Order Up: Is Benzonia ready for gluten-free buckwheat pancakes?

Aug 17, 2017

The Crystal Café in Benzonia has been a popular breakfast spot for 20 years. The café serves standard diner fare like corned beef hash, but also get creative – with dishes like Hawaiian omelets and bread pudding French toast.

Thomas Wright mixes up a batch of Hollandaise sauce.
Credit Sam Corden

Thomas Wright is the new owner of Crystal Café, but just a year ago, he was a server here. He’d moved north from Ann Arbor with his fiancé. They were enjoying the Up North life, and planning their wedding.

Then, last summer, out of the blue, the owners of the café said they wanted out of the business.

“Owning a restaurant has always kind of been a dream of mine and my fiance’s, and so we just sort of jumped on it,” says Wright.

At the time, Wright had no professional experience as a cook. But still, they scraped the money together, hired some new staff, overhauled the menu and started making the place their own.

Wright loves to experiment with new dishes, although it’s been a bit of a challenge to figure out the tastes of Benzonians.

On Mother’s Day weekend, he misjudged things a bit. He made a big batch of chocolate waffles. They were light and fluffy and a great example of pretty simple diner food.

And they were a total flop.

“Right around that same weekend – Mother’s Day – we did buckwheat, gluten-free carrot pancakes with cinnamon raisin cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut, and I could not make enough of it,” says Wright. “I had to make three more batches that weekend that I did not expect to make.”

Orders come up during a busy breakfast shift at Crystal Cafe in Benzonia.
Credit Sam Corden

Wright is carefully pouring clarified butter into a metal mixing bowl, making one of his signature dishes – eggs Benedict.

“I’m slowly adding the butter to the tempered egg yolk and white wine vinegar, whisking continuously and it starts getting thicker and thicker,” he says.

Crystal Cafe's motto is "Live gratefully, eat whole, spice responsibly."
Credit Sam Corden

Eggs Benedict is one of the Crystal Café’s best sellers, and Wright is proud that fact, even though he personally doesn’t like it.

“I don’t like Hollandaise,” he says. “I don’t like poached eggs with those super runny yolks. I don’t like the combination of runny yolk and ham.”

Wright says even though he’s not a fan, eggs Benedict will always be on the menu at Crystal Café.

“It’s classic. It’s ancient,” he says. “It will be around forever because if you make it properly, it is that good.”