Marc & Eli Schulman
Marc Schulman, the president of Eli's Cheesecake, created Eli's Cheesecake World, which houses the factory, a cafe, and the corporate offices, in 1996. A large, whimsical mural featuring a few famous visitors like Bill Clinton, Jay Leno, and of course, Eli himself, greets customers upon entrance to the cafe.
Belgian Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake
Although Eli's cheesecakes are now produced out of a 62,000-square foot factory, the company still puts a strong emphasis on decorating by hand, and you can be sure that days and weeks of thought go into the decoration of each cheesecake. For an upcoming birthday-themed cheesecake that will use multi-colored shavings of white chocolate as sprinkles, Marc and Executive Pastry Chef Laurel Boger told me about a meeting in which the ratio of each color was passionately debated.
Chocolates and Cocoas
Eli's puts a wide array of big-name chocolates to use in anything from the crust (which can be cookie-, cake-, or brownie-based) to the filling to the drizzle. When developing their Belgian chocolate hazelnut cheesecake, they brought in 15 different Belgian chocolates before settling on Callebaut. They also make cheesecakes featuring Hershey's and Ghirardelli chocolates as well as Frango mints, another sweet closely tied to Chicago's identity.
When he was developing his cheesecake recipe, Eli created a unique shortbread cookie crust instead of the usual graham cracker crust, so non-chocolate cheesecakes are still made with this all-butter shortbread cookie crust to this day. It's shown here below a slice of key lime cheesecake, which features a thick, tart custard filling, key lime curd, and vanilla mousse.
The store also sells buttery, crisp shortbread cookies made with the exact same recipe as the cheesecake crust.
Along with the shortbread cookie crust, Eli's cheesecake is made with just a handful of ingredients, all of which are specifically selected to set this cheesecake apart. Consider just the sour cream: the head of Research & Development worked with Eli's sour cream distributor for a year before they were satisfied with the quality of their cultured sour cream, which undergoes a day-long fermentation process that the more quickly made acidified sour cream doesn't undergo.
Salted Caramel Cheesecake
This flavor originally debuted as part of Eli's Cheesecake Couture line. The caramel layer on top of this slice was impressive in both taste and texture: it was just sticky enough to stay firmly in place on top of the thick extra-custardy cheesecake but was also easily sliced through with the side of a fork. In place of the usual shortbread crust is a sweet and salty almond crust.
Wildflower Honey Cheesecake
In one of their numerous community outreach activities, Eli's partners with Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. In addition to offering students internships and job shadowing, they also use the wildflower honey produced on the school's campus for this cheesecake, which features a top layer of unmistakably raw honey and sliced almonds.
Executive Pastry Chef Laurel Boger worked extensively with cakes before starting at Eli's, so the cheese-less cake offerings at the cafe are just as serious as the cheesecakes. Clockwise from top left: almond butter cake, old-fashioned triple chocolate cake, banana bread, and carrot cake.
Chocolate Raspberry Cake
Chocolate shards and a layer of chocolate ganache decorate this chocolate raspberry cake that isn't available on Eli's website; you'll have to visit the store to pick up this beauty.
Clockwise from top left: well-proportioned mini lemon meringue pies, turtle cheesecakes, lemon meringues, and a cinnamon popover.