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Warning from Cheesecake Factory ex-Virgin

Well, folks, I told you Atlanta is mediocre as a food town. Sure it's big, but it is dominated by average chain restaurants and expensive linked restaurants (meaning local chains of 5 or more restaurants). The best eating here is to be found at ethnic restaurants (thank goodness for them), some pleasant pub-style places or a couple of the remaining southern style eateries.

We've just had our worst meal since relocating to the big ATL. It occurred last night at "The Cheesecake Factory" in the heart of Buckhead. No, I did not choose it, I was dragged there by my sister, who drove in from Covington. Since she was intending to 'treat' -until she saw the outrageous check for 3- we accompanied her to a place we'd never been and didn't want to go. She assured us she'd been to this -yuk!- Cheesecake Factory before, and the food was 'very good'.

The food wasn't inedible but it offered a typical contemporary melange menu, similar to its decor. The faded decor was an affront to the eye, stuck in the early 90s, seeming the inspiration for Al Copeland 's grandiose pseudo-classy surroundings for plebes. The spiral bound multi-page menu wandered all over the place. Warning worse to come was that no prices were listed for cocktails or beers. The wine prices were ridiculous. We thought we were safe sticking to bottled Sam Adams lager. The seemingly medicated but attractive waitress informed us the taps for the *two* draught beers the bar offered had been broken for days. (Ding, ding, ding. Another warning) She returned with 2 light beers we didn't order, and sent back.

After perusing the copious menu choices (pseudo choices, I should say, since many dishes utilised the same ingredients in different groupings) we ordered. Sis had to have the freshly made guacomole, which was accompanied by chips, chopped tomatoes & cilantro, and a daub of sour cream, priced at over 8 bucks. DH ordered a plain salad. Sis just loves Chicken Piccata. Waitress asked her if she wanted capers with it. Of course she did, since she knew what goes into the light lemony sauce for picatta entrees. Little did she know that at Cheesecake Factory the Chicken Piccata comes with something like a lemon tinged Alfredo sauce. It also comes with plain angel hair pasta and NO sides whatsoever. If I recall the dish was about 15 bucks and my sis the big eater lost interest in her eagerly anticipated Cheesecake Factory dinner halfway through her entree.

My husband had the "'tonight's grilled salmon special" which was miso sauced (creamy ~LOL~ miso sauce, plain rice, no sides or edible garnish.) I didn't want to taste either of my dining companions' dishes. I'd ordered a salad, chossing one which I deemed simple enough to be safe. Greens, barbecue seasoned grilled chicken, avocado, black beans, 'grilled' fresh corn which tasted fresh from the can, all topped with a pile of 'thin-sliced' onion rings. I asked for the Barbecue Ranch dressing to be surved on the side. The salad was edible, ordinary, and large enough for two people as well as priced for two.

Sis had free glass of water with her entree, later a watery post-prandial cofee. Waitress asked if she wanted cream and sugar. She did. I don't guess they charged her extra for the luxury of lightening and sweetening the coffee. DH and I each had 2 small bottles of Sam Addams.

Sis is no cheapskate but when she saw the pretax, pretip total of 93 bucks she was relieved when we insisted paying for our share of the meal which was over 70 bucks. To top off the Cheesycake Factory dining experience, we contributed our share in cash. When the waitress quickly brought back Sis's credit card ticket to sign, she was charged 20 dollars over what the balance should've been. Usually no slouch when it comes to bucks, Sis politely informed waitress of the mistake. At first waitress checked the little stack of bills in her folder and said we must've handed her 10s instead of 20s until she counted a little deeper. "Oh, I'm sorry about that" she drawled as if her miscalculation wasn't a hopeful gamble that 2 beers each might make DH and me forgetful.

What I'd like to forget is The Cheesecake Factory. Never have diners paid so much (around $120 including tax and tip, no dessert for my cheesecake loving sister or us) to get so little dining pleasure.

Of course were it not for Sis being unable to admit that her older sis knows a lot more about dining out than she does, we'd never have patronised this horrid blight in the dining universe. I'd mentioned several places in the neighbourhood, but noooooo.

For your entertainment, you can peruse the numerous pages of a Cheescake Factory menu:


Usually when I walk into the door of a place which looks cheezy, or I look at a menu and see choices which don't appeal to me, I'll just leave it and go elsewhere. More people ought to do this, which is what my restaurateur grandma taught me to avoid bad dining experiences.

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  1. That's sad. For a chain I think CF is yummy. Love the peach bellini and bow tie pasta with roasted garlic. Godiva chocolate cheesecake? But of course. Jar of garlicky blue cheese dressing to go? A must.

    1. I agree with oh robin that is sad. I have been to Cheesecake Factory a few times and never had any complaints. The food has always been delicious and the cheesecake a great way to end off a meal.

      1. my husband & i go for lunch & split that barbecue chicken salad. It is actually quite good. Come on now - it is a chain - what did OP expect? And seriously, I don't think the prices are expensive and most entrees can be shared. We don't usually go for dinner, but for lunch it is fine.

        1. Never had a bad meal at our local CF and the service is always great. It's one of my favorite rendezvous for lunch. Never had dinner there but I'd go if the occasion came up.

          1. I too love CF. DH and I love the crispy spicy beef - yum! Yes, it's a chain and is over the top in decor. Yes there are some bad things on the menu - overall though, I love it. sucks about the lackluster servive....

            1. I agree with the love for CF. I live in Nashville, our CF is relatively young, and last year it ran the worst financial numbers and food costs of any CF, with the most customer complaints as well. The only reason I bring this up is that with all these downsides, it was still one of the better chain options in town, if only for those portions.

              1. yes - it's a chain. but it's pretty good for a chain. i've never had a bad meal there. it's not cheap (but not outrageous!) - and every serving serves 2 and always lasts for 2 meals for me. my favorite is the shepard's pie. i really love it here and it is always the same. if you're really picky and looking for a cheap meal, you should have just suggested a non-chain local diner to sis.

                1. I have to agree with OP. Of all the mid-range chains, I think Cheesecake Factory is by far the worst. It's overpriced, the service is awful and it's very difficult to find anything decent on the menu. I had a grilled cheese sandwich there that was bad and I thought that was pretty close to impossible to mess up.

                  1. OP is right. Vast quantities of indifferently-prepared, overly-ambitious food whose flavor worsens exponentially as it cools. Try their fish & chips, you'll see what I mean.

                    The only bright side is that they have full bars (well, the one at Fashion Island in Newport Beach does-- a bar with a great view), and they usually manage to not futz-up their salads. Otherwise, I give CF a pass whenever possible.

                    1. You will find the opinion on CF very binary, either you love it or hate it. Jfood in the latter bucket. It's the only cheesecake i have ever not finished.

                      What's interesting is their own advertisement on the website menu:

                      "The Cheesecake Factory strives to bring you the best possible food and service.
                      We are committed to quality, value and your complete satisfaction! We use
                      all-natural chicken, humanely raised without the use of antibiotics or unnecessary
                      chemicals, premium beef that is Certified Angus, U.S.D.A. Kobe or Choice, fresh fish
                      that is either Longline or Hook & Line caught whenever possible, cooking oils that
                      contain no trans fats, and much of our produce is sourced direct from premium growers"

                      "We use all-natural chicken, humanely raised without the use of antibiotics or unnecessary
                      chemicals" - So they can use necessary chemicals?
                      "premium beef that is Certified Angus, U.S.D.A. Kobe or Choice" - there is a huge difference between Kobe and Choice. In fact what is premium choice?
                      "fresh fish that is either Longline or Hook & Line caught whenever possible" - So when it's not possible they serve whatever they want to?
                      "much of our produce is sourced direct from premium growers" - Much? The rest is from junko farms?

                      I can't make this stuff up, it's straight from the first page of their website.

                      1. I agree with "dtud". There are a few of the "stores" open here in Colorado and I have to say, you get what you get. Its a chain sure, a large food chain with large portions a large CEO and a large menu. That is part of the schtick.

                        The prices have never seemed as high as Morticia experienced in Atlanta. I don't think even with a cocktail for four people we have paid over $25.00 a person. This isn't fine five star dining...what did Morticia expect?

                        Like any menu there are winners and losers. You just have to be discriminate. We love their Chinese Chicken Salad, their skirt steak is terrific with two WONDERFUL sides (mashed potatos and a corn relish) for under $20.00 and even the grilled cheese on challah is delishous and less than $10.00 with corn and a starch if you want.

                        I haven't ever been and not had at least two sides unless it was a salad or pasta.

                        And to address Morticia's disgust at being asked if she wanted the capers on her picatta... I believe in that big a place with that wide an audience (no pun intended on weight) most people don't like the taste of capers and the waitstaff have found it easier to ask if their customers want them versus having to eat the cost of the returned and refired food.

                        1. Funny, the only dish I order from CF is the Chicken piccata. I have never been asked if I wanted capers, they were always in my dish. I find the lemon sauce creamy, yet light and I always ask for a side of extra to put over the linguini. I don't feel I need any other side. Here in Az, if you go before 5:00pm you can get a smaller portion for about $5.00 less. Never had a problem with service.

                          Is there any chain place that doesn't get some kind of bad review?

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Kari

                            I agree that, on this board, no matter how good a chain resto is, it wouldn't get a good review because it's a chain. I agree that seeking out the gems is what hounding is about, but I don't think a good hound rules out a chain on that basis alone. IMO, OP didn't want to like CF so therefore it was a doomed meal.

                            1. re: amyvc

                              Maybe, but too many people have had negative experiences with this chain to just put it down to chain bashing. I went only once and didn't like it at all for many of the reasons mentioned time and again, but one small detail sticks in my mind. It was a big hassle to find something appropriate for my then 3-year-old but we finally settled on pasta with pesto. Said child was hugely upset at being served a large plate of something entirely unrecognizable to her - pasta in a flecked green cream sauce. To the vast majority of people pesto is *not* a cream sauce and the menu did not describe it as such. The kitchen wasn't willing to do anything about it and at CF's prices we weren't about to order another over-sized order of bad food that wouldn't get eaten.

                              It was a roundly dissatisfying experience, although even without the teed-off toddler I can honestly say I'd choose McDonald's any day over CF - and I abhor McDonald's.

                              1. re: amyvc

                                I disagree strongly. I think most Hounds are very honest about their likes and dislikes. It just so happens that many people don't like chain restaurants because they feel that chain restaurants serve mediocre-to-bad food. There are a myriad reasons why corporate control of food preparation tends to yield bad results, but that is another discussion.

                                As for me, I've eaten fairly good food in a couple of chain restaurants, Outback for instance, but even then it wasn't an experience that I care to repeat any time soon, as I can much more easily and cheaply cook better food myself at home without all the tacky decorations and silly faux-Aussie schtick. Or I could go to one of my favorite restaurants where I really enjoy the food, where the folks in the kitchen are passionate cooks preparing really fresh ingredients in a restaurant that relaxes me instead of jangling my nerves like most chain restaurants tend to do.

                            2. I like the food at the one in my area, however the wait to get a table is always astoundingly long (on the order of 2-3 hours on a weekend). I always lobby VERY strongly against ever going there except at odd times (10PM on a weeknight, for instance) because of this.

                              1. I don't mind eating at chain restaurants at all and actually really like a few, but CF is not one of them. I've been there a number of times for dinners with friends and have never had what I consider to be a good meal.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mollyomormon

                                  I really think that the key to the success of Cheesecake Factory is their emphasis on QUANTITY, and that emphasis certainly makes quality take a back seat. With the size of the servings in that establishment, is it any wonder that Americans get more obese by the year?

                                  And, even more astonishing to me is the possibility of someone wanting to eat cheesecake (certainly a very high caloric dessert) after finishing off an immense entree. I am astounded (and somewhat sickened) by the amount of food that some people think is necessary at one meal--and mediocre food at that.