Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Erin Kommor: Creamy, rich New York-style cheesecake is one of the city's most iconic desserts. Herrine Ro: We visited three famous spots: Veniero's, Eileen's Special Cheesecake, and Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery. Erin: This is "Best in Town." We are on the journey today to find the best cheesecake in New York City. Herrine: Erin, do we like cheesecake? Erin: I don't like anything that's white and creamy, and especially thick and white and creamy, like... [tinnitus ringing] Herrine: Anyway, a simple cheesecake recipe calls for cream cheese, sugar, and eggs. At each spot, we'll be judging based off of three qualities. One, the filling. It should be smooth, creamy, and light. Two, the topping. It should add a refreshing brightness to a rich cheesecake. And three, the crust. If there is a crust, it should add texture and flavor to the overall cheesecake. Erin: OK, so we are going to Veniero's. It is an icon in the city. It's been around for over 125 years. Herrine: So, this place is supposed to have such a thick, creamy cheesecake, it doesn't even need a crust? Erin: Well, we'll see about that. Herrine: I'm very intrigued. Let's go. Erin: Let's do it. Robert Zerilli: People say Veniero's is an iconic place. Having a 125-year-old history doesn't hurt. Customer: This is what Italian life in New York was. It's the essence of an Italian family. Robert: My definition of New York-style cream-cheese cake, it's gotta have the Philadelphia cream cheese. So, what makes our New York-style cheesecake different than our competitors' is that we use the freshest cream cheese and sour cream. Herrine: Sour cream provides an even richer texture and subtle tang. Robert: Another big factor is that we don't use graham cracker. We've never used graham-cracker crust. I mean, it just, to us, detracts from the flavor of the New York cheesecake. Herrine: Homemade apricot glaze is painted on top of the fresh strawberries. How are we feeling? [nervous humming] See, when I think of New York-style cheesecake, I think of this one. Erin: Yeah, I'm, like, having, like, shallow breathing. Herrine: I hope you don't hate it. Erin: I...won't. [Herrine laughs] [Erin laughs nervously] I think it just needs, for me, like, the strawberries on top, and the apricot glaze, like, helps balancing. I love sweet, sweet, sweet things. Herrine: Very simple, very classic, kind of understated but still, like, can speak for itself. A crust will detract from the overall essence of the cheesecake, and for that reason I like that there is no crust. I feel like for a local or a tourist, they would taste this cheesecake and be like, "Oh, that's a great New York-style cheesecake." Erin: Yeah, and that's what it's supposed to be. If Eileen's - it's supposed to be lighter, correct? Then that may win in my book. I'm not sure. Herrine: Ohh. Erin: I don't know! I don't know. The lighter, the better? Who knows? Herrine: No, I don't. So, our second stop is Eileen's Special Cheesecake, and it is this unassuming cute little shop in SoHo. Erin: I've heard of it. It's always super packed. Herrine: Have you been there before? Erin: I have not been there yet. Herrine: OK, you're in for a treat, because this place has been nominated the best cheesecake and has been on so many different tour guides, so I hope you like it. Erin: Well, let's go, girl! Holly Maloney: You know, this really is a family business. Everyone asks, "What sets you apart?" "Why do you think your cheesecake is so special?" And it really is just the high-quality standards that we put into it. Our parents, you know, instilled in us, and it's just who we are and what this cake means to us. Some traditional New York cheesecakes are very heavy and dense, but what makes our cheesecake a little bit different is its light creaminess. You can just keep eating it and eating it! Herrine: But can you just tell us how you make a cheesecake, step by step? [thudding heartbeat] Bonnie Ponte: Um... Holly: There are certain... Bonnie: Yeah, there are certain things we can't... we don't say. Customer: They have so many flavors here, so I can't really have a favorite, but I gotta admit, classic is No. 1. Bonnie: We have 45 delicious flavors, and we add a flavor of the year every year, the plain and the strawberry being our most popular sellers. Both: Three, two, one! Erin: OK, that I can get so down with. I really like that one! [Herrine laughing] No, I'm serious, I really like that! It's sweet and tart, and I think I just prefer more of, like, a fruit on my cheesecake. Like, the plain is good, but this is, like, next level. Herrine: For someone who doesn't like cheesecake - Erin: They should eat this. Herrine: Yeah. I like, also, how it takes almost like a meringue, because they whip their egg whites a lot, so it's fluffier and not so dense. Erin: No, you're right, you're right! It's very, very, very, very, very, very good. Herrine: And I think you get the best of both worlds. You get a lighter cream cheese that doesn't sit in you. Erin: Yeah. Herrine: And it's still a delicious cheesecake. I mean, I can see why this place is nominated as the best cheesecake in America. Erin: It's been packed all day. Herrine: How's the sauce? Erin: The sauce is good. It's, like, not too sweet or syrupy. It's, like... Herrine: It doesn't taste, like, artificial. Erin: No, not all, it's real strawberries. Herrine: Do you wanna split this strawberry with me? Erin: Yeah! I love that. All right, Eileen. You changed my mind. Herrine: You like cheesecake now? Erin: I don't know, maybe! Stop! I would definitely try more. Herrine: We'll see you at the next stop! Erin: Whoo, cheesecake! Herrine: So, Erin, this is our third and final stop. Erin: It is. Herrine: Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, and this place won the best cheesecake in New York, so I hope that you will like it. Erin: We'll see! Herrine: It includes some ingredients you wouldn't typically find in a New York-style cheesecake, so hopefully that pays off. Erin: I'm excited! Is this it right here? Herrine: It's here! There are so many things to eat. Umber Ahmad: Mazedar is a word in the Urdu language, which is a language that we speak in Pakistan. And it's a word that we use to describe the magic or the essence that makes something special. When I started creating a menu of pastry, one of the things I often challenged myself to do was to make things that I didn't particularly enjoy eating myself. And cheesecake was one of those things. And being in New York, it was almost a requisite. I had to have a cheesecake on a New York bakery menu. And so I started to work with one. I started to wanna make one that was a little bit lighter, had more personality to it. Customer: The cheesecake at Mah-Ze-Dahr is definitely the best cheesecake in the city. It's light and fluffy and lemony. I've tried so many, and I can't find anyone better than here. Dan Keehner: I always like to say that things can only take what they can take at a certain point. So, in adding things slowly, it builds an emulsion, it builds a smooth batter and doesn't create lumps. Umber: What we love about lemon is that it's sort of this flavor that brightens so many different types of food, and what's nice about it is it has the ability to lift and brighten particularly fat, and because there's such a high fat content in cheesecake because of the sour cream and the cream cheese, the lemon sort of has the ability to kind of brighten and break that up quite a bit. Most New York-style cheesecakes have a graham-cracker crust, so we broke away from that tradition a little bit and had a chocolate crust built into it. We love the dark chocolate because it's a nice contrast to the vanilla and the lemon. It gives it sort of a really lovely balance. Erin: I've been through a journey on the cheesecake train, and this one is looking like my stop. Like, the thickness of the crust and the fact that it's chocolate, you know I love chocolate. ♪ We're just crust girls in a crust world ♪ Cheers. [laughs] ♪ It's your sweet love ♪ ♪ And I'm slowly fallin' ♪ Oh, my God. That's it. Herrine: That's the one. Erin: I'd die for this. I would eat this again. The lightness and the lemon really, really transforms it for me. I think it takes, the lemon and the vanilla take it away in my mind from being this, like, thick, heavy cream cheese, and it makes it more like a mousse, or like a fluffy... Herrine: Custard? Erin: Yeah. Herrine: But this is more dense than Eileen's. Erin: Than Eileen's, yes, but the lemon makes it better. Herrine: This crust is great. The batter with the lemon and the vanilla bean make it a lot more palatable for people who don't like such a thick, dense cream-cheesy taste. Erin: Yeah. Herrine: Well, I'm happy! So, I think we have a clear winner in your mind. Erin: Shh, I don't know. Herrine: I'm not so set. Erin: I'm set. Herrine: So, this story ends with a happy ending! Erin: I like cheesecake now! I never thought I was gonna say that. Like, huh? [Herrine laughs] Who is she? Herrine: Who is she? Are you ready? Erin: Are you? OK. I actually don't know who you're gonna pick. Herrine: [laughing] I think I know who she's gonna pick. Erin: Oh, imagine that! Both: Three, two, one. Herrine: I'm not surprised. Erin: I'm not surprised either. That was my second. 'Cause this one's my first. Herrine: So, why did you pick Mah-Ze-Dahr? Erin: I picked Mah-Ze-Dahr because, you know I didn't like cheesecake, and they did something new for me. They did vanilla, lemon zest, chocolate crust. It really, like, it changed my mind. It disguised it and made it, like, fun and new.