The cheesy side of Rehoboth Beach
Most dare not speak its name. But for centuries, its siren song has lured the innocent into an unrelenting grip. It starts out socially – even recreationally. As it tightens its hold, you begin using in secret - late at night – while the rest of the world slumbers. The cravings rule your life. Some produce it at home, cutting the pushers out of the deal. But from that moment on, all hope is lost. What is this forbidden pleasure that lurks in the dark recesses of Rehoboth refrigerators?
Why, cheesecake, of course!
From her trim figure, you’d never know that Bonnie Cullen is a user. As local guitarist Paul Cullen’s wife, she spends a lot of time in restaurants. When she approached me about writing an exposé of the creamy confection, I asked (somewhat hopefully), “Will we have to try them all?” With a steely glint in her eye (and a fork in her purse), she replied, “Certainly.” And you wonder why I love writing this column.
We each poured a glass of Paul’s Sonata Rosso (to calm our nerves), and mapped out our strategies and guidelines. We printed them out, fortified ourselves with a bit more wine, and hit the road - leaving all our notes behind. It became a free-for-all. It was wonderful.
We started at 1776 Steakhouse. Their cheesecake brûlée arrived looking like the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey." The fiery recipe was spearheaded by original 1776 chef Phil Lambert, who encased the light and frothy filling in a crunchy shell. How did humans survive before brûlée torches?
The chocolate cheesecake at Henlopen City Oyster House is, in Bonnie’s words, “melt-in-your-mouth creamy.” Nage’s Bread Whisperer, Keith Irwin, dominates dessert with his red velvet cheesecake, while Joanna Crandall’s New York-style at Kindle is, “Just thick enough to get the perfect bite of crust and cake,” coos my intrepid researcher.
Victoria’s Restaurant at the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel sources from The Point Bakery and Coffee Shop where John DelVecchio and his crew whip up a light-as-air filling of mixed berries. It’s then crowned with chocolate ganache and fresh fruit. If you’re lucky, they might even have John’s fruit pie capped with a layer of cheesecake. Liz Kornheiser at Blue Moon deconstructs the conventional with her Cloud Cake surrounded by winter citrus, coconut and oat. Stingray stands alone with its signature avocado-laced filling. Former Stingray toque John Bimber declares, “I don’t eat cheesecake. I do eat that one.”
The Chocolate Festival Grand Prize for bakery went to Cake Bar’s triple chocolate contender. White chocolate ganache lovingly enrobes three (count ‘em, three!) chocolaty layers – white, milk and dark – resting contentedly on a crunchy cookie crust. The talented Bob Cirelli at Irish Eyes took home first and second prizes with his marble cheesecake and his peanut butter cheesecake: Peanut butter mousse slathered all over with … what else? More peanut butter.
Blue Coast chef Doug Ruley started with a box of Girl Scout Cookies and ended up with his Samoas Crunch Caramel Cheesecake. Northeast Seafood Kitchen’s Ron Burkle paid tribute to the Girl Scouts with his emerald green just-in-time-for-St. Paddy’s Day Thin Mint extravaganza.
Cheesecake has been evolving for 4,000 years; it was allegedly dreamt up by the ancient Greeks, who didn’t use Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese (apparently there was no Philadelphia back then). U.S. cheesecakeries embraced that creamy ingredient around 1928, but the Italians still prefer ricotta, while the Germans favor quark, similar to cottage cheese.
No matter how you slice it, cheesecake makes a great canvas upon which resourceful chefs can express their cheesy selves. And sweet tooths (or is that sweet teeth?) the world over are better for it.