While I like think of myself as an experienced home cook and a proud food lover, at this point, this site has assigned me, variously, to eat 25 different tacos, sample and judge each brand of store-bought marinara, and, worst of all, taste and critique every brand of store-bought alfredo sauce, among other things. Over the years I’ve come to begrudgingly accept the mantle of food stunt guy. So when Uproxx Life editor Steve Bramucci hit me up to ask if I would be willing to taste and rank every flavor of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, the idea of not saying “yes” barely even occurred to me.
Such things had become my burden, my sacred duty. And anyway, “eat lots of cheesecake” sounds like a plum assignment compared to “eat lots of alfredo sauce.”
At the time, I didn’t fully realize that “every cheesecake flavor” on the Cheesecake Factory’s famously expansive menu would encompass more than 30 distinct varieties of cheesecake. I knew from the experience of trying to eat 25 or so tacos that the veteran move is to eat no more than one bite of each sample. Even so, 30+ bites of cheesecake still adds up to a lot of cheesecake. Maybe that doesn’t sound like as much as it is, but trust me — it’s a lot.
I brought my wife along for the trip — nine months pregnant and due any day — both because having another person to share cheesecake with would mean wasting less cheesecake, and because feeding her all the cheesecakes she wanted seemed like one of the few things I could do to try to make an uncomfortably pregnant lady carrying my massive-headed son less unhappy (at the time, his head was measuring in the 98th percentile of fetus skulls).
Reader, would it make you respect my dedication to know that this woman, eating for herself and the eight-and-a-half-pound fetus she would expel a mere three days later, only made it to 19 cheesecakes, while I soldiered on to finish all 35? Thank you, thank you. No need for applause.
There were indeed times when I considered throwing in the towel, times when I question whether or not it was all worth it, much like Jesus in his moment of doubt and pain on the cross. For the first 10 cheesecakes, I mostly thought “Oh boy, this is great! What a fun job I have!”
Edging into the late teens, I started to feel delirious and giddy, like a late-night brainstorming session when everything suddenly becomes funny. Shortly after that, I crashed and each bite became a chore. It was around cheesecake 25 or 26 when this photo was taken.
The agony, the regret…
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I should set the scene. Arranged through a publicist and, I presume, Cheesecake Corporate, we arrived to a predetermined cake-tasting appointment at my local Cheesecake Factory restaurant, in Fresno, California. The very nice (and maybe slightly confused?) general manager found us a spot in the corner with a table large enough to accommodate 35 separate small plates of cheesecake.
This turned out not to be all that difficult. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been inside a restaurant as truly cavernous as the Fresno Cheesecake Factory. Which, it should be noted, is merely average-sized, relative to other Cheesecake Factories. It raised so many questions. Or maybe just one question: how does a restaurant so big, with such a variety of different things, turn a profit? Without getting into the numbers, it feels like an insult to God.
I’m actually old enough to remember when the Cheesecake Factory was the “cool new thing” among chain restaurants. Or maybe it only seemed so for dopey suburbanite college kids in San Diego. Even then I remember being intimidated, perhaps even confused and scared, by the tome of a menu. What was this, I wondered, the Kirkland Signature of food? With a dining room styled as if they’re expecting a Disney princess? It was a little uncanny and still is. All these years later, I’ll feel honored if my suffering can help just one stoned college kid sweat less on a first date by demystifying the Cheesecake Factory menu.
Jokes aside, the most heartening thing about the experience was the employees coming over to check on us throughout the process. Kitchen staff, pleased with their handiwork, would stay for a few minutes, discussing the offerings. “Did you try the Dulce De Leche yet? Ooh yeah, that one is my favorite too,” and so forth. I remember feeling the same way when I worked at Starbucks. Sure, it was broadly soulless and corporate. Sure, sometimes people would complain about me not smiling enough. Sure, there were lots of weird customers, like the lady who would order a quad decaf iced latte with 14 pumps of sugar-free vanilla while absent-mindedly chewing on her baby’s fingernails. BUT if you ordered a dry nonfat cappuccino or whatever, I still did my damnedest to ensure that it was the best goddamned dry nonfat cap you ever tasted and took a weird sort of pride in it.
A NOTE ON THE RESULTS:
Maybe more so than anything else I’ve tasted, these rankings came down mostly to “what you like.” None of these were bad, some were just not for me. I’m not a huge chocolate person. Predictably, the chocolate offerings mostly make up the bottom chunk of the rankings. There were the occasional outliers, like the pumpkin flavors, which I generally liked more than I thought I would, or a few cinnamon and salted caramel options, which I liked less than I thought I would. But for the most part, cheesecakes landed where I thought they would, based on personal preference. If it sounds like something *you* would like, you probably will, regardless of what I think. I remember when a Danish filmmaker I was interning for brought in some chocolate-covered cherries one day, forcing us to try them because they were so much better then our trash processed American desserts and all that. I tried and you know what? They were goddamned awful. Borderline inedible. Because for me, chocolate and cherries is a revolting combination (chocolate and strawberries, on the other hand…).
Desserts are weirdly polarizing, is what I’m saying.
35. Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake
This is a beautiful, elegant cheesecake for someone who really, really likes chocolate, and that is just not me.
Original notes: “Soooooo much chocolate. Too much chocolate for me.”
34. 30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake
I tasted this one in the late twenties and wrote, simply, “Toooo dennnnnnssssee.”
33. Chocolate Truffle Tower
This one is also chocolate on chocolate on chocolate, but distinguishes itself by being extra tall.
Original notes: “I don’t like chocolate enough for these. “
32. Very Cherry Ghirardelli Chocolate Cheesecake
Remember what I wrote about chocolate and cherries? That holds true here.
Original notes: “Tastes like chocolate cherries. Not my favorite combo.”
31. Oreo Dream Extreme
Oreos and ice cream is one my favorite combinations, one of those weird desserts that elevates both ingredients to something that’s so much more than the sum of its parts. The cheesecake version, unfortunately, is full of fudge and mousse and chocolate stuff.
Original notes: “Too fudgey, too moussey. Lots o’ chocolate.”
30. Caramel Pecan Turtle
This was probably the greatest disappointment of the bunch, considering caramel and pecan are on the shortlist of my favorite dessert things. But wouldn’t you know it, they just had to throw some fudge in there. I’m gonna say it: I don’t understand fudge. Not like the liquid chocolate kind you get on a sundae, but the cubes of hard frosting kind that comes wrapped in plastic wrap. What is even the point? It combines two of my least favorite dessert things, chocolate and frosting.
Original notes: “Super rich fudge layer on the bottom. Too much for me right now.”
29. Chocolate Tuxedo Cream
Too much chocolate again, but a great name for a penguin.
Original notes: “Please no more chocolate.”
28. Chocolate Mousse
Should I just skip over all the chocolate ones? There are a lot.
Original Notes: “Chocolatey as advertised. Too much choc for me but I’m not a choc guy. Less dense than expected though.”
(NOTE: You can tell I tasted this one very early in the tasting and the last one very late).
27. Hershey’s Chocolate Bar
Original notes: “Less chocolatey than it looks, still seemed too rich. “
26. Vanilla Bean
I expected to like this one more. You’d think vanilla + cheesecake would be a winner, but apparently not. Maybe there’s such a thing as too much vanilla?
Original notes: “Nice crust, too vanilla-y.”
25. Cinnabon Cinnamon Swirl Cheesecake
Huge surprise here as cinnamon rolls are one of my favorite desserts, right up there with pecan pie and bread pudding. Sadly, this one seems designed more for people whose favorite part of cinnamon rolls is the frosting, which I don’t even like on my cinnamon rolls.
Original notes: “Lots going on here. VERY sweet. I love cinnamon rolls, but this is maybe too frosting heavy.”
24. Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake
The addition of peanut butter improves chocolate immensely.
Original notes: “SUPER peanut buttery. Def tastes like Reese’s.”
23. Fresh Banana Cream
Bananas are polarizing in desserts, but I’m actually a big fan. Banana cream pie? Absolutely. Banoffee pie? Yes, indeed. Bananas foster? Sign me the fuck up. This I think went too heavy on the cream part of banana cream.
Original notes: “I like bananas but not this. Too creamy? Too sweet?”
22. Caramel Apple Cheesecake
There are these little crunch balls in this one, making it one of the cooler-looking cheesecakes. Those little crunch balls rule, they should be in every cheesecake. Too much apple though.
Original notes: “Weird crunchy balls on top. Balls are good, cake has too much apple pie filling in there.”
21. Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple
This one *sounds* like it has a bunch of heavy stuff I don’t like, but in practice, it tasted more like a Butterfingers. I don’t know who the hell Adam is, but I forgive it.
Original notes: “V rich, smells like butterfingers. Better than I imagined.”
20. Chocolate Caramelicious Cheesecake Made With Snickers
This one has arguably the most elaborate name of any of these cheesecakes, and characteristically, maybe a few too many flavors.
Original notes: “Tastes like those snickers ice cream bars in cake form. Good, but a lot.”
19. Salted Caramel Cheesecake
I love salted caramel and expected to love this. Except that it seems to have a crust made of chocolate chip cookie dough. I like salted caramel and I like chocolate chip cookies, but together they’re a bit much.
Original notes: “Cookie on the bottom? A little dense/rich for me.”
18. Toasted Marshmallow S’Mores Galore
With a torched, melted marshmallow layer, this was the coolest-looking cheesecake by far. But again, too much chocolate. Which is a shame, because the graham/marshmallow/cheesecake combo was a winner.
Original notes: “Coolest looking by far. Dig the graham, but drowned out by chocolate.”
17. Mango Key Lime
A nice, simple-looking cheesecake, with a straightforward flavor in theory, but mango plus lime plus coconut shreds is maybe too many things.
Original notes: “Tastes like lemon meringue, but mango. A bit heavy on the mango, plus coconut shreds kind of stick in your teeth.”
16. Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Pineapple upside-down cake is one of my all-time favorite desserts. No frosting and fried in butter is probably the best thing you can do to a cake.
Original notes: “Good, maybe too much pineapple. I love pineapple upside-down cake, but mostly for the sugar/butter crust, where this is more about the pineapples.”
15. Coconut Cream Pie Cheesecake
Original notes: “Is there chocolate in this too? Fuck. Tastes like those coconut popsicles with a hint of mounds bar.”
14. Pumpkin Pecan
There was SO much going on in this one (a pecan pie layer inside a pumpkin cheesecake?!) that I really didn’t think I was going to like it — but I actually did.
Original notes: “This one looks… daunting. I didn’t think I was going to like it, but… I really do. It’s like pumpkin pie with better texture. Extremely rich.”
13. Lemoncello Torte
Original notes: “Like a lemon bar. Good cake.”
12. Lemon Raspberry Cream
Basically every cheesecake from here on down I wholeheartedly endorse. The filling in this one was delicious, but it had more of a cake crust where I would’ve preferred a crunchy, more graham-crackery one.
Original notes: “Spongey crust. Lemon cake crust? Tasty, if slightly fruity for me.”
11. The Original
Original notes: “Classic ass cheesecake. Not as light as some of them, but rich and good.”
10. Low-Licious Cheesecake With Fresh Strawberries
This was the low-carb option, which is sort of a weird ask in a cheesecake. But it was simple and light and good.
Original notes: “Nice and light, just what I want after 21 cheesecakes.”
Am I becoming a “pumpkin spice” guy? Probably not, but pumpkin and cheesecake was a much more successful combination than I’d imagined.
Original notes: “Very light and airy. Thank god. Pretty good actually.”
Original notes: “Looks exactly like the fake food from Hook. Like four birthday cakes at the same time. Tastes like good cake. Not a cake guy but this is solid.”
7. Ultimate Red Velvet
I like to bash red velvet as being mostly a name that’s fun to say and a food brand that seems to have an especially good publicist, but I couldn’t deny the tastiness here. I still think the cream cheese frosting does most of the heavy lifting on anything red velvet and the actual red velvet part is mostly replaceable, but I can’t deny the general quality.
Original notes: “Love that cream cheese frosting. V good.”
6. White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle
I don’t know that I would’ve ever ordered this one based on the name but it was good as hell.
Original notes: “V creamy, I like this one.”
5. Fresh Strawberry
Original notes: “Good old fashioned cheesecake. I like the simple ones. “
This one was so good that even tasting it well into the late twenties it was still hard not to go back for seconds.
Original notes: “Really good. I’m dying but that’s delicious.”
3. Key Lime
I don’t remember the last time I had a key lime pie, but based on how good this was, I’m going to order it next time I see it.
Original notes: “Cousin to the lemon meringue. Excellent.”
2. Lemon Meringue Cheesecake
I love lemon meringue pie. I love cheesecake. Lemon meringue cheesecake tastes just like lemon meringue pie in cheesecake form. I love lemon meringue cheesecake.
Original notes: “A+. Tastes like what it says.”
1. Dulce De Leche Caramel Cheesecake
Much like lemon meringue, this cheesecake tastes like what it is, and what it is happens to be a thing I love. I tasted this in the first round and ate three bites before I remembered I needed to pace myself.
Original notes: “Nice texture, caramel-y. Yum. Candied almonds… A++”
I made it. As far as I know, I still don’t have diabetes and haven’t suffered any debilitating health effects, though I did get pretty tired an hour or so after I ate all these cheesecakes. My wife also gave birth to a healthy boy four days after eating 19 cheesecakes. Neither of us have yet sworn off cheesecakes.