John Pilafas, owner of Benedict’s La Strata, in Crystal Lake, grew up in the restaurant business before launching his own place. (Chris LInden photo)

Benedict’s La Strata: Enjoy a Little Creativity at Breakfast and Lunch

Breakfast is just the starting point for the inventive menu at this spot in downtown Crystal Lake. Meet the inventive chef who puts a creative, and healthy, spin on every meal.

John Pilafas, owner of Benedict’s La Strata, in Crystal Lake, grew up in the restaurant business before launching his own place. (Chris Linden photo)
John Pilafas, owner of Benedict’s La Strata, in Crystal Lake, grew up in the restaurant business before launching his own place. (Chris Linden photo)

The morning meal is the main focus at Benedict’s La Strata, 40 N. Williams St., in downtown Crystal Lake, and its sister restaurant, Benedict’s Eggs & More, 8 S. River St., in East Dundee. In both locations, owner John Pilafas offers a refreshingly creative spin on the run-of-the-mill breakfast and lunch joint.

“Probably the No. 1 difference has to do with the creativity and quality we offer,” says Pilafas. “At chain restaurants, diners are served food that has a ‘corporate feel.’ I enjoy creating new entrees. My aim is to make this the Charlie Trotter’s of breakfast.”

Indeed, Pilafas’ menus offer both traditional fare and more health-conscious entrees, as more diners seek vegetarian, gluten-free and heart-healthy breakfasts.

“When the alarm sounded on cholesterol, eggs were considered the ‘bad guys’ for awhile,” Pilafas says. “This rise in cholesterol consciousness led to higher consumption of egg whites. Today, our second-most popular omelet is one made with egg whites.”

His most recent menu update addresses this trend toward smart eating, and includes more vegetarian dishes, new salads and healthy ingredients such as quinoa and kale. All meats are hormone-free; chickens are free-range and beef is grass-fed. And Pilafas will begin sourcing local mushrooms, soon.

Eggs appear on the menu in a huge variety of forms, from omelets and frittatas to traditional breakfasts and more complex treats.

Of course, there’s eggs Benedict, a classic combination of Canadian bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce served on a toasted English muffin. Benedict-like variations feature crab cakes, artichoke hearts, smoked salmon, 3-ounce filet mignons and smoked salmon.

Another staple that’s no surprise is the strata, a baked egg and bread casserole. Among customer favorites are blueberry/cream cheese and ham/goat cheese stratas. Customers also enjoy homemade quiche, huevos rancheros, pancakes, crepes, Belgian waffles, oatmeal, French toast and cheesy grits with andouille sausage.

Breakfast, however, is only the beginning. A wide selection of panini, burgers and wraps comprise the lunch lineup, such as Reuben, Californian club and grilled artichoke/portabella panini or smoked turkey/orange cranberry relish and avocado/cucumber/Gruyere cheese sandwiches. Among many salad options are Mediterranean chopped, Cobb, Waldorf and Asian chicken.

The full-service bar turns out a steady stream of bloody marys and mimosas. The wine selection is primarily Californian, with some European and South American labels.

Unlike its sister venue in East Dundee, Benedict’s La Strata serves dinner, on Friday and Saturday only – a plus for patrons attending the Raue Center for the Arts, located just down the street. The dinner menu offers staples like lasagna, fresh fish and Mediterranean-style baby back ribs.

Pilafas grew up in a family restaurant environment. His father, Nick, was associated with the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor in Chicago from 1917 to 1951, before he branched out to other venues in the suburbs.

“I got my start in food service as a dishwasher,” Pilafas says. He opened the East Dundee location in 2003, and the Crystal Lake location in 2008.

In his present role as executive chef for both locations, Pilafas trains his line staff, lends a helping hand in the kitchen, and focuses on operations and menu creation. His wife, Sara, is engaged in marketing and bookkeeping.

Benedict’s La Strata accommodates 100 diners indoors, and about another 80 outdoors during warmer weather. The patio is located just off the main sidewalk downtown. Reservations are accepted and free Wi-Fi is available. After hours, Pilafas welcomes bridal and baby showers, anniversary parties and other private events.

Benedict’s La Strata is open daily for breakfast and lunch, from 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays from 5-10 p.m. Benedict’s Eggs & More is open daily for breakfast and lunch only, from 7 a.m.-2 p.m.