From the time it opened in 1905, until it closed in 1962, Chicago’s Little Jack’s restaurant was a force in the Chicago restaurant 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 to offer air-conditioning. But 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, but wasn’t the real deal. So….here we go again! Yet another, “cheesecake like Little Jack’s.”
Last week, Lorraine Gregory, a lovely 87-year-old now living in Alsip, IL, 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.”
Makes 10 to 12 servings; one 9-inch cake
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 cups light chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 2 15oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 1/2 cups chopped swiss chard (about 1 small bunch)
- salt and pepper to taste
- juice of one lemon
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 1/4 cup grated grana padano cheese
- 2 tablespoons walnut oil
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- pinch salt
- Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to heat. Add chopped onion and reduce heat to medium. Cook onion until softened, stirring occasionally (about 5 minutes).
- While onion is cooking chop chard, open cans of beans and rinse and drain them.
- Add stock to pot and bring to a boil.
- While stock it heating, make pesto by adding parsley, walnuts, sage, cheese, walnut oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt to a food processor. Process until nearly smooth (there will still be plenty of tiny pieces of walnut). Place in a small bowl and set aside.
- When stock comes to a boil, add beans and cook for 3-5 minutes to heat through. Add chard and cook only until it wilts. Add the lemon juice.
- Serve hot with about 2 teaspoons of pesto on top to be stirred in just before eating.