"This place looks like Vegas!" exclaims my dining companion, as we struggle to open the Cheesecake Factory doors, which are easily twice our size.
She isn't too far off the mark. Designed to resemble a Tuscan villa -- from the oversized marble faÃ§ade pillars to the faux frescoed walls -- the palatial interior of the Cheesecake Factory is more reminiscent of, yes, the Venetian Hotel in Vegas than a pastoral country home in Italy. And just like in the Sin City, everything about the Cheesecake Factory's SouthSide Works location is excessive. But then what would you expect when patronizing a dining establishment named after an indulgent dessert?
The bakery spans the east half of the lobby; the display case, two cakes deep, boasts, enticingly, every dessert on the menu. If you're forgoing a sit-down visit, you can get your desserts to go here.
As we enter a vast foyer, the hostess quickly ushers us to a table. It's a Tuesday evening and the often-bustling restaurant is half-empty. Savvy diners take note: You can avoid a long wait time by visiting earlier in the week.
Picking up where the dÃ©cor left off, the menu reads more like a short paperback, and most entrees are abundantly larger than a healthy adult with a hearty appetite can consume in one sitting -- especially if that adult plans on enjoying dessert. Since my dinner companion and I are here to cater to our collective sweet tooths, we resist the urge to order from the vast and varied menu and split an appetizer, strategically whetting our appetites for our main purpose.
Following the well-established theme of overabundance, the dessert menu breeds nothing short of pure indecisive insanity. Those who claim there can never be too much of a good thing obviously haven't been to the Cheesecake Factory. There are 34 cheesecakes, eight non-cheesecake desserts (with come-hither names such as "Fabulous Chocolate Mousse Cake") and four ice-cream delights from which to choose. We decide to stick with the basics: cheesecake and more cheesecake. But even this decision begets more indecisiveness about which cheesecakes to pick.
After much deliberation, we decide upon our selections and our waiter grimaces. "Uh oh. Not a good sign," we say in unison. After grilling him about what he thinks we should order, he tells us that the "ladies" love the lighter cheesecakes. I smirk, knowing if we wanted light, we wouldn't be visiting a restaurant with the word "cheesecake" in its name. There's only one thing we are certain of: There will be no ordering of the "6 carb original cheesecake." We'll leave that cake to those still white-knuckling the Atkins bandwagon.
Finally we decide upon slices of Godiva chocolate cheesecake, dulce de leche cheesecake and Dutch-apple caramel cheesecake. He looks at us, doubtful that we have the gastrointestinal prowess to finish all three, but obligingly takes our order anyway. Soon, the trio of giant slabs of decadent goodness arrives, garnished with whipped cream -- because at this point, what's another few hundred calories and grams of fat? We dig in, and it's just as we expected, it's supreme decadence. In one moment all that matters to me is that these desserts are so good any other thoughts in my brain are replaced with dessert sensory overload.
While the cheesecakes never disappoint us, our appetites eventually do. The only complaint, if it can be called that, is that after only a few bites we both fall victim to sugar highs that nearly render us incapable of forming complete sentences, much less able to pick up our forks.
Amid our lingering dessert comas, we stumble out of the restaurant happy and content, our bellies full of cheesecake.