Outdoor dining opportunities are rare in Upper Moreland, so with the sun setting on one of the last days of summer, my family and I had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory at the Willow Grove Mall.
We went early in the evening to avoid the nearly constant crowds, and had the pleasant oasis of their outdoor seating area mostly to ourselves.
As the days get cooler, the inside space, with its amazingly high ceilings, bustling atmosphere, and bright scrolling abstract décor, remains a great place to bring kids, unwind from a long day of shopping, and end a meal by indulging in a little slice of—what else?—cheesecake.
But long before dessert, there are many choices to consider and decisions to be made. The Cheesecake Factory menu is huge, book-like with spiral binding and actual page numbers. Food genres herald from all over the world: American burgers, Thai noodles, Italian sandwiches, French salads.
There are at least one hundred choices on the menu, and the server adds to the difficulty choosing by listing the daily soup and fresh fish specials.
Luckily, there was delicious soft warm brown bread with oatmeal (and sourdough, if you prefer) to munch while deciding.
We started our meal with Charred Shishito Peppers ($5.95). Though not blackened, the snap of the blistered skin hid a roulette of heat beneath—some were mild, while others were quite piquant. The Asian inspired soy and vinegar dipping sauce subtly complimented the peppers, and if you are willing to take the risk of getting one of the hot ones while casually enjoying the mild peppers, this is a unique and tasty appetizer.
Our Tex Mex Eggrolls ($9.95) pooled corn, beans, chicken, cilantro and oozing cheese inside a crunchy conical casing. The kick delivered by this East-meets-Southwest appetizer was somewhat cooled by a dip in the accompanying creamy avocado sauce.
With the same south of the border ingredients reconfigured, the Mexican Tortilla Salad ($13.50) piled shredded lettuce, tomatoes, chicken, corn, black beans, scallions and tortilla strips into a tall green mountain. Ordered off the new “SkinnyLiscious” menu, which claims to have fewer calories than items on the regular menu, this salad was nearly identical to the original Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad, but tossed in a different dressing.
The “SkinnyLiscious” salad was about half the size of the Tostada Salad, at the same price. If you have the willpower, it is more economical to order the original Tostada salad, and save the calories by taking half home.
Tender pepper strips, onions, shrimp and chicken in a fiery tomato sauce rested on a soft nest of linguini in the Cajun Jambalaya Pasta ($16.95). Paprika and cayenne flavors dominated the dish—even the plate was decorated with a dusting of paprika.
In contrast to the other highly artistically plated arrivals, the Bang Bang Chicken and Shrimp ($17.95) came out looking like a crusty globbed mess, despite the perfectly molded rice mound. Coconut shavings topped chicken chunks and shrimp swimming in creamy curry sauce, which was delicious, mild, fragrant and ample enough to soak the rice. Hidden in the mire were peas, carrots and zucchini strips, adding color and texture, along with the tiny crunch from the coconut shreds.
Obscenely full from the huge portions, but unwilling to forgo the namesake dessert, we were presented with another long menu listing our cheesecake choices.
The first piece we tried was Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple Cheesecake ($6.95). Dense cheesecake on a chocolate crumb crust was layered with caramel, chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Butterfinger candies, and topped with peanut butter cream. It was rich and intense, the essence of indulgence.
I usually order a gussied-up version of cheesecake, like the Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup, because I can’t resist the allure of added candy, chocolate, or peanut butter. But we also ordered a slice of the Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake, which, in contrast, was the essence of simplicity ($7.50). Topped only with two whole glazed strawberries and whipped cream, the cheesecake was airy, light and luscious, disappearing on my tongue like a whisper. This slice stood for itself, and it was easy to see why it was a best seller.
It is also easy to see why the Cheesecake Factory itself is so popular.
Though the restaurant is large, there is frequently a long wait for a table. Patient customers sit at the bar or on the benches provided inside the foyer, hoping their little box will be the next to flash its red lights, making it their turn to sit and decide.
Will it be Asian food tonight? Or maybe Mexcian? Italian? American? Whatever you choose, save room for the cheesecake.
The Cheesecake Factory earns 3 1/2 out of 5 Whisks for variety and ethereal cheesecake.
Second Helping of Information
Location – 2500 W. Moreland Road, Willow Grove
Hours – Monday through Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Sunday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Phone – 215-659-0270
Website – www.thecheesecakefactory.com
Reservations – Not available
On the Kids Menu – Kids menu with the standards including a drink in a kid cup, friendly servers will usually bring a complimentary "baby plate" with small pieces of bread and banana slices, highchairs and booster seats available, changing table in the ladies room.