The Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore’s Inner Harbour

This review was published in the 18 November 2002 issue of the JHU Newsletter.

The Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore is conveniently located at the heart of the Inner Harbour. It is in the Pratt Street Pavilion, which contains many stores as well as other restaurants and is connected, via a pedestrian bridge, to the multi-level mall known as the Gallery. It is within quick walking distance to Barnes and Noble, the Aquarium, the Maryland Science Centre and the water taxi.

For those, less familiar with the Cheesecake Factory, it is a chain restaurant with 57 locations nationwide. It is one of the many new corporation restaurants that have been gaining popularity in the US for the past decade. Like many new buildings that house places such as Starbucks coffee shops and the new Loews theatres, the interior decoration of the Cheesecake Factory is designed to be chic, modern and freshly artistic. Unfortunately, the design has become quite cliché and will no doubt become an identifying characteristic of this decade. Of course, the upside to all of this is that you really cannot go wrong with the food. While it is certainly not original, you’re bound to find something that you like. There is something for everyone.

The Cheesecake Factory menu is a spiral bound volume that boasts over 200 items. Page numbers facilitate pointing out various choices with your dining mates. Unfortunately, flipping through the menu will continually remind you of how commercialised an establishment it is, as every other page contains advertisements. It’s a very good marketing strategy for the advertisers since the restaurant is always located near a shopping centre. In fact, when I went there, one of the apartment complexes that I could see across the harbour was advertising vacancies through the menu. Unfortunately, the menu is so large that deciding what to order will take more time and much page flipping as you browse through the plethora of choices. I suppose this is the upside to the advertisements in that they provide a pleasant diversion from the otherwise mundane task of perusing appetizers, entrées and the like.

The menu itself contains a wide variety of cuisines from Asian, to Italian to Mexican. Naturally, none of it is authentic, but the cooks certainly deserve an honourable mention for creating appetizing American adaptations and variations on the themes. The food is moderately to highly priced – as one would expect from such an establishment. There are two pages of appetisers, which include appetiser salads and mini pizzas. These range from six to ten dollars. Pasta dishes range from 11 to 16 dollars and come in lunch and dinner portions. Seafood plates range from 14 to 19 dollars. Sandwiches and hamburgers range from seven to 11 dollars and are often available in combinations. Steak and Chop plates range from 16 to 25 dollars. Large dinner salads average 12 dollars. There is also a selection of side dishes that are each under five dollars. In addition, there is a series of brunch meals, including a children’s brunch, that range from six to 12 dollars.

Finally, the menu contains an extensive dessert section. This includes a list of espresso drinks and chilled coffee drinks as well as several coffees and teas. Naturally, the Cheesecake Factory is most renowned for their cheesecakes, of which they offer 36 varieties. They are all very good and you really cannot go wrong with any choice that you make. The cheesecake is about seven dollars and I would highly recommend taking a slice home for you or a friend.

The food is what one would expect from an established chain. It is not particularly unique or original and it does not offer sophisticated or subtle tastes. However, it is not bad at all. You will not be disappointed. In addition, the food comes in very large portions. Plan to take a lot of food home. Fortunately, the food reheats well so that a leftover pasta dish from lunch will make a good snack for a late night study session.

The biggest downfall to the Cheesecake Factory, unfortunately, is the wait. They do not accept reservations and so you can expect to wait on average an hour and a half during peak times. Furthermore, the bar and the waiting area are not sufficient to accommodate the number of people who inevitably end up waiting to be seated. It is nice that the restaurant is located so close to a shopping centre, however, one person in your party will still have to wait in the restaurant for the beeper that they give you to go off. Generally, the service is prompt, however, this varies depending on how busy they are. Also, for large groups, the kitchen often is not able to prepare all of the food in a timely fashion, so some people’s orders might not be hot when they receive it.

The Cheesecake Factory is an ideal choice when you are with a group of friends or with your family. Everyone will certainly eat well. Just be prepared to wait. Do not go there if you are on a tight schedule. If you do not like to wait, try going during non-peak hours. I went there at noon on Sunday and waited for 20 to 30 minutes. It is definitely not an ideal venue for a quiet dinner. When you order your appetizers, keep in mind how large the entrées will be. As you enjoy your main dish, do not forget to leave room for dessert. If you plan to do some shopping while you’re at the Inner Harbour, note that you will probably be carrying an extra bag with unfinished food from the Cheesecake Factory.

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