New shop brings Munchers cinnamon rolls, plus homemade sweets and cocktails, to downtown
photo by: Journal-World photo/Chad Lawhorn
There are sweets of all types at Crystal’s Spot. You can have one of Lawrence’s most famous cinnamon rolls with a side of bourbon. Or you can have a serving of Andre Agassi stories, I’m sure with a side of dreamy. You probably could even negotiate a deal for a new house there. The new eatery above Rudy’s Pizzeria has several twists to it.
Lawrence real estate agent Crystal Swearingen is a co-owner of Crystal’s Spot Cafe and Lounge in the upstairs space at 704 Massachusetts St. That is where the house part comes in. Swearingen has been known to close a few real estate deals at her new establishment, and why not? The business features items known to put people in a good mood — sweets and cocktails.
“About any guilty pleasure you can have with desserts, we have it,” Swearingen said.
Most of them are made by Swearingen with recipes from her southern family. But there was one local recipe she didn’t want to try to tackle — mini-cinnamon rolls from Munchers Bakery near Ninth and Iowa streets. Crystal’s Spot struck a deal with the longtime bakery to become a reseller of many of Munchers’ most popular items. That includes the cinnamon rolls, glazed donuts, apple and blueberry fritters and some cream cheese offerings.
“We want to work with businesses that don’t have a downtown presence, but would like to have one,” Swearingen said. “Plus, we’re not experts in making donuts, but they are.”
But what about Andre Agassi? No, he’s not making the donuts. But Crystal’s Spot co-owner John Falbo probably could be persuaded to tell a story or two about the former tennis star and glamour guy. Falbo won a national doubles championship with Agassi as his teammate when they were both 16 years old. Agassi and Falbo grew up together on the Florida youth tennis circuit. After their national championship, Agassi turned pro and Falbo headed to KU where he became an All-American tennis player in the late 1980s.
While Falbo still plays — he and Agassi are scheduled to play in a charity match next month in Arkansas — he’s found that a different type of serve is giving him pleasure these days. He’s in charge of plating Swearingen’s creations. It is something he’s been doing for a while as the couple long have hosted dinner parties together. But Falbo said a relatively simple revelation caused them to decide to do more.
“I think it is just that we like to feed people,” Falbo said of the decision to open the eatery. “I wish I could tell you something more complicated, but that is what it is.”
They also like the bonding experience that food can create, and the place does strive to have a dinner party feel to it. The spot — which has seating for about 30 — is only open in the evening from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Often, music will be part of the equation. Sometimes it is live music, such as the recent performance by Lawrence-based singer Vanessa Thomas, who has toured with Doc Severinsen and his band. Other times, Crystal’s features DJ music with a theme, like the recent weeklong tribute to Aretha Franklin. Poetry and author events will be part of the offerings, Swearingen said.
As for the food and drink, they also have some range. The business features a full cocktail bar that aims to cater to folks who want something a bit more advanced than the traditional college drinks. Thus far, the most popular offering has been something called a Steffie’s Mule, which is a version of a Moscow Mule that uses the Izze brand of sparkling juice drinks as a mixer. The bar also serves the Nespresso brand of coffee, including lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, espressos and even an “endless cup of coffee” for $2.
But the desserts are the driving force behind the eatery. Swearingen said her speciality is homemade cobblers, including peach and apple. But the menu also includes New York style cheesecake, German chocolate cake, apple pie a la mode, an ice cream sandwich tower and some other offerings, including some you don’t always find at restaurants, like banana pudding. Swearingen was working to add that dish to the menu while I was there last week. It comes from her mother’s recipe, and she’ll also soon add a sweet potato pie that comes from her late-grandmother’s recipe book.
Swearingen, who grew up in Wichita but has family roots in North Carolina, said she has 15 aunts and uncles just on her mother’s side, and “they are all great cooks.” Swearingen and Falbo think a dose of family recipes may be just what downtown patrons are looking for in an after-dinner dessert.
“I want everyone to feel that spirit, Crystal’s spirit, when they come here,” Falbo said.