For my birthday dinner two weeks ago, I went to the Cheesecake Factory in Albany, NY. If you’ve never been, or perhaps you don’t have one within driving distance because you live in a barren, foodless wasteland like me, TCF is a chain restaurant known for, you guessed it, cheesecake. If you know me well, then you’re probably asking why the heck I’d want to go there for dinner since I despise cheesecake. As a matter of fact, TCF has a huge, extensive menu that goes far beyond cheesecake (they have other desserts too!). In fact, it’s probably one of the largest, most comprehensive menus I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t matter what kind of meal you’re in the mood for because they’ve got every kind of food you can imagine from Italian to American, sandwiches to soup, pasta to pizza, meat to meatless. They’ve even got a full low-cal menu. The only problem is trying to make decision when you have so many choices. If you can get past that, then the worst part it behind you.
Disclaimer: sorry if the photos aren’t stellar. It’s quite dark in TCF.
For an appetizer, we selected the Sweet Corn Fritters and the Onion Rings. First off, I tried a fritter. I was unsure if I’d like it or not because I’m not crazy about corn. Well fry my fritters, I loved these! The batter was perfect: so light, airy, and crisp, studded with the perfect amount of fresh sweet corn. It’s a good thing the order was small because I could’ve easily inhaled a dozen of these golden beauties.
The Onion Rings did not disappoint either. I again found a delightfully light and crispy golden brown breading, gently seasoned so as not to take away from the sweet, tangy, juicy onion underneath. There was a nice onion-to-breading ratio, and none of that annoying pull-the-whole-onion-out-in-one-bite business. These rings were pretty much perfect, especially the breading. I’d order them again and again.
For my meal, I actually ordered another appetizer. Before you judge me, I must make a disclaimer that what I chose easily constitutes as a full meal, and it was my birthday, so I did what I wanted. Behold: The Fried Macaroni and Cheese aka one of the greatest foods in existence. I get these every time I go to TCK, no exceptions, because they’re that good. If I was ever on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate show, this is what I would talk about, honest to goodness.
I think my father described them best when he said, “It’s like having a really good mac & cheese but with 360 degrees of breadcrumb topping.” Okay, he didn’t say it quite so articulately, but that’s what he was getting at. You’ve got this super crunchy, beautifully browned breadcrumb shell, with just a kiss of seasonings, almost seeming to cradle and protect its mac & cheese filling like a treasure box would carry gold. Break your fork through its crisp surface, and the unbelievably creamy, gooey mac and cheese erupts out like lava. Each bite is pure heaven, the crazy crunchy breadcrumbs mingling with the luscious mac and cheese in delectable harmony. It’s sheer bliss, my friends.
Even if you took away the undeniable appeal of a deep-fried breadcrumb casing, the mac and cheese itself is quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. It’s super saucy and creamy, not dry and lacking like some macs are. It’s got the right amount of ooey-gooey cheesiness, so rich and flavorful. But then when you add the deep-fried factor, I just lose my marbles.
Oh, and I may have eaten all four by myself.
I’d like to add that TCF also earned some bonus points for serving complimentary bread and butter. I always think that’s a nice touch. Everyone else in my family seemed to enjoy their meals as well. I’m giving The Cheesecake Factory two thumbs-up. I know not everyone cares for chain restaurants, but as far as chains go, I think TCK has to be one of the best. All in all, it was a fantastic meal. I’ve yet to have a bad experience there.