Pumpkin Cheesecake at Bertha's Café
Clearly it's impossible to resist taking a bite.
Bertha's Café is kind of a best-kept secret hidden in a strip mall off of Indian School Road on the outskirts of the Arcadia neighborhood. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekdays (and 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays), it's an excellent breakfast and lunch spot for office workers in the area. The restaurant is decorated in a no-nonsense fashion, so its offerings are definitely what make it stand out. If you're there for breakfast, don't forget a cup of coffee, which is specially roasted by The Roastery of Cave Creek. For lunch, sandwiches (made with local MJ Breads) are fairly priced around $6 to $7, or pick any half sandwich plus soup or salad for $7.75.
As great as breakfast and lunch are, there's one other reason to love Bertha's Café: dessert. With a range from cookies and bars to cupcakes and cheesecake, the seasonal pastry case has something for everyone. The desserts are baked fresh from scratch and are so alluring that dieters should steer clear of the place at all times. The menu has plenty of healthy options -- but we dare you to try walking out without an extra treat. In fact, you'll get one whether you like it or not; lunch includes a small yet mighty delicious cookie, just enough to whet the appetite for another, like the sinfully good variety with chocolate chips and Cap'n Crunch cereal.
Since it's fall, you'll likely find pumpkin cheesecake calling to you from the case. If you see it, buy a slice -- you won't regret it for a second. Cheesecake is often much too heavy, causing a stomachache that leaves a wake of guilt trailing behind. Beth Goldwater, the pastry master of Bertha's Café, knows how to bake a cheesecake that hits the sweet spot: dreamily light and fluffy inside, slightly darker and denser on the exterior. Goldwater experiments with her cheesecake crusts, and the pumpkin sits in a cookie crumb crust that tastes like Biscoff biscuits, a great complement to the dessert's subtle spiciness.
As light as the texture is, this cheesecake will still catch up with you. It's ideal to split it with another person so as not to suffer cheesecake overload, but you could just skip lunch altogether and substitute a sandwich with cheesecake. No one will blame you. (Once again, dieters, stay away from Bertha's until you've earned an incredible reward for your willpower.) The top is a very thick layer of airy whipped cream with rich vanilla flavor that rounds out the cheesecake nicely. If there wasn't any whipped cream, no one would miss it, but once you have a bite of whipped creamy pumpkin cheesecake, there's no looking back -- they belong together. It would be better if the cheesecake stood stronger on its own, but that's a small complaint.
Bertha's Café offers a long list of cheesecake flavors, including baklava, s'mores, Kahlua brownie, and pecan pumpkin. For a whole cake (available in three sizes), it's recommended to give 48 hours' notice. If you have something specific in mind, they'll even customize a flavor just for you (allow extra time). If you're looking for a seasonal classic, however, the pumpkin is a clear winner.
This cheesecake isn't as pumpkiny as a pie, so it will appeal to a wider range of palettes. Gourd fanatics might want the pumpkin notes to be stronger, although it's perfectly balanced as is, leaving room for the tang of the cheese. Personally, I'd like a tad more spice, but then again, I bump up the amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove in any recipe that calls for them.
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