Many chefs and restaurant folks say they’ve spent their entire lives in the industry, and sure, washing dishes at fifteen is pretty close to lifelong when you’ve surpassed middle age. But Alan Rosen really has been hanging around eateries since the day he was born (and before, if you count being in the womb). The grandson of Junior’s (386 Flatbush Avenue Extension, Brooklyn; 718-852-5257) founder Harry Rosen, he’s now a third-generation co-owner of the 65-year-old Brooklyn institution, along with his father, Walter, and brother Kevin.
In addition to overseeing the restaurant, its mail-order and wholesale businesses, and juniorscheesecake.com, Rosen is also an avid home-entertainer and cookbook author; his latest tome is all about taking readers into his world with his favorite recipes from the restaurant and his own personal repertoire.
Rosen has spent much of his life within the Junior’s walls. He started working there as a kid, peeling doilies behind the counter. Around the age of seven, he was bussing tables. One of his earliest memories was dropping a bus pan of plates and mugs, and then breaking down in tears. He was afraid his father would be mad, but his dad came over to reassure him instead. “I was there all the time,” says Rosen. “If I wanted to see my dad, I had to go to the restaurant, because he worked every day.”
Although he knew he’d go into the industry, Rosen didn’t always think he’d go on to continue the family legacy. After high school, he enrolled in hospitality school, where he took cooking courses and management classes, but just as it had his father, the family business eventually called to him.
Over the years, Junior’s has changed quite a bit, but its soul has remained the same. And its famous cheesecake recipe, painstakingly developed by Rosen’s grandfather in the mid 20th century, is exactly the same, though new toppings have been added and some older ones have changed. The menu still focuses on its kosher roots, but it has also been modified to represent the changes of the neighborhood. Items like barbecue chicken and ribs have been added as well as new interpretations of old dishes, like the Something Different, a sandwich developed by Rosen’s uncle, which features the restaurant’s classic brisket between two potato pancakes with apple sauce, sour cream, and au jus or mushroom sauce on the side. “I think a big part of our success is that we stick to our roots,” says Rosen. “We do change things, but if our regulars want something we’ve taken off the menu, we’ll always make it for them. We have customers that do that all the time.”
For the Rosens, however, the hospitality didn’t end at the restaurant walls. The Rosen household was always open to friends, neighbors, and their kids. They always made extra food, and the younger Rosens’ friends were always invited to share a meal. “That’s how I grew up,” says Rosen. “And that’s how I want my kids to grow up. I’ve always wanted to be the house that all the kids want to come to.”
Known for its generous portions of comfort fare, Junior’s focus is on creating a home away from home for its customers. Much of Rosen’s life has been spent at the restaurant (it’s just part of the business). Even so, he still chooses to host get-togethers and dinner parties at home. He admit his wife does most of the planning and the prep; Rosen usually mans the main dish. In the book, he says, “This makes me feel like a hero — I love that!”
With an emphasis on doing things “the Junior’s Way,” the book lays out the game plan for entertaining with ease. Rosen offers numerous menu selections, with plans for backyard barbecues, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Easter brunch, Fourth of July, kids’ parties, and a New Year’s Day buffet. His goal is to teach hosts how to accommodate visitors properly. “The biggest mistake people make is they try to do too much,” says Rosen. “It’s best to take four or five simple recipes that can be prepped ahead of time, so you’re not stuck in the kitchen while your guests are there.”
As long as weather permits, Rosen is a big fan of grilling. It’s quick, not difficult to clean up, and it’s easy to hold a conversation in the process. That’s why his salmon is one of his old reliables for guests; it’s one of the many recipes included that is not found at the restaurant. His favorite deviled eggs rendition is another. Many come from Rosen’s personal repertoire, while others were developed for other restaurant concepts.
The volume does include Junior’s classics, though, such as cheese blintzes, barbecue baby back ribs, Caesar salad, potato pancakes with homemade apple sauce, chicken liver, and, of course, the famous Original New York Cheesecake. “People ask me if it’s the real cheesecake recipe,” says Rosen. “Of course it is. I want this book to be about bringing Junior’s into your home.”
Click to the next page for Junior’s Original New York Cheesecake recipe.
The Junior’s Way
Master Baker Michael Goodman says: “Always bake the cheesecake in a water bath, as we do here at Junior’s. It keeps the heat in the oven moist and helps the cake bake slowly, gently, and evenly. This helps ensure that your cheesecake comes out of the oven with a smooth top — and no large cracks.”
Original New York Cheesecake
1 recipe 9-inch Junior’s Sponge Cake Crust
Four 8-ounce packages cream cheese (use only full fat) at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra large eggs
3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
Makes one 9‐inch cheesecake, about 2 1/2 inches high
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9‐inch springform pan. Wrap the outside with aluminum foil, covering the bottom and extending all the way up the sides. Make and bake the cake crust and leave it in the pan. Keep the oven on.
2. Put one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times. Blend in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, scraping down the bowl after each one.
3. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar, then the vanilla. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one. Beat in the cream just until completely blended. Be careful not to overmix! Gently spoon the batter over the crust.
4. Place the cake in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes about 1 inch up the sides of the springform. Bake until the edges are light golden brown and the top is slightly golden tan, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath, transfer to a wire rack, and let cool for 2 hours (just walk away — don’t move it). Then, leave the cake in the pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until completely cold, preferably overnight or for at least 4 hours.
5. To serve, release and remove the sides of the springform, leaving the cake on the bottom of the pan. Place on a cake plate. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice the cold cake with a sharp straight-edge knife, not a serrated one. Cover any leftover cake and refrigerate or wrap and freeze for up to one month.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 15, 2015