From the time it opened in 1905, until it closed in 1962, Little Jack’s restaurant was a force in the Chicago restaurant dining scene. At its peak in the ’50s, the sprawling three-dining room restaurant reportedly served between 600,000 and 1 million meals annually. Named for John H. “Little Jack” Levin (1887-1971), a Chicago Park District commissioner from 1946 to 1969, the restaurant & bar had its own cigar and whiskey labels, and was the first in town to offer air-conditioning. John held the reins until 1933 when his son Frank took over. Frank passed away in 2012 at 101 years old.
While I’m sure there were other popular dishes, Little Jack’s is best remembered for its Mrs. Little Jack’s cheesecake. I’ve tried multiple times to get the original recipe from the family, but thus far, the closest I’ve come was a note from one of the Levins saying that a recipe I featured came close. So….here we go again! Yet another, “cheesecake like Little Jack’s.”
Lorraine Gregory, a lovely 97-year-old now living in Alsip, called to tell me that she had a Mrs. Little Jack’s cheesecake recipe given to her by a woman named Bev who used to work for the Levins. Lorraine’s been baking the cheesecake for decades. Her own memories of Little Jack’s go back to the 1940s when her sister Ruth used to go out ballroom dancing and capped the evening with a slice of the cheesecake. “Back then, Little Jack’s was in a neighborhood that was not a place you’d want to be alone. A little dicey,” says Lorraine. “My family just loves this cake. It’s really simple to make.”
- Cheesecake Filling Ingredients
- 3, 8-ounce packages of cream cheese
- 1 1/2 cups pure-cane sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Graham Cracker Crust
- 1/2 box graham crackers finely crushed
- 1/2 stick melted unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Topping Ingredients
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla
- Make filling: Bring eggs and cream cheese to room temperature. Add sugar 1/4 cup at a time and stir until smooth with a wooden spoon. Add eggs, one at a time, still stirring with wooden spoon. Add salt and vanilla.
- Make crust: Finely crush graham crackers with a rolling pin. Place in a medium-sized bowl along with sugar and cinnamon. Melt butter; stir into crumb mixture.
- Assemble cake: Press buttered crumbs into bottom of nine-inch springform pan. Carefully pour the cream cheese batter into the crust in the springform pan.
- Bake: On a rack in the center of the oven, place a sheet of foil; Place cheesecake on top of the foil. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Turn oven off and crack open the door. Allow cake to rest in oven an additional 15 minutes with the door slightly ajar. Remove cake to a cooling rack. Rest cake for another 15 minutes or until cake is just lukewarm.
- Heat oven to 450
- Make topping: Mix topping ingredients and smooth over cake. Place in oven at 450 and bake for 10 minutes. Cool cake on rack. Refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving