.

7. THERE’S ALSO THE ROSCA DE REYES, THE BOLO REI AND THE DREIKÖNIGSKUCHEN.

"Roscón de Reyes" by Tamorlan - Self Made (Foto Propia). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Versions of the King Cake can be found throughout Europe and Latin America. The Spanish Rosca de Reyes and the Portugese Bolo Rei are usually topped with dried fruit and nuts, while the Swiss Dreikönigskuchen has balls of sweet dough surrounding the central cake. The Greek version, known as Vasilopita, resembles a coffee cake and is often served for breakfast.

8. IT’S NO LONGER JUST A NEW ORLEANS TRADITION.

From New York to California, bakeries are serving up King Cakes in the New Orleans fashion, as well as the traditional French style. On Long Island, Mara’s Homemade makes their tri-colored cakes year round, while in Los Angeles you can find a galette de rois (topped with a nifty crown, no less) at Maison Richard. There are also lots of bakeries that deliver throughout the country, many offering customizable fillings from cream cheese to chocolate to fruits and nuts.

9. THE NEW ORLEANS PELICANS HAVE A KING CAKE BABY MASCOT—AND IT IS TERRIFYING.

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Every winter you can find this monstrosity at games, local supermarkets, and in your worst nightmares.

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Carvel
A Cool History of Cookie Puss
Carvel
Carvel

When Greek immigrant Thomas Carvel started the Carvel College of Ice Cream Knowledge in the late 1940s, his intention was to educate his ice cream shop franchisees in the proper handling and distribution of the soft serve cones he had invented back in 1934. Famously strict about his scooping protocol, Carvel would grow upset if he discovered a store owner dished out only three ounces of vanilla to save money, not his required 3.5 ounces. Customers—especially kids—could tell the difference.

"Once a kid realizes he isn't getting his full cone, you've lost a customer," Carvel told The New York Times in 1985. "And that's the way you lose an entire chain."

Carvel’s rigid standards sometimes stirred up dissent, as in the case of the antitrust lawsuit filed in 1979 by franchisees over his insistence they buy Carvel-supplied napkins and other goods at inflated prices. But it was his ingenuity that led the 865-location Carvel chain to a stunning $300 million in sales by 1985.

That growth was spurred in large part by the company’s distinctive ice cream cakes, including Hug Me the Bear and Fudgie the Whale. But no confection drew as much attention as Cookie Puss, the cone-nosed birthday treat made famous in a series of 1970s commercials, a 1983 Beastie Boys song, and a legendary bit on The Howard Stern Show.

Although stores frequently tweaked the Cookie Puss design, it never strayed far from its original inspiration: the face of Carvel himself.

(L-R): Cookie Puss, Cookie O'Puss, Tom Carvel. Courtesy of Carvel

Carvel’s ice cream empire began with a flat tire. In 1934, he had borrowed $15 from his fiancée, Agnes, to get an ice cream truck on the road in Hartsdale, New York. The truck broke down, but customers didn’t seem to mind the softening ice cream—in fact, they seemed to love it.

Carvel jumped on the opportunity, cobbling a soft-serve machine together in his garage and obtaining a patent for it. When he realized that selling the machines led to frequent user error, he founded the Carvel Corporation in 1947, lining states—and his pockets—with Carvel-branded frozen treat storefronts.

Carvel recognized that it would take more than his name to help distinguish the stores from other ice cream shops. Their ice cream sandwiches were dubbed Flying Saucers in 1951; Carvel invited franchisees to brainstorm other unique product ideas.

In the early 1970s, an attendee at the College of Ice Cream Knowledge presented Carvel with a cake in a vaguely humanoid shape. With a cone to mimic Carvel’s bulbous nose, Carvel was impressed. He also realized anthropomorphized cakes would be a clever way to further the Carvel brand. An entire line—including Fudgie the Whale and Hug Me the Bear—were rolled out, 50-something ounces of frozen cake goodness that shops could decorate for personalized birthday greetings.

To spread the word, Carvel began featuring Cookie Puss in regional television advertisements throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Airing Saturday mornings and late at night, the ads were low-budget—Carvel refused to hire an ad agency—and featured Carvel himself as the narrator, his gravelly voice urging viewers to consider Fudgie for Father’s Day, Cookie Puss for all occasions, Cookie O’Puss for St. Patrick’s Day, Dumpy the Pumpkin for Halloween, and Cookie’s female counterpart, Cupie Puss, for whatever else might require massive sugar consumption.

Carvel even issued stuffed toys of Cookie Puss and Fudgie in 1985, hoping the $5.98 dolls would become Carvel’s version of Ronald McDonald, a food mascot that transcended corporate direction.

Even people who had never tried Cookie Puss were still aware of him thanks to the pervasive ads. The Beastie Boys broke through with "Cooky Puss," their 1983 single that was built around a real prank phone call made by Adam Horovitz to a Carvel store asking to speak to Cookie Puss. (One unconfirmed urban legend says Carvel was so annoyed by the album that he was considering legal action before his nephew, a Beasties fan, talked him down.)

In 1991, The Howard Stern Show dragged Cookie Puss back into the spotlight when Stern spent an inordinate length of time berating staffer Fred Norris for giving his mother a Cookie Puss for Mother’s Day. Using audio effects, Stern raised his pitch to resemble Cookie’s distinctive voice:

Stern: Hey, Fred. How come you didn’t get your mom a Fudgie the Whale? Because Cookie Puss is number one, right? ... I think you really didn’t think about your mother.

Norris: Thank you for judging me, Cookie Puss.

Stern: Tom Carvel was a weird guy. I wish he could have named me Rambo. Rambo the Cake.

Puss’s heyday came to an end in 1993, when Carvel’s new owners (Tom Carvel had sold the business in 1989 to investment bankers for $80 million) hired an actual ad agency to create a polished campaign. Carvel himself died in 1990, and was later the subject of a bizarre claim by his niece that he had been murdered so his aides could lay claim to the Cookie Puss fortune. The allegation was later dropped.

Today Puss, Fudgie, and the others can still be found at the 400-odd Carvel locations; the company’s slightly retroactive history currently claims that Cookie Puss is actually an alien from the Planet Birthday.

But whatever its fictional narrative might be, Cookie Puss still bears a strong resemblance to Tom Carvel. The inspiration for Dumpy the Pumpkin, however, remains unknown.

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