DiscoverSYR: Big Mama's Cheesecakes
Big Mama’s shows Jerk some big love
By Eric Vilas-Boas
Word on the street is that Big Mama’s Cheesecakes serves up Syracuse’s best cheesecakes. When I went to check the facts, I was frustrated to find the hole-in-the-wall’s red curtains drawn and cleaning equipment strewn on the floor inside. Luckily, out walked Joe Fanizzi, the cheesecake man with a round belly and a heart of gold. “What the hell is Jerk Magazine?” he asked me when I introduced myself. Though convinced I was just trying to get some free cheesecake, Fanizzi still insisted on giving me my first taste gratis. One bite into the espresso-Kahlua cheesecake, and I was hooked. Big Mama’s boasts 40 different flavors, including apple crumb, chocolate chip cookie dough, and peanut butter chocolate. And Joe wasn’t afraid to plug the restaurant's handiwork. “I don’t think there’s a cheesecake out there that can even compare,” he said, recounting the time he took his wife’s cheesecake to bakers around New York City. Joe laughed as he told me his first of many similar stories: “‘Is that Carnegie’s?’ they’d said!” It wasn’t.
That afternoon, Joe treated me to more cheesecake, invited me to sit on lawn chairs outside, and drove me around in what he called his “junker-clunker” van. He even offered me a cheesecake to take home for the holidays.
Joe and his wife Carrie (Big Mama) run the business together. “We’re like Edith and Archie [Bunker],” he said. They have a 9-year-old son, Joseph, Jo-Jo for short. The two bake everything themselves, typically going through 145 pricey 30-pound boxes of cream cheese a week. But in a few months, Big Mama’s plans to ditch its dismal digs for Northern Lights strip mall, just down the road. Joe said that when Carrie saw the vacant spot, she told him, “We get in here Joe, we’re millionaires.” But that prospect doesn’t phase Joe.
“I don’t want to be a millionaire,” he said,
“I want to be a millionaire and give some guy on the street $10,000 bucks to help him out.” Definitely a sweet sentiment.
Photography By Matthew Ziegler