Tucked away in the shadows down on Jackson street in Perryville, lies a powerful and kind of dangerous hidden secret.
I never would have even noticed if it wasn’t for the sweet aroma that dragged me down the block and around the corner bringing me face to face with The Cheesecake Ninja.
As I walked through the doors I was greeted by a friendly hello and a mischievous grin. In no time at all I knew why he was grinning like that, because that’s when I saw all of the beautiful cakes and was drawn like a moth to a flame right to the large glass display case where I’m certain I would have been trapped forever had it not been for the wry, “May I help you?” that suddenly broke the spell and snapped me back to reality, and that’s when I met the Ninja himself.
Meet Greg Franklin. The reluctant baker with a refreshingly sarcastic wit and a very funny charm. The intrigue and mystery surrounding this Loki like man drew me in just as much as the cakes. I had to know more.
“How long have you been baking?” I asked.
“About 5 years.” He said.
“5 years total, or you’ve been doing it professionally for 5 years?”
“Oh, I’m still not professional.” He said with his trademark grin.
“So, what inspired you to start?” I asked, expecting to hear that he’d always loved cooking or that maybe it was a family talent. But instead his inspiration was a little simpler than I’d been expecting.
“I was bored one day.” He said.
"I tried to stop but it never did just go away..."
Not sure if he was serious or joking with me, I asked, “Was there a clear moment when you realized you wanted to do this?”
I’ve gotta be honest, I was really not prepared when he answered, “I’m still not sure I wanna do this, I don’t like baking.” He chuckled.
Wait, what?! He went on to tell me how he’d never really been good in the kitchen, and had even done poorly in Home Economics in high school. “I did terrible in Home Ec! The only thing I remember ever making was spaghetti pie.”
“Does your high school Home Ec teacher know you own your own cheesecake shop now?” I asked, amused and ready to listen to his story.
“Yeah, she came in and had some when she was here visiting. She loved it.”
“So, if you don’t like baking, what triggered you to say, ‘I think I’m gonna make a cheesecake!’?”
“I saw a picture of one on facebook and I was bored so I decided to try making one.”
He then told me the story of his first cheesecake while showing me a picture of a sad looking dessert that had been overcooked and looked like it was melting a little. He talked about how his wife came home and couldn’t believe what he was doing. “But you don’t bake!” He exclaimed while impersonating the missus. “I know, I hate baking. I’m never doing it again.” He had told her.
“So, what happened to never doing it again?”
“Well, I got an idea and had to try it. Every time I’d make one, I’d say, ‘I’m never doing that again.’ But then I’d get another idea. I tried to stop but it never did just go away, and now here I am!” With another flash of his pearly whites, he started bringing out the mini cakes.
“Holy peanut butter wow Ninja, this is awesome!”
The first one I tried was the Reese’s Peanut Butter Gooey Butter Cake. (You know it’s gonna be awesome when the title has the word butter in it and this one has it twice!) It had a perfectly smooth rich texture inside, a beautiful flaky sweet surface, and was topped with Reese’s Pieces (one of my favorite candies). Creamy and sweet with strong chocolate flavors, this had to have been the most amazing gooey butter cake I’ve ever had.
“Holy peanut butter wow Ninja, this is awesome!” I mumbled excitedly with a mouthful of cake.
“Yeah, that’s one of my worst.” If you mean worst as in most dangerous, or most likely to become my nemesis, Double Chin, well then, I’d have to agree.
“How do you get everything so rich and creamy without it being overwhelmingly sweet?” I asked.
“Well, because I don’t like baking, I make everything from scratch.” Again, I can never really tell when he’s serious and when he’s joking, but either way he’s funny.
“Have you ever thought about being a comedian, or an online personality or something? I bet you’d make a great reality show!”
"...because I don’t like baking, I make everything from scratch."
“I had a podcast when I first opened. It was called Don’t Keep Your Day Job. My main point during the thing was that I’m not a people person at all. I don’t really like people or being around a lot of them, so getting into hospitality was of course the logical choice.” As he said this, he brought me a “sample platter” of his mini cheesecakes, and my response turned to bumble, stumble and stutter as my whole mouth filled with saliva all at once. I don’t think I’ve been this excited to eat something since I’ve been able to walk and talk.
The first one I went for was the Kahlua. (I swear it was calling my name.) Thick & creamy with strong flavors of chocolate and coffee, it was love at first bite. It had a rich chocolate cake base with a layer of silky soft cheesecake containing hints of coffee and vanilla, topped with velvety smooth, ridiculously creamy whipped topping with the subtle flavor of coffee liqueur.
The next one was a familiar white with so many flecks of chocolate it was almost silvery looking. “I’m guessing this one’s Oreo.” I said confidently.
“No… Funny story though…” He went on to tell me about a customer he had some 4 years ago or so who came in wanting a large cheesecake. “I had an Oreo one in the case, so they took it home.” Later that day he received his very first complaint and they gave him a bad review, acting as if they were outraged because “This was not the best cheesecake ever,” (even though they had eaten the entire thing and could not bring anything back for the refund he offered...lol), AND it didn’t have “real Oreos”, meaning they were upset because he hadn’t used the name brand cookie and instead had gotten another kind of sandwich cookie similar to Oreos that he thought made for a better ingredient. “So, now it’s called Cookies & Cream.” He concluded. Cookie & cream flavor with a divinely light creamy whipped topping and tiny crumbles of chocolate cookie throughout…who ever complained that “this is not the best…” is nuts. Fluffy, sweet, and perfect, it’s the best Cookie’s and Cream cheesecake I’ve ever had.
Let me say it one more time for the one in the back looking over your shoulder…ahem… “THIS IS THE BEST COOKIES & CREAM CHEESECAKE I’VE EVER HAD!!”
While laughing at his story and enjoying the conversation I accidently tapped the front of the counter which is more like a huge metal desk and it thundered this loud echoing boom. I did it like 3 different times during the conversation and finally just said, “I’m so sorry, I don’t mean to keep bumping into that.”
“It’s fine.” He said. “Kids come in here and drive their mom’s crazy with that all the time.” He told me how children love to bang on it to make the big noise and they love to put their fingers and faces on the glass and the mom’s will be freaking out the entire time trying to make them stop. “I don’t mind it.” He said, “That’s what the glass is there for. I have to clean it like 4 times a day anyway. I always tell ‘em, ‘Let ‘em touch it, it’s job security!”
The next one I tried was the Ninja Turtle. Traditional cheesecake on graham cracker crust topped with fudge, homemade caramel and a huge pecan half…DELICIOUS! Creamy & scrumptious with a classic turtle chocolates taste that had me reminiscing about Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house.
This next one is actually the newest addition to The Cheesecake Ninja. The Buttercake Brulee topped with caramelized brown sugar is so incredibly light, fluffy & fantastically sweet it was almost like eating rich creamy ice cream, only without the risk of brain freeze.
“This is delicious!"
Next was the Cherry Pop, and it ended up being Tom’s favorite. Decadent chocolate cheesecake with an exciting cherry flavor layered on top of that rich chocolate cake “crust”, and topped with a pretty pink dollop of that silky fluffy wonderful whipped topping. Only, this topping had a cherry taste, but not just cherry, there was something else too. The flavor literally popped. “This is delicious! I can’t figure out what’s in this that’s making that cherry so, so…” Thank goodness he already knew what I was getting at because I just could not find the words.
“Both the cheesecake and the whipped cream are infused with cherry soda.” He explained. Wow. That’s pretty brilliant. I didn’t think I could be more impressed. Then he pointed out the next one.
Bourbon infused, peanut butter, Reese’s Pieces, Nutter Butter, chocolate chip with bourbon whipped cream. Wow that was a mouthful, but so was the dish. Rich, creamy, sweet peanut buttery cheesecake stacked on a thin rich chocolate cake base with a dollop of melty fudge smack dab in the middle of it all and topped with a euphoric bourbon infused whipped cream. Even though this decadent work of art has not yet been named, it’s already been claimed. “This one is only going to be here for a limited time because it’s soon going to be exclusive only to the restaurant up the street.”
‘What in the name of all that is creamy is that?!’
“You have any full-size cheesecakes?” Tom asked as he finished photographing the last few minis.
“Oh yeah,” said Greg, and in no time at all he had retrieved this massive beast of a cheesecake from the back. All I could think was, ‘What in the name of all that is creamy is that?!’
He must have read my mind because he instantly flashed a grin at me and said, “This one’s called Cleaning out the Pantry. Because I just had a bunch of ingredients left over and decided to put them all together.”
If you thought that last one was a mouthful, don’t try saying this one or it’ll choke ya. Lol. Coffee moonshine, Reese’s Pieces, Butterfinger, chocolate sandwich cookies (not Oreos), chocolate, homemade caramel, topped with several large alternating dollops of chocolate whipped topping and coffee whipped topping. I didn’t get the chance to taste it though.
“I would cut you a piece, but I don’t cut them... I can never bring myself to do it.”
“I would cut you a piece, but I don’t cut them, I just sell them whole. I can never bring myself to do it.” I understand. I don’t think I could deface something that beautiful either. But man did it look tasty!
Thank you, Cheesecake Ninja for an amazing afternoon! And until next time 573 land, don’t forget to loosen up and treat yourself every once in a while…But don’t just give in to the urge, go in like a Ninja and Attack Your Cravings!