Uncle Tetsu's Japanese Cheesecake (Toronto)

What would possess someone to wait for two or more hours to buy a cake? When I heard about Uncle Tetsu and their notoriously long lines, it was the first thing to pop into my mind. Two hours? It better be some damn good cake!

In May, I found myself with a day off work and no particular plans; I knew this would be my chance to finally brave the line.  @Tetsulineup provides pictures of the queue throughout each day and weekdays at the end of the lunch hour seemed shortest to me. Arming myself with magazines and a full stomach, I made my way to the store and joined a line that reached the start of the narrow driveway between Uncle Tetsu and the neighbouring building.

On a beautiful sunny day the time went by quickly; I got through a magazine, made a couple of reservations and before I knew it, half an hour later, entered the store. The smell is intoxicating with whiffs of butter, sugar and egg dancing throughout the small bakery. There was much to see with the batter being carefully combined and the madeleines funneled into their waiting cups.

Really, the last fifteen minutes in the store flew by and before I knew it a fresh cake was being branded with the familiar smiling cartoon character, then boxed and bagged in front of me. At last, the coveted six inch cheesecake ($8.88) and add on madeleines ($2.22 each, buy 3 get 1 free) were mine!

In reading reviews on the product, descriptions often used are “soft”, “light in cheese flavor” and “light”. Conceptually, I could imagine what the cake was like but didn’t seem detailed enough to understand what made them so good. So, I will attempt to expand on my thoughts for the cheesecake.

The Smell

Despite the rich buttery smell at the bakery, which must be derived from the madeleines, the cheesecake is relatively muted in smell. In the end, there’s only a delicate sweet egg-like fragrance.

The Consistency

When viewing the cake it looks like a larger Korean honey cake – a light airy sponge cake. But, upon touch it’s much moister and heavier than expected. The consistency isn’t cake-like at all: as you cut through it with a fork you can hear small bubbles give way and the cake bounce back up.

The closest thing I can describe it to is the coconut gelatin desserts found at dim sum restaurants, when eaten warm. There are small air pockets that contrast against the smoothness of the cake. However, after chilling it in the fridge it becomes denser and closer to the western cheesecake consistency; even denser still on the second day.

The Taste

It’s remarkable how different the cake will taste when eaten warm compared to chill. Progressing even further when eaten on the first day compared to the second – I know you’re likely wondering how I made it last two days!

Everyone seems to have their own opinion as to what tastes best so I’d suggest trying both to gauge your preference. Personally, I could eat it either way but do like the cold cheesier version. When warm, there’s a delicate flavour (think ricotta or whipped cream cheese) that ever so slightly peaks out to remind you this isn’t a sponge cake – a cheesecake peek-a-boo. But, once chilled the cheese isn’t hiding anymore; it’s definitely there and you’ll taste it. Having said that, it is still much lighter than the New York cheesecake variety you’ll eat.

Uncle Tetsu’s menu is still expanding and the only other item currently being sold in large quantities are their madeleines - a larger version of the French butter cakes. Theirs is still rich and fragrant except the top of it has a crust rather than being a delicate cake.

Unlike muffins where the top of the pastry is the best part; I found the madeleine’s bottom layer more desirable. These certainly aren’t worth the wait. But, if you’re already there, you might as well pick up one to try. They have their own appeal: once you get past the crust, you’re greeted with a moist buttery pound cake that leaves a delicious eggy vanilla scent in your mouth.

If you’re one of the first customers, you may also get to purchase a cone of Uncle Tetsu rusks ($6.66), dried biscotti like offerings made from damaged day-old cheesecakes.

In speaking with the cashier who works there, she notes they are already planning other Toronto locations (maybe at Union Station and/or getting more property around their Bay and Dundas location). Perhaps, at that time, customers can finally start purchasing some of their other baked offerings including the Angel hat, other flavours of madeleines and from their website something called the Sol-chan’s cheese tart? Nevertheless, the original cheesecake will likely be what draws people in.

With the store opening earlier at 7am, hopefully more people can get their cheesecake fix in any given day. Indeed, I wouldn’t wait for two hours to get another taste of the cake, but perhaps half an hour, on a nice day - that would be bearable.  

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 598 Bay Street

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