The Cheesecake Factory Menu, Reviewed
guest post by Sami Boghos
The Cheesecake Factory. Suburbia’s hallowed hall, the chain restaurant to end all chain restaurants, a monument to American excess. A favorite spot of Night Water’s 50th subscriber Sami Boghos, a fast food connoisseur and big fan of the factory.
A few months ago, my wife and I were visiting family out in Arizona, the “Grand Canyon state,” and one night we found ourselves in a Cheesecake Factory. It was massive—you couldn’t see from one end to the other, and when waiters brought food, they came head first (due to the curvature of the earth). The Cheesecake Factory has a surprisingly large number of vegan options for a restaurant named after dairy, but it didn’t take me nearly as long as everyone else to decide what to order.
As I sat there, twiddling my thumbs, a wicked thought struck me: what if I were to steal a menu from the Cheesecake Factory? Would our waitress notice one missing from our number? Would she trigger a secret alarm when we left the restaurant, springing their security team into action as I ran to the car screaming “every man for himself”? And what if, upon stowing the menu in my luggage and safely landing in New York, I passed that menu into Sami’s loving hands?
Imagine if he reviewed the menu for Night Water?
The Cheesecake Factory Menu: America’s Most Important Contribution to Western Canon
by Sami Boghos
I can close my eyes and imagine the scene. I walk out of my parents’ Honda Accord after making the 15 minute drive to Lenox Mall in Buckhead in Atlanta. Parking at that mall is always a nightmare, so we have a decent walk, but I can quickly see the ornate Cheesecake Factory logo on the limestone building that looks like it was airlifted in next to the modern glass mall building. We walk past the cheesecake counter to the host stand—don’t get it twisted, we’re not just there for the cheesecake.
The restaurant is not well lit, but not dark. The atmosphere is not casual, but not luxurious. The decor is not modern, but not contemporary. The French limestone floors and decorative columns transport you to Europe, the high ceilings and modern light fixtures to a Las Vegas hotel, but the wicker chairs bring you right back to suburban Atlanta. (See the 10 Best Cities to Retire in Georgia in 2022 if you’re looking to retire near this location.)
Now that you’re immersed in the atmosphere, let’s talk about the crown jewel of the Cheesecake Factory: the menu. After all, the Cheesecake Factory is the only restaurant with a higher rating on Goodreads (4.36 stars) than Yelp (2.5 stars).
At 21 pages, plus the SkinnyLicious® leaflet add-in, the menu has any dish that your stomach could desire, all made fresh and from scratch. “With more than 250 items on our menu, it may be hard to believe that we make things fresh and from scratch in each restaurant – but it’s true!” For comparison, Applebees, Chilli’s, and P.F. Chang’s all have 50-70 items, and Cheesecake Factory’s menu is roughly a third of the length of Macbeth.
Plot and Character Development: B+
The menu lives at the intersection between two stories: the tale of Oscar and Evelyn Overton’s dream of owning a successful family business, and the assorted adventures of chicken, beef, cheese, and various vegetables masquerading in a number of cultural cuisines. Points were deducted for the introduction of characters with no explanation (Sheila’s Chicken and Avocado Salad, Renee’s Special, Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta, and Linda’s Fudge Cake—who are Sheila, Renee, Evelyn, and Linda?).
The menu explicitly features 7 countries (Russia, Spain, Thailand, Korea, Greece, Jamaica, and Belgium) and 5 US States and Cities (Georgia, Texas, Santa Fe, Louisiana, and California) in dish names. Countless other cuisines are represented. There’s truly something for everyone. A group of 8 people could satisfy their cravings with Taquitos, Samosas, Pot Stickers, Eggrolls, Pizza, Orange Chicken, Fettuccine Alfredo, and Chicken & Biscuits on one table.
While the menu is extensive, organization is lacking. The menu is organized in 15 top-level sections, including Small Plates & Snacks, Appetizers, Glamburgers®, Specialties, Cheesecakes, and the SkinnyLicious® add-in. What’s the difference between “Small Plates & Snacks” and “Appetizers”? Can you really call it “Specialties” if it has 56 items? “Specialties” starts with some generic dishes and moves to sub-categories for Pasta, Fish & Seafood, Factory Combinations, and Steaks. Are those generic specialty items truly uncategorizable?
Menu Standouts (My Favorites)
Brown Bread: Technically not on the menu, but a Cheesecake Factory review can’t exist without mentioning their infamous bread.
Tex Mex Eggrolls: Who doesn’t love a fusion of two cuisines?
Chicken Parmesan “Pizza Style”: What does that even mean?
Chicken “Littles”: Oddly these are found in “Specialties”, and not “Small Plates & Snacks”.
Bang-Bang Chicken and Shrimp: A dish out of 250 worth getting on a regular basis.
Chocolate Caramelicious Cheesecake Made with Snickers®: You had me at “caramelicious”.
Suggestions for Improvement
I’d love to see an interactive Cheesecake Factory menu that matches free text input to the closest of the 250 menu items. This is the closest our society can get to the DALL·E image generator for food.
How did the menu get so extensive? According to founder David Marshall Overton:
"At first, we really just wanted a menu that lived around the cheesecakes…[A]fter a couple years, I was thinking that I didn't want this concept to run out, and I didn't want another restaurant to open down the block and take my business away. We just kept putting things on the menu, that people seemed to like. Finally, I thought, 'Well, there's nothing that America wants that we shouldn't be able to put on the menu.' So, we just kept at it.”
I appreciate Mr. Overton for his decision and the Cheesecake Factory staff for their dedication: starting food prep at 6 a.m. every day, training chefs for 3-4 weeks, and making dishes from scratch out of 700 fresh ingredients. My life has been forever altered by their work.
Sami, as your life was forever altered by the Cheesecake Factory, as were ours by reading your review of its menu. Thank you for your service and dedication to one of America’s great institutions.