Photos courtesy Cecil & MerlUtter the phrase "artisanal bitters" in a word-association game, and Brooklyn would no doubt be the first thing to come to mind. "Cheesecake," on the other hand, might conjure thoughts of unappetizing—and unhealthy—slabs on offer from laminated menus in your local chain restaurant. Enter two-year-old Cecil & Merl, a Brooklyn-based goods company created by Deborah Williamson and Bryan Calvert, the owners of Prospect Heights's stunning James restaurant—the two-year-old brand bringing new, small-batch panache to the dessert (and the time-tested cocktail flavoring).
Inspired by the popularity of the all-natural lemon-ricotta version served at James, Williamson and Calvert decided to sell the healthfully-crafted cakes en masse. Made in a rustic loaf shape, the desserts are gluten-fee, made with crème fraîche, ricotta, whole milk cream cheese, and hormone-free eggs sourced from the Catskills. Add to that graham-cracker crusts (made with brown rice-based graham crackers, natch), and a newly-introduced seasonal flavor variety (think tart mango, rich dulce de leche, autumnal-inspired pumpkin), and consider our pre-conceived notion about cheesecake officially turned on its head.
Since the duo founded Cecil & Merl two years ago, the offerings have grown to include chic canvas market totes as well as natural cocktail bitters in cherry and apricot flavors. Crafted in collaboration with bartender Justin Lane Briggs, Williamson suggests trying the cherry iteration alongside aged rum, and pairing the rosemary-inflected apricot version with bourbon. Add a slice of pumpkin cheesecake, and you've got a fall-ready nightcap that is as delicious as it is Brooklyn-cool.