How The Claremont Diner Got Its Cheesecake

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Cheesecake was a serious business at the Claremont Diner (photo courtesy Jeffrey Jensen)
Cheesecake was a serious business at the Claremont Diner (photo courtesy Jeffrey J. Jensen)

An amazing thing happened after we published this story about the appearance of a Claremont Diner-style cheesecake at Jack’s Cafe. Greg Langan, the spouse of MyVeronaNJ.com co-founder Julia Martin Langan, was at Jack’s with one of their children having lunch when a deliveryman popped in with a box. It contained a cheesecake, and a most remarkable letter, which we are reproducing below. Written by Jeffrey J. Jensen, the director of operations for Carnegie Deli Products in Carlstadt, it tells a story I’d never heard before about the origins of the Claremont Diner’s famous dessert. Read on:

Dear Jack,

You don’t know me, but after reading the little article about the Claremont Diner Cheesecake on the Internet, I couldn’t help but drop you a line.

By now you have already opened my Carnegie Deli cheesecake and I hope you accept my token of friendship. I’ll give you a brief history of this cake.

My dad was a trained pastry chef from Denmark. After jumping ship in Hoboken during the ’30s, he found plenty of jobs in Brooklyn and Manhattan. His big job in NYC was as pastry chef at Lindy’s, where he picked up their famous cheesecake recipe. Dad subsequently took that recipe with him to all his future pastry jobs, some of which included the Fontainebleau in Miami and Pumpernicks, and many others.

We also lived a couple of years in Cuba while Dad worked at Batista’s Varadero Beach Hotel. Long story short (I’ll try), Dad came back to the States when Castro took over and started working at the Weequahic Diner in Newark, NJ. Later, Morris and Leo [Bauman] took over the Claremont Diner in Verona and took my Dad along to open the bakery and supply baked goods for both locations. Dad was with them as pastry chef to the end. When Harold had the place for a time, “Harold’s” Harold took my Dad out of retirement and had my Dad picked up and dropped off back at home each day.

My Dad was Lars C. Jensen, otherwise known as “Jeff”. I’m Little Jeff, and the cheesecake I sent you is made from the recipe Dad gave me when I apprenticed with him at the Claremont Diner 40 years ago. The recipe is free and can be found on the Carnegie Deli’s website. I’ve been working for the Carnegie Deli for 22 years now and have developed the wholesale end of the business as well as our website. I would love to speak with you anytime. Feel free to call any morning.

Now you know “the rest of the story”.

Thanks for letting me bend your ear.

Very truly,
Jeffrey J. Jensen
Director of Operations

Lars Jensen in the Claremont Diner's kitchen (photo courtesy Jeffrey J. Jensen)
Lars C. “Jeff” Jensen in the Claremont Diner’s kitchen (photo courtesy Jeffrey J. Jensen)

I waitressed at the Claremont during college and I remember Jensen’s dad very clearly. He was very dedicated to his craft and brooked little interference with it. Especially the day when a customer had the temerity to ask whether he could use artificial sweetener to make the cake more suitable for her diet.

“Little Jeff” told me he’s taken his dad’s recipe with him throughout his food industry career. “It’s the only one I’ve ever made,” he says. “It’s the only one I would make.” He says the cheesecake is a classic Polish recipe and it’s cookie-like crust was a necessity when the cakes were originally baked in a hearth. But Jensen’s not above a bit of modernization: He’s currently working on an organic version of the classic, which he hopes will be on the market soon.

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In the meantime, you can order the cheesecake made from the Claremont Diner recipe straight from the Carnegie Deli’s Web site, or make one yourself: “Jeff” Jensen’s well-traveled recipe can be found on page 146 of this book.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

28 COMMENTS

  1. When home from college and living with my parents in Millburn, NJ, I would travel to the Clairmont diner on the way home from my summer job on Friday and purchase a cheesecake. It was wonderful. I’ve tried to replicate that recept without success. I was saddened when the diner closer–it was a part of NJ’s history and much like drivein’s and White Castle’s I get nostalgic when then close and sorry that my children never had the opportunity to experience that little part of NJ for themselves. I live in Reading, PA, now and unfortunately rarely get to NJ as family has passed and friends have been lost in the currents of time

  2. I haven’t seen that online anyplace, but having waitressed there, I can tell you what I saw: You have to start with day-old challah, and let it soak in a mixture of milk and eggs in the fridge overnight. The whole tray is baked the next day. The Claremont made its challah and there were lots of eggs in the basic dough.

  3. All,

    It is great hearing stories about the Claremont. My grandfather was Leo and although he passed away before I was born, I have heard so many stories from his customers. I actually waitressed for Harold one summer during college and there were so many of the old Claremont’s customers visiting Harold’s eatery. I remember Jeff as well and yes the cheesecake was awesome.

    Regards,

    Lauren

  4. Lauren,
    I’m so glad you found MyVeronaNJ.com and shared your Claremont Diner story. We wrote the cheesecake story almost 2 years ago, and every month, it continues to attract new readers. It remains among the top 10 of the nearly 4,000 stories we have written–a testament to how strongly people still feel about your grandfather’s restaurant.

    Thanks!
    –Virginia

  5. Very pleased to meet you. I met your grandfather once when my parents took us to the Claremont Diner–for cheesecake, of course!

    If your family ever wants to share more history about the Claremont, please let me know. People have very fond memories of its food.

  6. Oh, the matzo balls at the Claremont Diner….a a waitress named Irene who always remembered what I would order.

  7. The Claremont Diner was always head and shoulders above the rest. Morris Bauman was an institution in himself. He called most everybody “darling” and he was someone you didn’t trifle with. Eating @ The Claremont was an experience. My family was from Passaic and the drive to Verona was well worth it…even if you often had to wait an hour for a table on weekends. Why did we always go on a Sunday night?? Very, very special memories.

  8. I grew up in Verona so many years ago……I still have fond memories of the Claremont Diner and the wonderful bakery. Many wonderful special occasions were spent having a fabulous meal there. It was unique and greatly missed.

  9. The Claremont was my life from the late 60s through 70s. I worked in management but wore many hats when ever needed. Jeff Jensen was the King of the bakery world. The holidays were always the craziest time of the year at the diner with Jeff working around the clock to get his baked goods into the bakery and into the homes of the loyal customers I remember Jeff Jr. working along side of his father learning the trade and it seems that it has paid off.
    I often think of all the good times and hard work that went into making the Claremont the greatest diner of all time. Morris Bauman and the crew were the best. Hope to hear from those that loved the Claremont as much as me.

  10. It’s been more than three years since I wrote the Claremont Diner cheesecake story, and yet it continues to get a steady stream of readers every month. Maybe I should find a way to put it on the home page permanently!

  11. I lived in Verona many years ago – but have fond memories of the Claremont Diner and it’s awesome cheesecake. It used to be a regular stop late evenings & early am’s for my friends and I after a night on the town. Food was awesome and I always got a slice of cheesecake for desert. Morris would always be roaming the tables talking with the customers asking if everything was ok with their meals. You almost felt obligated to tell him if something wasn’t right because he was so dedicated to making sure it was. One of my close friends was a police officer in Verona and often escorted Morris to the bank so he could deposit his cash receipts from the diner. I also have fond memories of the White Castle drive in near the Claremont. I remember the hamburgers were 12 cents each and if there were 4 friends in my car we would usually order 5 hamburgers for each of us. Great memories – thanks for writing the article and keeping it alive so that the children and grandchildren of Morris and Jeff can see what wonderful and dedicated people they were.

  12. I remember being taken to dinner at the Claremont Diner often by my parents during the 1960’s. Morris Bauman was like an entertainer doing comedy as he called the names of people waiting to be seated with his hand-held microphone. Even the wait was a happening since, in later years, it was not uncommon for Morris to provide fried chicken wings in hot chafing dishes for the hordes waiting an hour or more to be seated. Once I went off to college at Rutgers-New Brunswick in the mid-1970’s we would often pile into someone’s car, spur of the moment, traveling to the Claremont in Verona for coffee and cheesecake. What tasty memories!

  13. Hello,
    I recently drove passed what used to be the Claremont Diner- my favorite place to eat with my family when I was a child. I tried to recreate the atmosphere and the food in my description to my daughter but my words failed my memory. It was hard to describe to a 13 year old today because there is nothing like it today that she can relate to. My family lived in Denville and we drove all the way to Verona for that amazing comfort food. I also remember Sunday nights were a popular night for my family to go there. My grandmother always ordered Flanken in the Pot. Where on earth had you ever heard of Flanken being on the menu? I remember the Matzoh Ball soup and the amazing Challah. I was a young child and that warm Challah with whipped butter was like heaven. Those were the days when a big basket of bread was not considered “Carb Poison” we loved bread and ordered more! I fondly remember waiting on line and the wait was so worth the inconvenience. Today there is nothing really worth the wait anymore. So as I tried to tell these fond memories to my kids who just could not relate I went straight to my friend google and found your article. Finally, someone else shares my fond memories of the Claremont. Thank you for writing this article and Jeff thank you for sharing your story as well. I loved your Dad’s cheesecake! I don’t know how we didn’t gain 20 lbs. after each meal there. We stuffed ourselves and then did not skip on ordering dessert too! I remember the meal all started with the cold silver bowls on the table filled with Claremont Salad. I used to call it that although I don’t know if that is what it was really called. A vinegar based coleslaw that we used silver tongs to serve onto little plates. And the pickles too!
    Thanks for letting me share!
    Jodi

  14. When I was a young child, my family and I used to go to the Weeqahic Diner in Newark. I remember Leo Bauman used to always pinch my cheek. I remember that we had a waitress named Sonia. As time went by, we used to go to the Claremont Diner in Verona they used to put out a dish of olives and celery along with a big bowl of health salad. My father knew the bartender, Heshie who always made me Shirley Temples while we waited for a table. Such great memories!

  15. Judy,
    Thank you so much for the memories, the health salad and the Shirley Temples. The story of the Claremont Diner has become the most read and most commented on story on MyVeronaNJ.com, but it still amazes me how fondly people remember it. Wish there was a place where we could get their cheesecake right now.

  16. I first heard about the Claremont Diner while living in the Bronx and listening to Vin Scelsa on WFMU. It sounded like a fantastic place.

    My first visit was in June 1977 with my wife, Joanne, just after we closed on our house in Verona. It was just after the reopening after the first fire. A wonderful introduction to Verona, indeed!

  17. About 45 to 50 years ago my father’s boss’s daughter, who was Jewish, would bring her sons over every year at Christmas to see our Christmas tree. My mom would make her peppers and eggs for lunch which she loved. She would bring us a Claremont Diner Cheesecake piled high with strawberries. It was the most delicious cheesecake I have ever had! Back then I believe it was around $25 which was quite expensive. I was so disappointed when they closed.

  18. Hi. I was given the cheesecake recipe by a relative years ago and was told it was the original. But I see it differs from the one shown in the book. Mine reads…4 8oz pkgs. cream cheese…1 pt heavy cream…7 eggs….1 1/2 cups sugar….juice from 1 lemon…2 tbs flour….2 tbs vanilla. Which is correct? Thanks for any reply.

  19. I do not believe the one in the book is the real deal. I ate (along with my family) at both the Weequahic Diner and the Claremont diner and remember them both very well. The Bauman brothers built the Claremont Diner in the 60s as they saw the shift in Newark’s Jewish community. People were moving west.

    The “real” recipe is the one on the Old Newark website. Just Google Weequahic Diner cheesecake. It’s close to identical to the one that Al Salzano has. It was served at the diner long before Mr. Jensen’s father went to work there if he came to the diner after Castro took over in Cuba.

    I’ve made the Weequahic Diner cheesecake many times from the Old Newark recipe and it’s the real thing. I have doubled the amount of vanilla though which makes me think that Al Salzano’s recipe is exactly right.

  20. I’ve been told a family member worked for or was connected to “The Claremont Diner” in NJ. He died in ’76.. name was Melvyn Naarden. Does anyone remember that name? I’d love to hear stories if they exist.

  21. Jay,

    In 1974, the Claremont was sold. The buyer was my best friend’s father, Mel Simowitz. I recently learned that Mel had a partner in the deal who shared the same first name. It was, of course Mel Naarden.

    The Mels were the owners at the time of the fire and the reopening. The modern design was a big mistake. One problem was the green-tinted windows. They made the food look green when the sun shone through.

    After my dad passed away, my mother got a job for a few months at the Claremont. IIRC, she greeter people at the door and seated them, and was also the was the cashier they paid on their way out.

  22. Went to summer camp for eight years in the 60s. The night before I left we ALWAYS went to the Clermont and my dad let me have lobster and of course cheesecake for desert. When I got home from camp the very next day after getting home we would go to the Clermont. Recently had about five weeks of work in the West Orange area and had to pass the location of the Clermont every day. Can still see Morris wiping his brow after sweating while talking to all the waiting diners. Great memories

  23. Seth,
    Thanks for sharing and sorry for the delayed response. I’ve heard some wild stories about Mel and his restaurants. He died young but from the stories it’s like he jammed five lifetimes into his short life. The green-tinted windows sounds like it was a big mistake. Hopefully they got a laugh out of it!

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