Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake at Little Atlas Cafe
Sometime in the third century BC, a Greek-born Lybian librarian, Callimachus, wrote about a long-forgotten physician by the name of Aegimus. (FYI: Both were probably named that way to confuse you and perpetuate the stereotype that all Ancient Greek names ended in "-us.")
Anyway, according to Callimachus, the doctor revolutionized the culinary world by penning the first-ever book on cheesecakes. (Before that, Aegimus just wrote boring medical stuff, like the first known work on pulses.)
Some years later, Rome's colonization of Greece helped popularize the custardy concoction in the West. Cato the Elder, a warmongering Roman statesman, gave two recipes for cheesecake in De Agri Cultura, his farming manual. Cato's "libum" variety can be prepared without flour, with two pounds of cheese mashed with a mortar; the "placenta" version calls for spelt flour and curdled sheep's milk.
Neither approach sounds very appetizing. But the dessert's spread worldwide has resulted in many regional influences and improvements, such as the addition of sweeteners or fruit marmalades.
Some approaches, like the vegan pumpkin cheesecake at Little Atlas(6 West 4th Street), have wound up evolving away from dairy altogether.
This sandwich shop -- the takeout-only version of Second Avenue's Atlas Café -- sells a slice of the milk-free selection for $5.50.
The portion features a thick, Gollum-like skin and mysteriously foamy whipped topping -- but the pastry only looks rubbery, burnt, and menacing.
The "cheese" part tastes thick, creamy, and cool, with faint hints of semisweet gourd. The crust, more cookie-like than graham crackery, has the air of anise, cardamon, and cinnamon.
Even the unidentifiable white fluff pleases. The pouf has the nostalgia-triggering vibe of cheap frosting -- the kind found on school cafeteria brownies and childhood birthday cakes.
The treat can be a bit sugary, so make sure to try with a cup of black coffee.