Every weekend, the owner of the Omaha Cheesecake Bakery dons an old-school vintage bowler hat, puts some Cole Porter on the hi-fi and bakes some serious cinnamon rolls.
These rolls are so serious, and so old-school, that each one includes more than a half stick of butter. Customers who know about them line up and wait as they're baking, and then snarf them down while they're still warm. The rolls, like much of the bakery's other goods, are no joke.
The Omaha Cheesecake Bakery, not to be confused with the Cheesecake Factory, serves up vintage sweets and atmosphere amid west Omaha mini-mall modernity.
Its suburban location contrasts with its antique decor. Its soundtrack of 1940s tunes contrasts with the iPad the staff uses to check out customers. Half the place is a charming dessert haven, the other half a busy modern bakery.
Its desserts are anything but mass-produced. Think delicious baked goods from bygone eras: buttery, rich and most likely sinfully caloric.
Owner Scott Neal — the aforementioned guy in the bowler hat — told me in an interview after two recent visits just how seriously he takes his dessert business.
He doesn't buy whole eggs because Mother Nature doesn't make every yolk the same size. Instead, he buys yolks and whites separately and precisely weighs each one so every cake, cookie and pie will be exactly the same. He calls it “the perfect egg.”
The bakery makes its own sour cream. It uses eight kinds of flour for its variety of cakes and three kinds for its giant muffins. It makes its own fudge and caramel.
Neal doesn't use anything with artificial flavors or preservatives.
His obsession becomes pretty clear once you feast your eyes on the desserts inside a long glass case that separates the bakery's kitchen from its small dining area with a few tables.
The bakery is nearly the only tenant in a strip mall on the corner of 144th and Fort Streets. It has a small retail space open to the public, but the bulk of its business comes from wholesale dessert sales to restaurants.
Neal, who runs the shop with his wife, Agnes, and his brother Stuart, told me much of the decor in the front of the bakery is actually antique — he searched shops to find stuff from the 1940s and '50s to bring a soda-shop feel to the place.
On the east side, banks of coolers hold ice cream treats and vintage shelves hold cookies and whoopie pies. Picture menus of all the desserts hang from the ceiling above the counter, and when I visited, almost everything except seasonal pumpkin desserts was available.
On my first visit, I took four slices to go — a dessert, a cheesecake and two cakes — and shared them with co-workers.
I ordered an iced coffee and appreciated the thoughtful touch that came with the service: The woman behind the counter poured the coffee and milk from cute vintage glass containers with funky yellow plastic pour spouts.
The coffee was cold and smooth — I added a healthy dose of skim milk — and it wasn't too acidic or bitey. Neal told me in an interview later that the bakery brews all its coffee with small-batch roasted beans from Mocha Joe's Coffee, based in Brattleboro, Vt.
Almost all my co-workers swooned over the bakery's version of Boston cream pie, a slight twist on the classic.
Rich, homemade yellow cake surrounded two fillings: the classic white Bavarian cream and a rich but light chocolate mousse. A darker, even richer chocolate ganache hugged the outside of the moist cake.
Both the fillings and the ganache are homemade, Neal said, and he uses high-end Guittard chocolate for the ganache.
We also tried the bakery's take on tiramisu, the classic Italian dessert. I've had lots of bad tiramisu in my day, but this wasn't one. The ladyfingers, soaked in what seemed like a lot of liqueur, had the right characteristic spongy, cake-like texture with a deep flavor of both coffee and booze. Light, fluffy cream surrounded the slivers of cake.
Neal said he uses Disaronno, an Italian amaretto, instead of rum or kahlua. He also uses the restaurant's cold-brew coffee, which is less acidic, in the dessert. The restaurant bakes the tiramisu in the shape of a cake and then serves it sliced.
The New York style cheesecake was dense, creamy and rich, but still airy. It didn't stick to the roof of your mouth like a too-thick version. A buttery, light crust was paper-thin and just sweet enough.
One of my editors was especially pleased that she could eat it without craving sauce or berries.
I also really liked the diner lemon coconut cake: Four thick layers of just-sweet-enough cake separated by thick layers of old-school, grainy vanilla icing were balanced just right. No bite had too much of anything. The outside of the cake came coated in coconut flakes, though we mostly tasted lemon and vanilla.
One of my co-workers said it was like a cake out of the pages of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Another said she'd imagine it at a small town cake walk.
“They called it right,” Neal said. “If you Google '50s diner cake, that's what comes up.”
Neal said he uses lemon oil instead of the less potent lemon juice or lemon extract, one reason the restaurant's lemon desserts taste so lemony.
I visited a second time in the morning because I wanted to try breakfast items and a second coffee. This time, I ordered a latte, and again I found a smooth, easy-to-drink cup of brew that I'd order again without hesitation.
I also sampled two muffins, a lemon berry and a morning glory.
Both were somewhere between the dense, moist texture of a sweet bread and the drier texture of a cake, and Neal said that's by design. He wants the muffins to be an indulgence. They were not something I'd eat every day, but are perfect for a once-in-a-while morning treat.
I especially liked the lemony berry muffin, studded with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. The morning glory was gooier inside, though people who like carrot cake — including my husband, who took a few bites — will like it.
Neal said he developed the muffins especially for the Omaha store because it's the first he's had with a sit-down area that attracts business types for morning meetings and women's groups that don't always want a huge slice of cake first thing in the morning.
Prices at the bakery are reasonable: My medium-sized latte ran $3.55 and a giant slice of dessert is $4.95. Muffins are $2.95 each.
Neal's obsession with detail and his focus on creating old-school, delicious treats make me like the Omaha Cheesecake Bakery. It's not every day that I run into desserts that make indulgence so truly worthwhile.
About the Omaha Cheesecake Bakery
Scott and Agnes Neal began their bakery business 13 years ago when they opened Orange County Cheesecakes in California, which has since closed. The Neals then opened Vermont Cheesecakes, which they sold. It's still in business. The couple were planning to open their next shop in Florida, but Scott Neal's brother, Stuart Neal, who lives in Elkhorn, suggested Omaha. Eventually, Scott Neal said, his brother will take over this store and he and his wife, Agnes, will open a new one in another city. Agnes and Scott Neal are both Omaha natives and left the city 25 years ago. They moved back this year to open the shop. “It's a lot different now than it was then,” Neal said. A few local restaurants have desserts from the bakery on their menus, including the Vincenzo's location at 156th and Pacific Streets; 7M Grill, at 15805 West Maple Road, and the dining room at Champions Run Country Club. Customers will notice custom flavors of ice cream by local shop eCreamery in a freezer near the door. Neal worked with the shop to develop flavors just for him that he uses in his “SliceCream,” a frozen dessert that he said is especially popular with kids. He packs two custom flavors of ice cream inside a cheesecake crust and tops it with homemade fudge and toppings such as marshmallows, nuts or sprinkles, then cuts it into slices. If customers like one particular flavor of ice cream in one of the SliceCream desserts, he also sells it by the pint. The bakery will sell whole cakes to customers, and it also will sell 14 slices of different cheesecake flavors as a whole cake. It does not create custom cakes for birthdays or other events. The shop also bakes challah bread from a recipe it developed in Vermont and whoopie pies with an outside layer like a brownie and homemade marshmallow fluff filling. The bakery does not offer gluten-free or sugar-free selections.
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