I'm a chef who visited The Cheesecake Factory for the first time, and the happy-hour deals and cheesecake blew me away
I'm a chef who finally ate at The Cheesecake Factory after hearing rave reviews about it for years.
I was astounded by the hundreds of items on the menu and most of the food I got was tasty.
The happy-hour deals were solid and I'm already planning my next visit so I can get more cheesecake.
I'm a chef who grew up in Scotland and I've worked all over the world from Australia to the US. Over the years, I've heard a lot of friends talk about how much they love The Cheesecake Factory but I've never actually visited the chain.
For a long time, I thought it was just a dessert restaurant — I certainly wasn't expecting to be faced with a menu crammed with more than 250 items.
Recently, I decided to visit for the first time.
The first challenge was finding parking on a Friday night.
The Cheesecake Factory has hundreds of locations, but the only one in Canada is located in the 2-million-square-foot Yorkdale Mall, north of downtown Toronto.
As we arrived at the crowded mall, we rounded the corner and saw the orange lights of The Cheesecake Factory glowing in the night. It was just next door to Canadian department store Hudson's Bay.
It took a while to snake through the lot and find a space as it was a busy Friday night.
This was the first visit for me, my partner, and our friend, but my partner's mom is a Cheesecake Factory aficionado. She promised to share her tips and tricks.
When I walked in, I immediately noticed how crowded it was.
The noise level was immediately almost overwhelming when I walked in. Large groups and families were coming and going in all directions.
The main dining area was full and a crush of people surrounded the host desk. I regretted getting there at 5 p.m. on a Friday, but my partner's mom knows The Cheesecake Factory's secrets — it turns out you don't have to join the main queue to eat in the bar area.
You can also order food in the bar area. In less than a minute, we were perched around a high four-top table a few feet from the bar.
The lighting gave everything an orange glow.
Once seated, legs swinging from the high stool, I got to look around. The main area had booths and a mixture of table sizes to fit every size of party.
The bar area had two- and four-seater high tables along a divider plus high chairs at the bar.
Despite being so busy, the high ceilings and light-colored walls kept the room from feeling overly full or oppressive, although the noise level continued to build.
Staff glided between tables in white button-down shirts and black ties, carrying towering burgers and gargantuan salad bowls.
The bar area soon filled with the post-work crowd.
My partner's mom had another tip to share with us — there's a happy-hour menu available in the bar area on weekdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
She ordered her two favorite appetizers from that selection: Buffalo Blasts and hot spinach-and-cheese dip.
While we waited for those to arrive, I began to work my way through reading the menu.
The menu is so long, it's practically a novel.
The Cheesecake Factory menu is close to 6,000 words long and more than 20 pages.
We were ravenous, so were happy to be guided by my partner's mom who advised ordering appetizers only so we'd leave plenty of room for cheesecake. We picked four appetizers and two small plates to split between the four of us.
We didn't receive the chain's complimentary bread basket featuring its famous brown bread but it may have been because we were seated at the bar or because the restaurant was so busy. I forgot to ask about it, but I'll be sure to next time.
The Cheesecake Factory is known for its sizeable portions.
Soon, the Buffalo Blasts arrived. The deep-fried triangles were stacked high on a plate and paired with blue-cheese dip and extra hot sauce.
Each triangle was full of moist, shredded chicken, gooey cheese, and nicely spicy Buffalo hot sauce. The breaded, wonton-type wrappers surprised me but I liked that they kept the bites hot and crisp long after they'd arrived.
These felt like an incredible deal priced at 11 Canadian dollars for happy hour instead of the usual CA$20.
We devoured the spinach dip in milliseconds.
During our time at The Cheesecake Factory, our appetizers arrived as they were ready. We'd barely started on the Buffalo Blasts when the dip showed up with a mountain of chips.
The dip was deliciously creamy, and I tasted hints of garlic, Tabasco, and lemon. It had a generous amount of spinach and artichoke hearts swimming in what seemed to be a perfectly gooey pool of mozzarella and Monterey Jack.
We fell on this like we'd never seen food before. Everyone agreed we'd order this again — hopefully soon.
We also got chicken taquitos, which were pretty good.
We'd wanted to order the chain's sweet-corn tamale cakes but were told they were sold out. Instead, we got chicken taquitos.
They were squeezed onto the table, four pieces in wonderfully tangy avocado cream and salsa verde. The outside had an ideal crunch and the insides were cooked to perfection, although they were somewhat overshadowed by the remains of the delicious spinach dip.
The sliders were really the only disappointment of the night.
The buns were sweet and squishy and great value for just CA$11 instead of the usual CA$20, courtesy of the happy-hour menu.
The meat was cooked just right and there was a pleasing kick of ketchup on the burger. Compared to the flavors of the three dishes we'd sampled, though, the burgers were just fine. They're not something we'd order again.
We would only order the chicken pot stickers again during happy hour.
The soy-ginger sauce that came with the pot stickers was generously portioned and piquant. The bold flavors ideally complemented the moist, minced chicken.
We enjoyed these for CA$11 but wouldn't get them again outside of happy hour when the order of five is CA$17.50.
The beet salad was cool and refreshing amidst all the hot items.
I loved this relatively simple salad of glazed beets, avocado, orange chunks, and arugula, with a honey-yogurt dressing.
The flavors worked well together and each mouthful was fresh and crisp.
At one point, we struggled to fit everything on the table.
With drinks, water glasses, cutlery, and menus, our bar-area table was quite full even before the food arrived.
Maybe if the service wasn't so good, with food coming out fast, fresh, and efficiently, there would be more time for us to finish each dish as it arrived.
These high bar tables are definitely designed more for drinks and an appetizer or two — not for four people ordering multiple items. We'll keep that in mind for next time.
Narrowing our cheesecake choices down from over 30 options was a challenge.
The chain has an extensive cheesecake menu with over 30 slices. It was hard to decide so we ordered three to share, including the newer Classic Basque Cheesecake. All three arrived at the same time.
The Basque cheesecake's combination of a "burnt" top, creamy cake, base, berries, and coulis was spectacular. Each mouthful was a flavor explosion.
Unsurprisingly, I can confirm that The Cheesecake Factory makes outstanding cheesecake.
The Dulce de Leche Caramel Cheesecake was remarkable.
At CA$14, this dulce-de-leche slice was the cheapest of the three we ordered — the others were CA$14.50. I think it's a substantial amount to spend on a piece of cake, but I don't regret spending a cent.
This caramel creation topped with caramel mousse and scatters of almond "brickle" was a marvel. Even the base was subtly flavored with vanilla.
This was the best cheesecake I have ever consumed. My only regret was having to share with the others.
The Cheesecake Factory also has gluten-free cheesecakes available to order.
I was impressed the chain had a gluten-free cheesecake that could be ordered with or without strawberries and cream. We tried the gluten-free cheesecake with strawberries and I was delighted by how creamy and delicious it was.
If my life hadn't been entirely upended by my encounter with the dulce-de-leche version just minutes earlier, this would've been a definite contender for my favorite cheesecake ever. It really was that good.
I'll be back for the cheesecake and the spinach dip.
My dining companions and I all agreed that the cheesecake was the best part of the whole experience. I wasn't surprised the cheesecake was so good, but it was even better than I expected. Half the table liked the Basque version best. I and my partner's mom loved the dulce de leche.
Overall, I think The Cheesecake Factory is a perfect place to collapse in after a long day of shopping or before or after a movie at the mall's Cineplex.
The happy-hour deals were solid and, based on the generous entree portions I saw, it seems like a brilliant place to take home leftovers. A lot of main dishes seemed to have enough food for dinner and a next-day lunch.
I'll definitely be back to try the chicken-laden salads, get more delicious spinach dip, and devour another slice of the Dulce de Leche Caramel Cheesecake. This time, though, I'm keeping the entire slice to myself.
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