Awful lived between good bread and great cheesecake

Our table was this dark. I hope that is George and Elisabeth.

Our table was this dark. I hope that is George and Elisabeth.

The Cheesecake Factory adventure played out at last as we celebrated my wonderful daughter Elisabeth’s birthday this past weekend at the Syracuse mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA.

We’d been waiting to experience this new franchise, the four of us, since our failed attempt to eat dinner there the Saturday of its opening week.

The takeout cheesecake was so dreamy that night two months ago.

And the inside of the restaurant had looked so cheery that afternoon in which I had pressed my face against the window to view the staff in the midst of training at the end of January.

What a letdown.

I put my fork into the pasta. The entire clump came up when I raised it.

I put my fork into the pasta. The entire clump came up when I raised it.

I hated my clumpy angel hair pasta that came with my scampi. I thought: Do they want me to eat this, or take it home for the next time I play handball? I hated the thick breaded coating on my shrimp. I hated how my initial lean onto my elbows in front of me located a sticky spot left over from previous occupants.

My dear wife Karen hated the way we waited 20 minutes for somebody to bring my replacement side dish, despite numerous visits and promises by the waitress and the manager. It arrived well after I’d finished my shrimp and when everybody else was ready to order cheesecake. And it turned out to topped with a disgusting hybrid of scampi sauce and mac-n-cheese sauce.

Elisabeth hated that her side salad was mostly tomato and leafy lettuces, except for the hard-as-a-cueball core of Iceberg in its midst. She hated that her loaded potato soup was thin and bland.

George hated the lone burned-to-black french fry included on his plate.

We all hated how dark our table space was, except for the moments when the valet parkers right outside our tableside window pulled up another vehicle whose headlights illuminated us. Our waitress didn’t get it when I crossed my hands to cast a bird silhouette upon her. We did, however, watch with worried curiosity as the ambulance pulled up right beside our window and took away a woman clutching her mop-haired youngster to her chest.

We all hated how after George found his first fork to be dirty, we checked every piece of utensil thereafter, and only about half passed the test.

It was awful.

Because of the angel hair pasta debacle, I did not complain further. The manager had come over to apologize, profusely, as I waited for the side of which I could only force down a couple of testing nibbles. And I knew the waitress overhead much of my disappointed commentary.

We all loved our dessert.

We all loved our dessert.

There were some things we liked.

The hostess was great. Because we’d been told there would have been a four-hour wait on a Saturday night our first try, Karen and I arrived at the restaurant two hours before the time Elisabeth and George told us they’d arrive.

I explained to the hostess that we’d like a table for four at 8:30 p.m. She explained that they were not taking reservations, but they’ve come up with a plan that’s almost as good.

She punched in my name and handed me a pager. When it goes off in an hour — the wait they were quoting every arrival at the desk — I should tell them our party hadn’t arrived yet, and we’d be placed on a list to get the next available table when everybody showed up.

Karen and I shopped a while, then sat a spell people-watching on the couches outside the restaurant until the kids got there.

The system worked.

We were seated at 8:30 p.m. after waiting just a moment or two.

The basket of bread was delicious, particularly the pumpernickel. But, even … four pats of butter were not enough four people, but we stretched it out.

George liked his mushroom burger. Karen liked her bang-bang shrimp and chicken.

We all adored our cheesecake, four wonderfully different varieties.

Karen was quite happy when our bill included a tape with a web address to fill out a satisfaction survey. It promised a printable $10 gift certificate.

But when I told our waitress I didn’t need any change, she took that receipt and went off to not be seen again, and that was that.

Karen emailed a letter to the company the next morning.

Our disappointment was so thorough, we won’t be going back to our local Cheesecake Factory.

What was your very worst restaurant experience?

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82 thoughts on “Awful lived between good bread and great cheesecake

  1. Our worst was a place which used to have the awful name of Squat and Gobble, near Vernon, NY. We had heard that the prime rib was wonderful It arrived, was a chore to eat and the side that was supposed to be ‘au jus’ was something like beef bouillon cubes with added salt. When we complained, the waitress said, “whassa matter you don’t like our awww jcz” Never went back.

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  2. I’m disappointed that this Cheesecake Factory has apparently been underperforming. We’ve always had great meals at the one in Rochester. We haven’t been able to get into this one yet, though! Maybe we shouldn’t try?

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  3. Yikes! That’s more than three strikes, and they’re out. A huge corporate chain like that should have everything running smoothly. Sounds like they failed repeatedly. Our food has been good when we’ve been to CF, but it’s a treat for us to go. We eat out a lot, so we’ve had many good and bad experiences. I seem to have a hex on me about overcooked steak and dirty silverware: it doesn’t matter if it’s three of us or ten of us, I’m always the one it happens to. At one Mexican restaurant last year, the waitress was so mean, when I pointed out the dirty fork, she said, “Deal with it.” I grabbed my purse and my family, headed toward the door, told the manager I hoped he enjoyed our ten years of patronizing but that we wouldn’t be back because of the attitude of this girl. Then we drove to another Mexican restaurant, with a good server who had formerly worked at the first place. I told him how terrible she’d been, and he nodded. “The one with the drawn-on eyebrows?” “Yes, the bruja.” We tipped him 20% and now we see him each Sunday.

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    • Yes, you have figured out that the customer is always right, but that server thinks the opposite, Kerbey. The sad thing at this CF was that I don’t think it was a lack of want-to but a lack of can-do.

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  4. Wow! You are a very patient man to have waited that long. Unfortunately, I know of which you speak! lol We use our CF for nothing more than a pick-up destination when we need a cheesecake fix. ~Karen~

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  5. Yikes. I did get the impression that you disliked the experience, but I didn’t know that the evening was this disappointing. As they say, you can’t spell “cheesecake” without “hate.”

    I’ve had a few bad experiences in my life. One specific moment was at was at the beloved Tully’s on Erie Boulevard back in 2004, because I had just turned 21. My friends and I, there were four of us, met up there to enjoy our underwhelming experience.

    (1) Our server was rude and not attentive.
    (2) Our utensils were few. Our table and area was not cleaned.
    (3) Our drinks took over a half hour to arrive, and our refills took just as long.
    (4) The food was less than par: cold, because it took almost an hour the restaurant’s far-from-busy late evening.
    (5) The server was having an off evening, and she didn’t care taking her bitterness out on us. We didn’t egg her on despite our youngish age, but our attitude was more concerned than anything else.
    (6) We tipped our waitress the change we had in our pockets: $0.67.
    (7) The guys behind us actually struck up conversation about their terrible experience, to compare. As our groups left, they inquired how much we tipped. One snapped his fingers, because they were unhappy they tipped her more. They actually tipped her $0.75.

    We did end up going back, because such service was unheard of. Luckily, this has not happened since.

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    • Sometimes a night like your 21st at Tully’s is merely a one-off, Chris. I love my sandwich The Tully, grilled ham and turkey and cheese. Yum. How awful that your bad time happened on your 21st. You tipped according, and I’m sure meant message received!

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      • Oh, it wasn’t my 21st, but it was the summer right after. My group of friends at the time, one of us did not turn 21 until July 1st.

        Despite there are only two of us, who talk once in a blue moon (long story), we still comment about that dining out experience.

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  6. We’ve eaten at the CF twice since it opened at Destiny Mall. Both times we had a good meal. Hopefully, with new managers in place the kinks will be. Ironed out. Maybe they need a manager on the cooking line to oversee things. It would be terrible if the restaurant would close. I’m sure
    Upper management has been notified and it will be fixed.

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  7. Poor Elisabeth. She needs a do over dining experience. I think the CF could solve their problems by paring down their menu. There isn’t a chef in the world that can prepare all the dishes they have to offer without sacrificing something in the process. It takes patrons hours to pour over the menu and the result is a long wait and a mediocre dinner at an unreasonable price. But the cheesecake really is the star of the show.

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  8. Mark, Mark, Mark! Cheesecake Factory is one of the worst chains to eat at. In every list I’ve ever read concerning how and where to eat healthy, the chain comes in last: there is not one dish that is low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, sugar, calories. I’m glad you had a bad experience. Maybe you really will stay away! They even rate worse than fast food places like McDonald’s and Burger King.

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      • I know what you’re saying! I preach real good but love my french fries with lots of salt. Enjoy life! As one of the great philosophers of our time said “My body is like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don’t think about it, I just have it.” ~~ Arnold Schwarzenegger

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  9. Oi vey! What a horrible experience! I almost always have a bad time at The Cheesecake Factory, though I do love their cheesecake. (Not their dinners, though.) I’ve had WAAAAAAAYY too many bad restaurant experiences to mention, but I think the worst was one year on my birthday, I was a vegetarian, but went with some friends to Red Lobster. They all got seafood, and I ordered a salad, baked potato and yummy biscuits. However, my salad had a dead fly in it! My biscuit had a sharp piece of something unidentifiable (but not food!) in it! And when I went to rearrange the butter and sour cream in my baked potato, I noticed the ENTIRE thing was black and rotten!!! (And yet they served it anyway!) And keep in mind this was MY birthday celebration! To make matters worse, these mishaps all happened in stages, so each time I had to send the waitress back, she took her time getting back to me. My friends all had perfect food, but mine was just sickening, not to mention the service that was bad as well. But after all was said and done, it was a funny story to tell. That said, I’m sorry your Cheesecake Factory visit was so bad! What really stinks is that after Karen emailed them, they probably sent you back coupons or vouchers, which you won’t want to use. GRRR! Great post! 😀

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    • If they do send us vouchers, I would go back for free takeout cheesecake, Rachel. Just saying. 🙂 I can’t believe it was the birthday girl who got the shaft on your Red Lobster dinner with friends. That’s a real oy vey, too. Maybe they were mad because you didn’t order anything other than veggies and biscuits? 😮
      GRRRR ditto!

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      • I agree. I decided long ago that takeout cheesecake is the only way to go with them. Your Cheesecake Factory is in Syracuse now? When I lived in Kingston, we had to either go to the one in Providence, RI, or all the way to the mall in Buffalo, or of course down on LI. The last time I spent any time in Syracuse was in ’98 for the (concerts at the) Fair there. (I think it was the State Fair?) Anyway, there seemed to be next to nothing in town as far as anything to do, but I guess if you were a local, you’d know where the action was. I’m sure it’s grown a lot since then. 🙂

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      • We have this gigunda mall called Destiny USA that has brought in a of the famous national chains, Rachel. In 1998, I reviewed two concerts a day at the state fair, so there’s a very good chance we were at some of the same shows. Why didn’t you stop me and say hello? I could have told you where the “action spots” were. 🙂

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      • Ah, then we probably were. My sister, BBF and I were at the “Teen Idols” (which as you know was Bobby Sherman, Davy Jones and Peter Noone). If you were there, then you may remember I was the one who screamed so loudly when Bobby Sherman introduced John Barton (their merchandise guy) that Bobby almost wet himself. After that, it was referred to as “The Barton Scream” and Bobby would wait for me to scream at every show. It was funny on the occasion when I didn’t make a show, and other people would tell me he still waited. We partied with the band that night at some small pub and when they closed, the band and us walked around for lack of anything better to do.

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      • Oh, that was you! Nice scream, Rachel. I liked Bobby Sherman a whole lot better than I liked Davy Jones, I remember. There are a lot of great neighborhood bars in Syracuse that are usually buzzing with live local music. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Shifty’s. But you’d need a tour guide. Next time.

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      • Davy usually had a better show than he did there, but there were a lot of band politics that week. The venue right before had suddenly gone out of business and kept the ticket money and the band only found out the day before the show was to go on.

        I try get to NY about once a year. So if I get to go this year, I’ll have to meet you there so you can show me around. 🙂 And Karen can show me where to shop! 😀

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    • Because I do not believe I must only go to locally owned establishments, Mark McQ. I go to both, depending upon my desires that particular trip. National restaurants hire local people, too. They collect taxes that go to the local areas, too. It is not a one-and-only one decision, to me. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint.

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  10. ouch, this review does not leave any question in the reader’s mind about the kind of experience you had at the cf. this sounds pretty awful, with a few exceptions here and there along the way. onward to bigger and better or smaller and cleaner eating adventures!

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  11. That sounds like a major nightmare Mark. We’ve had a dirty utensil experience at Texas Roadhouse, having to send it back 6 times each before the manager comped our meals, and apologized because the dish washer was broken down and the dishes were being hand washed. If we hadn’t already eaten half of our food I think we would have walked out at that announcement, because hand washed dishes in a restaurant are not a good thing. None of us wanted dessert.

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  12. I loved the title!

    I’m sorry it was such a let down. 😦 I can’t recall a “worst” experience. The seating fiasco we had at the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate my daughter’s black belt test was frustrating. But probably not “the” worst. Maybe finding fingernail (or even worse they could have been toe nails) in my 85% already drank Ice Cappuccino from Tim Hortons. Yeah….that was not fun.

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    • Oh, Colleen, the Tim Horton’s … well … oh … that is a worst if I’ve ever heard of one. Ugh. Do you back or have you switched to Dunkin’ after the nail in the Ice Cappuccino.

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      • No Dunkin’ around here. We were MILES away when it was discovered. I get shivers just writing about this. I should have contacted them. I didn’t. Maybe I still should. UGH. It was years ago. WHY did I remember this!!!

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      • Contact them. It might help you come to grips with the drasticness of the big YUCK! Then forget about it and don’t read any more of my posts about restaurant disasters. Though mine was mild in comparision …

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  13. It sounds awful. Dirty cutlery – I can’t be doing with that. Sorry you had such a dreadful meal. maybe they should just stick to cheesecake.

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  14. I know you will not mind but I would give the place one more chance! I do like our Polaris Cheesecake Factory, have eaten also at the Easton one. We have usually ordered sandwiches, not salads nor noodles. I am dismayed that they put mac n cheese sauce over scampi on the noodles… Did they offer to give you one free cheesecake? Mark, maybe Karen’s filling out a dissatisfied customer complaint will give you another chance, with a free meal or offer, to get a better meal out of the new place! Sorry it was dark, too! I don’t think there is a dark corner of our 2 local places… I do think the patio is dark, though! Smiles for the sense of humor you added to this post, though. Hope to hear you have a great weekend, Mark!

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  15. Pingback: A dinner fit for a bowling kingpin | markbialczak

  16. Sorry about the lousy experience you had. I can certainly relate. Our bad dining experience was at a restaurant in Central New York. My daughter ordered a medium well done steak. It was so rare it nearly galloped off her plate. When she complained about the red (blood) on her plate, the waitress said it was just the lighting. Our sweet potatoes were not thoroughly baked. We sent them back. When the waitress returned them, she gave me my husband’s. How did I know? I had put fork marks in my sweet potato. I saw someone lick a roll and put it in the bread basket. By NY State law, leftover bread is supposed to be thrown out. We were told later, by my youngest daughter’s boyfriend who worked there, that they recycled the bread.

    We’d had a wonderful experience at the same restaurant once before. But, after that 2nd trip, we never returned.

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  17. Baguette in Racecourse Road Ascot, Brisbane Australia. It was once my favorite restaurant and I would celebrate my birthday or special moments dinners there. We knew the chef and he we was prodigiously talented. They’d won so many award and at one point was the only restaurant in Australia to have a Michelin Star rating. I moved away but when I came back to Brisbane last year I took my husband to dinner there as I had raved about it.

    It wasn’t something we could normally afford but I hadn’t been there in so long. I made sure it was still there and booked a table under my Maiden name. James would always check the reservations for the evening to see if anyone he knew would be dining and he wouldn’t have recognized by surname now. So we arrived and I was a little confused as there seemed to be a sidewalk cafe/bistro thing going on out front. We went in the the decor was different [not so strange after time I know] in a way that didn’t match what I new of the restaurant.

    We were given the menu’s and the food was NOT in the style I remembered and when I asked I found out that it had been sold about 2 years ago but they had kept the name the same. Damn well we were there so we ordered and ate and wished we’d just gone to McDonald’s instead. I don’t mind paying for an expensive dinner and I had thought the $150 for the two of us with wine etc would cover it.

    It didn’t cost that much but is it was still on the high side and the food was a disgrace as was the service, the presentation, veges boiling hot with room temp meat which meant they had just microwaved the veges from a pre-prepared batch and they dared to call it rack of lamb etc. I was so sad and I wish I’d never gone as now it has tarnished my memory of such an amazing restaurant.

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      • I found out later that the outside bistro/cafe thing they had going was because they lost so much of the regular clientelle in the first 6 months and nearly all the staff quit and had to be replaced. They needed something to make up the loss because rents in Racecourse Rd are about the most expensive you can find outside the CBD itself due to the Ascot and Hamilton being THE suburbs. Baguette made a lot of money as it was 5 star dining and price and they expected similar returns but didn’t understand how much a difference in menu and chef could mean.

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  19. It is such a huge chair restaurant, but it won’t remain so with poor service. We have one in Albany and there was one in Phoenix or two or three. OK…but not my fave. . . .either. Do you have a BF Chang’s? Architect thinks it is over priced and food is unexciting!

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      • I like the more authentic ambiance in those restaurants too and the prices and the food, actually !

        What I love near you is the original, I think, Dinosaur BBQ! Remember vividly standing in line out the door in the snow….waiting to get carry-out. Daughter kept saying , it is worth it mom…..and she was right. We have one in Troy now….food is great buy atmosphere is different !

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      • We do have the original Dinosaur here in Syracuse, Anne. I was one of the original customers a quarter-century ago, what with its location being exactly one block from the office of the big daily. It bought and took over the space of the family restaurant by day/family bar by night that we all frequented, the N&H. I still do love our Dinosaur.

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      • And you should. I heard this morning that the New York Times has had a terrible quarter , I guess with sales. It seems that traditional newspapers are in their “death throes!” Syracuse is pretty amazing with many amenities there in the center of Central NY. I loved the theater and we went to see an August Wilson play that I still remember!

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