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  • 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.