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:
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.
Jeffrey J. Jensen
Director of Operations
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.
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.