"The Eli's Cheesecake Cookbook"

“The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook- Remarkable Recipes from a Chicago Legend”

Maureen Schulman, Elana Schulman, Tara Lane, Diana Moles, Jolene Worthington

Agate Publishing $30

“You have to have a great dessert,” Eli Schulman, owner of the legendary Eli’s, The Place for Steak, replied when I asked him about his restaurant’s smash hit cheesecake. It was the mid-80s. I was writing a weekly restaurant column for the “Sun-Times,” and Eli’s cheesecake, a superstar from the beginning, was the perfect subject for a column. 

“Dessert’s the grand finale,” Eli continued, “the last thing people eat, and the first thing they remember.”

Schulman spent a year tasting one recipe after another. In the end, he settled on four recipes: original plain, chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, and Hawaiian. 

Variations aside, an Eli’s cheesecake is richer and creamier than a typical New York-style cheesecake. It also has a unique crust made with all-butter- cookies instead of the usual graham crackers.

Customers loved the cheesecake from the beginning, and so did the crowd who sampled it at the very first Taste of Chicago on July 4, 1980. A food festival dreamed up by restaurateur Arnie Morton and Mayor Jan Byrne, the first Taste was a single day event held on North Michigan Avenue. Like Eli’s cheesecake, it was a smash hit.

To celebrate the dessert’s fortieth anniversary (give or take a year), Evanston-based Agate Publishing has just released a new edition of “The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook” ($30). In addition to the recipes for the four original cheesecakes, the book includes variations like Banana Cheesecake with Bittersweet Ganache, Espresso, Honey Ricotta, Peanut Butter Cup and Basque. 

The Basque is reminiscent of the cakes served at Eli’s back when cheesecake was a new addition to the menu. Cooked without a water bath at a relatively high temperature, the Basque’s cracked top is quite dark, almost to the point of looking burnt. Oddly enough, “Basque burned cheesecake”was deemed 2021 “Flavor of the Year” in an article by Kim Severson that ran on December 22, 2020 in “The New York Times.” La Vina Restaurant in San Sebastian is credited with creating the cake. Eli would have enjoyed being a trendsetter.

The update also includes a section devoted to favorite family recipes from the members of the diverse staff of Eli’s Cheesecake World, the 62,000 square foot production facility, cafe, and retail store on Chicago’s north west side that current owners Marc and Maureen Schulman opened in 1996.

Good as it is, cheesecake wasn’t the only standout dish served at Eli’s (which closed in 2005). Neither is it the only part of the restaurant’s menu featured in the cookbook. Recipes for favorites like Shrimp de Jonghe, Chateaubriand, Wedge Salad with House Dressing, Shrimp a la Marc, and Chopped Liver Eli are also included. And while Eli’s was a top tier downtown restaurant, the recipes are all doable for home cooks. The only caveat: like the restaurant, you have to cook with top quality ingredients.

Shrimp a la Marc *

4 appetizer-size servings

1 medium Vidalia onion, thinly sliced

1 quart ice water

2 cups mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream, room temperature

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pinch white pepper

2 drops Tabasco sauce

24 extra large whole cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined 

1 tablespoon small capers, drained, plus more if desired

Salad greens for garnish

  1. Refresh the onion by submerging it in the water for 1 hour. Drain the onion and discard the water. Pat the onion dry with paper towels.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Add the onions, and stir until combined. Add the shrimp and capers and stir until combined. Chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours.
  3. On chilled individual serving plates garnished with the greens, evenly arrange the shrimp with dollops of the mayonnaise sauce. Garnish with additional capers, if desired, and serve.

* Eli and his wife Esther named the recipe for their son Marc.

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Tags: cheesecake, cookbook, dessert

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