How The Claremont Diner Got Its Cheesecake

By on March 18, 2010
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.

What is this?

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.

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 here.


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15 Comments

  1. joffre

    September 20, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    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. Lisa Galen

    October 9, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Now, can we get the recipe for the French Toast?!!!!

  3. Virginia Citrano

    October 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    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.

  4. Lauren Barna Marinelli

    February 11, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    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

  5. Virginia Citrano

    February 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    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

  6. Wayne Scott Sandifer

    March 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Claremont Diner cheesecake was thee world standard and had/has no equal..The Carnegie deli is sorta close but not there!

  7. Vicki Bauman Turner

    January 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I am the grandaughter of Morris Bauman.

  8. Virginia Citrano

    January 6, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    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.

  9. Lisa Walsky Case

    January 29, 2013 at 6:11 pm

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

  10. Howard Weiner

    February 5, 2013 at 12:34 am

    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.

  11. David Mayer

    June 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    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.

  12. Robert Nicosia

    August 5, 2013 at 11:36 am

    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.

  13. Virginia Citrano

    August 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

    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!

  14. Walter Scudder

    August 11, 2013 at 7:25 am

    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.

  15. Jeff Schwartz

    June 4, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    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!

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