Author Damon Runyon was a regular, basing his cast of thousands -- Milk Ear Willy and Harry the Horse among them -- on actual Lindy's personages.
Guys and Dolls, the 1950s-vintage Broadway musical hit based on Runyon's writings, featured Nathan Detroit (nom de guerre for prohibition-era gangster Arnold Rothstein) extolling the culinary excellence of the cheesecake at "Mindy's."
From opening day in 1921 to its ultimate demise in 1969, Lindy's featured the pantheon of great Jewish delicacies -- corned beef, pickled herring, sturgeon, and gefilte fish. But it was the cheesecake that kept the likes of Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Phil Silvers, Walter Winchell, and Al Jolson coming back for more.
Cheesecake was the apotheosis of the New York dessert, and nobody did it better than Lindy's.
Since 1969, a mystique of sorts has grown up around the Lindy's cheesecake recipe, as though it were a piece of lost New York.
Celebrated food writer Craig Claiborne wrote in the New York Times in 1977 about how the recipe had "disappeared off the face of the earth," but a versatile pastry chef reverse-engineered it by observing an elderly cheesecake preparer he had hired who claimed a Lindy's pedigree and refused disclosure.
In reality, the recipe was never lost because it was never secret, said Karyn Golumbeck, the granddaughter of Lindemann's original partner, Joseph Kramer.
"I grew up with it; we've always had the recipe," said Golumbeck, 66, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her psychiatrist husband Tim.
Golumbeck recalled how her father, Jack, who took over from his father as co-owner and manager of the two Lindy's Broadway locations in the 1950s, gave the recipe out freely. The bona fides of her copy of the recipe are undeniable: It is typewritten on original Lindy's business stationery.
It had lain dormant in her home until recent years when she decided she ought to "give it a go."
"Cheesecake is good but this one just seemed to be, I don't know, maybe it's the orange rind or lemon rind that gave it a special flavor," Golumbeck said in a phone interview. "It was smooth. It was good. It was everything you dream cheesecake should be."
For Golumbeck, it doesn't take much to uncork the Lindy's family lore that she's carried with her since childhood. The restaurant had been open just a few years in the 1920s when Al Jolson, about the most popular entertainer of his time, quickly tired of curtain calls at the Wintergarden Theater and announced that anyone who wanted more could join him at Lindy's.
Golumbeck has a transcript of a speech her late father gave in 1990 in which he recalled how Lindy's was the only restaurant to serve breakfast after lunch, a courtesy to the late-rising "show business mob," and how they sent cheesecakes to Elizabeth Taylor on location in Rome. Columnists like Walter Winchell prowled the aisles for tidbits and even the kitchen help had colorful Runyonesque nicknames like Sharkey and Stock Market and, naturally, Cheesecake (the head baker).
Rothstein, the gambler-gangster, ate raw apples and sat with his back to the wall. A phone call to Lindy's in 1928 lured him away to the nearby Park Central Hotel where he was murdered.
Golumbeck was content just to share the recipe with neighbors and friends in Australia curious about her past. At a psychiatric meeting in Honolulu last year, she and Tim found themselves sitting opposite Mary Ann Cohen, a New York psychiatrist, and her husband Richard.
The very mention of Lindy's unleashed a flood of memories for Ms. Cohen, a native Manhattanite. "The two things I remembered best were the photos of famous actors and actresses on the walls and the smell of cheesecake," she said.
Armed with the recipe and promises of unlimited intercontinental coaching, the Cohens returned to New York dedicated to replicating Lindy's cheesecake. Questions from Mr. Cohen, the lead cook, were always met with the same response: Just follow the recipe to the letter. Each time a cheesecake came out of the oven in their Upper West Side kitchen, "the entire apartment smelled like Lindy's," Ms. Cohen said.
In addition to following the directions exactly, Mr. Cohen suggests stirring the batter very slowly to avoid bubble formation, and paying special attention to directions about timing and oven temperature.
Golumbeck doesn't have a Web site, a marketing plan, a book deal or a Food Network show. She's happy to part with a piece of her legacy in the hope that the world will be just a little sweeter for it.
"For people who didn't grow up with it, who want to take a step back in time, it's deliciously evocative of the past," she said.
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese (five 8-ounce bars)
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour.
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
Pinch of vanilla bean (inside pulp) OR 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
Pinch vanilla bean (inside pulp) OR 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup butter
For the filling: Combine cheese, sugar, flour, grated orange, lemon rind, and vanilla. Add eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, stirring lightly after each addition. Stir in cream.
For the crust: Combine flour, sugar, lemon rind, and vanilla. Make a well in center and add egg yolk and butter. Work together quickly with hands until well blended. Wrap in waxed paper and chill thoroughly in refrigerator for about one hour.
Preheat oven to 400°.
Roll out chilled dough to ⅛-inch thick and place over oiled bottom (only the bottom) of a 9-inch springform cake pan. Trim off the dough by running a rolling pin over sharp edge. Reserve the trimmed dough.
Bake 20 minutes or until light gold. Cool. Raise oven temperature to 550°.
Butter sides of cake form and place over base. Roll remaining dough ⅛ inch thick and cut to fit the sides of the oiled band. Fill form with cheese mixture.
Bake 12-15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 200° and continue baking one hour. Cool before cutting.