BY MIKE LEONARD
Within the first year of opening the Manila Social Club, Filipino-born and Bloomington-raised Björn DelaCruz has seen rave reviews in The New York Times, The Village Voice and numerous other New York publications. All praise the restaurant, located in the heart of trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for the self-taught chef’s creative mélange of traditional Filipino cooking reimagined, sometimes with classic French techniques.
But what has really captured the world’s attention is the restaurant’s $100 Golden Cristal Ube Donut, a glittering, not-too-sweet pastry more akin to a French cruller than a typical cake or yeast doughnut. It’s made with Cristal champagne (which DelaCruz prices at $300–$350 a bottle), ube (a purple Filipino yam) mousse, and covered with 24-karat gold dust and gold leaf. “When a restaurant tries to get fancy and uses gold leaf, it typically uses like a square centimeter,” DelaCruz says. “We use seven full sheets.”
Every Friday, DelaCruz personally makes 30–40 dozen doughnuts (golden or otherwise) to serve a waitlist of 3–4 weeks. The doughnuts are so intriguing that he’s been interviewed about them by the BBC and other media from around the world. Model Cindy Crawford ordered 32 to share with friends and family for her 50th birthday celebration last February.
DelaCruz, 33, moved to Bloomington at age 3 and shared a home with siblings Catherine and Samuel (now his marketing manager and general manager, respectively); his mother, Eleanor Ware; and her husband, Timothy Ware, who died last June.
“I tell people that I could not have been luckier than to grow up in Bloomington,” says DelaCruz, a graduate of Bloomington High School South and Indiana University. “How many people can say their mother had a restaurant [Tropical Paradise] with the nephew of the Dalai Lama?”
DelaCruz started the Manila Social Club as a pop-up, making meals in people’s homes and empty warehouse spaces before opening his own 40-seat establishment in April 2015. He’s now looking to expand in the New York area and possibly other cities in North America and beyond.