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New York City’s Best Cheesecake recipe

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Denver with Pete’s neighborhood Greek corner grocery store at Holly and Cedar Avenue.

Maybe it’s because at one point of my NYC living, my apartment was around the corner from this little market, and I got in the habit of popping in at all hours of the day for emergency midnight ice cream cravings and such.

Ya gotta love that West Side Market (WSM) is open 24 hours a day.

One freezing winter night, January First to be exact — it was New Year’s actually and a friend and I had gone out to Central Park to cheer the famous midnight marathon runners and bear witness to the magical midnight fireworks that sparkle over Central Park on the Upper West Side, when we popped into WSM only to arrive at the exact time all the employees working the night shift were popping champagne and toasting the new year. We joined in on the Cheers!

Like Pete’s, West Side Market’s owners are Greek.

Like Pete’s, in WSM, one can find practically anything under the sun that might enhance cooking a good meal. In addition to produce and other essential groceries, there are chocolates, home baked goods, take-out food, candies and flowers and other endless little surprise obscure treats or gourmet goodies.

This is NYC, after all. So the aisle leading to the cashiers doubles as the checkout line. Just beyond it, before the cashiers on your far right, are wooden shelves holding color coordinated bottles of Dr Bonner soap. To your immediate right is a tower of the more upscale Tonnini Tuna jars, displaying the upright vertical fillets fanned out elegantly, as can be seen through the glass. And on your front left is a gorgeous jewel-toned stack of Bonne Mamman jam.

Only after years of picking up groceries did I learn that apparently now and then there has been a celebrity sighting at West Side Market.

But as one day I was looking through the straw wicker woven bread baskets for the right loaf, I heard a fellow grocery shopper singing audibly along with the radio. It prompted me to turn around and he just shrugged and ever so casually said to me with a huge grin: “I come here for the music, did you ever notice, WSM has the best music?” as he strode past me with his chosen groceries in hand.

So maybe it’s not just the array of groceries, flowers, foods and other dry goods, or even celebrities, that keeps everyone going to West Side Market. How can I forget? The service! Homer the manager — and the entire team, they are just unbeatable. Thatwhere West Side Market maintains that old fashioned touch of your neighborhood grocery, just like Pete’s.

They are helpful there in a way that far exceeds their job. Everyone is hardworking, calm and goes the extra mile for you.

All this is to say that one day I noticed the true reason why everyone keeps coming to West Side Market. As I waited in line I began noticing that more often than not, the customer both ahead of me and behind me were holding a clear, portion-size plastic container holding just one slice of cheesecake.

At first I didn’t give it much thought. As the kosher observant eater that I am I don’t give much thought to non-kosher items that are beyond my ability to eat.

But man, that cheesecake. It just wasn’t going away. Day after day, morning noon or night, I saw customer after customer not leaving the store without the cheesecake slice in tow.

My desire to know more about that cheesecake grew day by day!

It’s NYC were talking about, there’s no stocking up. Space is limited, so you just pop into the market on a daily basis and get your yogurt or what have you; at least I did during my tenure of living around the corner from WSM.

And this was pre-Covid, mind you, before all the stock-up hoarding food craze began.

Well, there’s a first time for everything. So one day, with great trepidation, I finally mustered the courage to approach Homer, whom I knew by then. I said, “You know, since I eat kosher and can’t purchase that cheesecake I see everyone buying, would he be so kind as to share the recipe with me?”

“Maria’s Famous Cheesecake?” came his quick reply, as he walked me to the front of the store where he pointed to a framed recipe from the New York Post. There before my eyes was “New York City’s Best Cheesecake” recipe, by West Side Market’s Maria Zoita.

Not only did I google it and bake this incredible and famous cake, but it wasn’t anti-climactic and didn’t disappoint. We’re talking about a unique crustless cheesecake that includes cream cheese, heavy cream, sour cream, honey and lemon zest.

So as you prepare for Shavuot, I wanted to share this cheesecake recipe with you, dear readers.

As for West Side Market and why people shop there, one evening a few years ago Mariah Carey’s car broke down in the rain on Broadway Street, and she took refuge in West Side Market.

Somehow I think it’s still this cheesecake everyone shops there for, more than the possibility of a celebrity sighting, or the music.

Now I just need to pass this recipe along to Pete’s in Denver.

Google “Maria Zoita’s Cheesecake” to find the recipe.

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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