YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Just Desserts

Variations on a Theme at Harriet's Cheesecakes

November 05, 2000|EMORY HOLMES II

The afternoon foot-traffic at Harriet's Cheesecakes has finally thinned and Harriet Murphy Parks, 62, busies herself with a specialty order for the merchant next door. Standing back from the heat of her stove, she slowly cooks the confections that will adorn her two most popular cakes: praline and sweet potato.

Across the kitchen, hunched like a jeweler over his bench, her son Michael--part of the third generation of family cooks--squeezes caramel flourishes down the top and sides of a row of cheesecake slices, which are chilled and as white as pearls. "I have no technical training," Harriet Parks confides. "Everything I do is by accident or a cover-up of something that I've made a mistake at and have tried to work out."

Experimentation led to innovation--such as her preference for baking strawberries and other fresh fruits into her cakes rather than placing them on top. Friends soon encouraged Parks to develop her luxuriously quirky cheesecakes into a business.

She set up shop in Inglewood, just east of La Cienega Boulevard on Centinela Avenue. Seventeen years later, Harriet's Cheesecakes has become more than a neighborhood institution. "We've had customers from San Diego [and] Costa Mesa who have heard of us from word of mouth."

The little cheesecake shop boasts 65 signature flavors, including peanut butter chocolate, mandarin orange, peppermint, pina colada, mango lime, white chocolate strawberry, banana split, peaches 'n' cream, eggnog, and banana 'n' strawberry, alongside the neighborhood favorites of sweet potato, praline and her newest delight, banana pudding. And soon, with plans underway for a store on the Westside, Angelenos may be able to sample a svelte new flavor: tofu.

Harriet's Cheesecakes, 1515 Centinela Ave., Inglewood; (310) 419-2259.

Los Angeles Times Articles