The arrival of The Cheesecake Factory in Utah has been surrounded by such a whirl of excitement and hype that it's hard to wade through it.
Almost as hard, in fact, as wading through the teeming crowds that usually pack this eatery's lobby, waiting sometimes for hours for a table.
I finally ate at the Fashion Place Cheesecake Factory on my fourth try. The first two times, we were with our kids. One of those times, the wait was three hours. The next time, the wait was 45 minutes just to find out the wait for a table. The third time, my husband and I cruised by, took one look at the mass of people jammed inside, spilling out the front doors, and drove off to eat elsewhere.
Let's get some perspective here, folks. For any food, any at all, to be worth a three-hours-plus wait, it would have to be 1) liberally sprinkled with golden nuggets and served on $100 bills; 2) the last food in a 1,000-mile radius; and/or 3) dispensed from the hand of God Himself.
Having said that, once we were finally in The Cheesecake Factory, the food wasn't bad at all. This time, arriving about 12:45 p.m. on a Saturday for lunch, we waited "only" about 40 minutes for a table.
It's a good thing we nabbed a menu to look over while we waited; it takes some time to get through this 20-page beast, accented with ads every other page. Think of a food anything you've had at a decent national chain restaurant in your entire life and I can almost guarantee you that some version of it is on the menu at The Cheesecake Factory.
To be honest, the place reminded me a little of Disneyland, with all the good and bad that implies. The lines are long. Everything is overscale, fakey, vaguely ethnic but with safe, happy colors and themes. The dining space is attractive and comfortable, though crowded. The service is attentive, the staff well-trained. The food isn't exactly distinctive, but it's of good quality and tastes just fine.
We started with the roadside sliders and the lettuce wraps, two of the 26 appetizers on the menu. The sliders were thin, fresh-grilled burgers made with onions, on soft, round little buns. The lettuce wraps were very good, with butter lettuce leaves, grilled satay chicken and lots of toppings displayed in red cabbage leaves: bean sprouts, shredded carrots, delicate noodles and vinegar-marinated sliced cucumbers and red onions. There were three sauces: aromatic tamarind-cashew, Thai peanut and kicky sweet red chili.
For lunch, my husband had three thick slices of moist, firm meatloaf served with chunky mashed potatoes and a succotash-like melange of vegetables. He practically always finishes his meal, but he took home half of this particular lunch portion sizes are enormous.
I had the "Factory combination" of steak Diane, juicy medallions of medium-rare beef doused in a rich mushroom wine sauce, and herb-crusted salmon, a tender pink fillet with asparagus and a light, creamy lemon sauce.
For dessert, I had a dilemma: I don't much care for cheesecake. So, my husband and I ordered different desserts for ourselves and took a slice of white chocolate caramel macadamia nut cheesecake (31 types are listed on the menu, plus 14 other desserts) home to our cheesecake-loving daughter.
It was very good cheesecake: creamy, firm and not oversweetened, the fillings a nice balance of sweet and nutty flavors. My husband's dessert, the black-out cake, was super-dark and decadent-looking, but tasted surprisingly mellow.
My dessert, the lemoncello cream torte, was an upscale strawberry shortcake (that's on the menu, too) with its layers of spongy cake, lemon mascarpone and streusel, served with strawberries and clouds of whipped cream.
Appetizers $4.50-$28.95, salads $6.95-$15.95, lunch specials (served until 5 p.m.) $8.95-$12.95, entrees $6.95-$31.95, Sunday brunch $5.95-$15.95, desserts $6.50-$7.95.
How long would you wait for a table at The Cheesecake Factory? For that matter, how long would you wait at any restaurant? We want your input for an upcoming story on restaurant wait times. How do you feel about the standard 20- to 40-minute wait at many restaurants? Which restaurants manage wait time better than others? What are your "horror" stories of long wait times, and what do you do to manage this problem? Send your input to email@example.com, making sure to include your name, hometown and contact information.
Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org