Two words for you today: cheesecake cannoli.
Do I have your attention? Because, yeah, that’s a thing – a glorious culinary mash-up, one that you can savor six days a week at a small, locally owned dessert haven in Modesto.
The Cheesecake Kitchen, tucked in the corner of a strip center on Coffee Road at Floyd Avenue, quietly has been feeding the addictions of cheesecake lovers for 32 years, kept all in the family for all this time.
And if you think cheesecake cannoli sounds good, be ready to be tempted by the other creamy confections that whisper from within their shiny glass display case.
“There are a lot of people out there who like my cheesecake who don’t really like cheesecake in general because ours is a little different,” said Justin Johnson, who owns the shop with his sister, Carlin Johnson.
Wait. What?! I know not of these people who don’t like cheesecake. In my house, cheesecake is genius – we all love it, even my picky-eater son, who accepts a slice of cake only to be polite and flat-out refuses pie. But he can be at the other end of the house and if I whisper “cheesecake” under my breath, he suddenly appears by my side with smoke at his heels and a fork in his hand.
Don’t like cheesecake? Fugetaboutit. Now let’s get back to that cannoli.
There’s no ricotta in this version, it’s all cheesecake – their regular batter combined with whipped cream. They pipe it into a pastry shell (from a company in New York), then dip each end in chocolate chips. The entirety is topped with powered sugar and, voilà, that marvelous mash-up is born.
So simple, but so yummy. The filling has that distinctive cheesecake deliciousness, but with a whipped creamy-smooth texture; it holds firm inside the shell, which is lightly crunchy and subtle in flavor.
Cannoli, $3 each, are among the specialty items at Cheesecake Kitchen. Also on the specialty list are cupcakes, brownies, wee tarts and frozen cheesecake on a stick.
Of course, there’s all variety of round cheesecakes, 5-inch, 7-inch or 10-inch. You can order a basic plain or opt for one with any number of toppings (fruit, fudge, caramel, etc.) or with a variety of flavors swirled in (fruits, favorite liqueurs ... ). There are “chocolate lover” options and specialties such as red velvet, peanut butter cup, Snickers and several more.
There’s also a cheesecake called the B-52 that came at the suggestion of a customer. It’s based on a drink packed with so many strong flavors – amaretto, Kahlua, Irish creme, chocolate – Johnson was dubious at first.
“(The customer) said ‘no, no, no, it’s good, I’ve tried it, trust me’,” he said, “so I made one and, wow, it was amazing.”
So what is it that sets his cheesecakes apart? “The secret, really, is flour,” he said.
While not unheard of, flour isn’t generally part of a traditional recipe, Johnson said. And they use even more flour than others which “gives it a little different texture.”
They also use a shortbread crust exclusively – nary a graham cracker crumb in sight. “I don’t think (graham cracker) goes well with a lot of cheesecake flavors. It seems to be overwhelming on a plain cheesecake, for instance,” he said. “I think the shortbread crust complements the cheesecake more.”
The Johnson siblings inherited the business from their mother who opened it in 1985 with their aunt, armed with a recipe from cousins in Michigan who had three successful cheesecake shops of their own.
That family forwarded recipe really must be something, given the shop’s longevity, but the base actually is pretty simple, Johnson said: cheese, milk, eggs sugar and flour “We don’t put a lot of other ingredients in there.”
New dining option: In case you missed it, The Bee’s Patty Guerra reported that Churchkey on 12th street in Modesto has opened, serving cocktails, craft beers and wine along with pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and salads. It’s operated by the same folks who run Commonwealth, a gastropub a block over on 11th Street.
Readers say: I got several suggestions on where to find good classic sandwiches (keep them coming), including one from a reader who promises the best Philly cheesesteak can be found at a Chevron station at the corner of Lander and Bradbury in Turlock. Let us know if you’ve tried it and agree.
Celebrate food: This weekend, May 20-21, brings one of the biggest – possibly yummiest – food festivals in the region, the Oakdale Chocolate Festival. Eat your way down Chocolate Avenue and enjoy other activities and entertainment from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Wood Park, Highways 120 and 108. Tickets are $5-$6; free ages 12 and under.
Next time: Middle Eastern magic.