No time of year makes me want to shirk all responsibilities and go on food explorations more than finals season. Something about the looming deadlines, required workload, and coming-to-an-end wistfulness about the final few weeks just makes me want to have nothing to do with any of it and focus on my career as a full-time foodie. Especially in this second semester, with weather ripe for walking and the summer air egging you on to get a pizza and a sweet treat. And when mother nature is nudging me so, how can I say no?
I have been especially obsessed with pizza lately. Well, more specifically I have been on a search for a great calzone which has been far harder than one might expect in NYC, but with this search proving trying, I often find myself resigning to a black hole of pizza exploration. I know I am both late to the game and insufferably typical with this obsession coming in during my third year of New York City residence, but there is a reason it is the signature food of the city, and wouldn’t it be worse in a way if one such as I didn’t go through a pizza phase while living in this city of Pizza?
This season of procrastination has also lead to a viewing of many videos and articles by Bon Appetite. Through this I saw a multitude of mentions from them of a famed pizza joint that was actually near me in the lower east side, Scarr’s Pizza. I recognized Scarr’s edifice from multiple passings by to the previously mentioned Erin McKenna’s, the fateful night of the Russ and Daughters incident, and strollings through the area after my visit to Ice & Vice. Rare is the occasion that a take-out joint of such fame is actually near me (with the exception of the secondary Joe’s Pizza location that was just opened on Fulton St. However, having had a slice from Joe’s flagship location and sampling a slice again during a recent cast party, I can confidently say: Joe’s ain’t much to get excited over) and so one beautiful Saturday I made an afternoon for myself and took a stroll for some pizza and a sweet treat before seeing my friends show.
But where was I to go for my dessert exploration of the day? After a consultation with my master list and google maps, I realized that it was finally time to hit Eileen’s Special Cheesecake. As mentioned in my review of Mah-Ze-Dahr, cheesecake is not a treat that I often find myself craving or making. Most instances of its consumption here in the city aside from that singular experience have been out of desperation for a cake-like substance from a local deli, and finding cheesecake to be the only available option. But I had heard much of Eileen’s Special Cheesecake, and often passed by it myself usually on a monthly post-cronut walk. But as cheesecake is such a specialty flavor for me, I always felt that I could not venture inside until the timing truly felt right. And something about that Saturday afternoon felt primed for some cheesecake to follow a good slice. So with my locations set, I ambled my way up the east side for some dairy-based goods.
While this is not an article about pizza, as it is not this blogs purpose nor my particular area of expertise, I must mention how truly great Scarr’s pizza was. Crust – crisp, flavorful, slightly scorched, chewy. Sauce – acidic, not too sweet, slightly herbal, and in perfect proportion with the cheese. This cheese stretched just enough for an iconic cheese-pull moment, but not so much that it made the experience messy. This was a prime piece of pizza in both flavor and texture, and I tend to agree with BA in their assessment of it as being up there in the rankings of NYC slices, though my exploration is still young.
With the slice finished off on my walk over to Eileen’s, it was time to start thinking about cheesecake. The key adjective I was looking for in this cake was light. I did not want my fork breaking on any chalky filling, but rather a fluffy, mouse-like interior that did not make me think at all about how I was basically eating a lump of graham encrusted cheese for dessert. And that was the other thing, I was looking for that compact graham cracker crust. As Eileen’s vibe seemed to scream “classic!” that’s exactly where my expectations were set. After a fulfilling slice of pizza, I wanted a slice of cheesecake made like the best version of that made by the hands of a loved one.
The inside of Eileen’s is tiny, and on that afternoon was packed to the door with people. This was not for lack of the employee’s efforts to keep the line moving, but the sheer amount of people looking for some cheesecake. All these people also had decisions to make, as Eileen’s offers rows and rows of different flavors ranging from classic, to strawberry-topped, salted caramel, and even red velvet. Unfortunately, they do not sell their cheesecake by the slice, but instead in individually sized tart form. In order to get a good idea of Eileen’s capabilities, I went with a classic cake, and a cookies and cream flavored one, a style of cheesecake that, while flavored, I feel is a classic in terms of cheesecake riffs. I was lucky enough to score the stool in front of the window so I could settle in peace to consume the cheesecake without fear of birds.
I began, of course, with the plain. While lifting it out of it’s pastry wrapper I felt it almost break apart in my hands as the graham cracker crust was so delicate and the cheese filling so gelatinous that it was not stable for transportation. This was a sign of promising things to come. My excitement mounted as my fork fell through effortlessly and showed me such beautiful white fluff my eyes had never seen. The flavor met all expectations set by it’s visual appeal, with a light touch of vanilla coming through the cheesy fluff. There was nothing heavy at all about this tart in texture or flavor, almost apt for a place in a dessert spread of a picnic. The crust was extremely moist and well-compact, though I could have done with some additional flavoring mixed in there, as there wasn’t enough graham there to make that flavor strong. It was but a light coating to give the filling some structure. A sprinkling of additional vanilla, or perhaps a baking spice or two mixed in would have put this cake over the top. Yet at the same time, I almost didn’t want that, as that would have been somehow untrue to what Eileen’s was about. I didn’t want some ultimate culmination of flavor, but a sweet homey cap to the day.
In the cookies and cream one however, I was looking for a more expertly executed flavor that gave me what was advertised. It was off to a good start with the chocolate graham crust and chocolate crumbles coating the top, all buttoned up with a whipped cream dollop and mini Oreo cookie. The texture was similarly buoyant and pleasant, and the base creamy flavor was great to go with the well-composed chocolate cookie crust. However, there were no chocolate cookie bits mixed into the filling, making the flavor predominantly cream and soft on the cookie. I would have preferred a little more crunch and chocolate to make this particular cheesecake complete. In future I would be interested to see how the execution favors with flavors that directly affected the filling such as the chocolate, or salted caramel cheesecakes. However, despite my wish for more, it was still perfectly appetizing.
While I have never been the biggest cheesecake fan, I would return the Eileen’s Special Cheesecake again. The little mousse-like tarts they offer provide a light yet completely flavorful dessert with a homemade feel that comforts the palate and the soul. It is imperfect and uncomplex, but brings a smile to the face, which is what sweet treats are all about. Even on a busy day where I could not get a stool, I would happily take a tart to go and eat it in the park across the street. It was the perfect cap to a day of trying to escape school and get a homey break.