Food & Drink

Eureka review: Burgers star at Berkeley restaurant

Eureka review: Burgers star at Berkeley restaurant

By Allen Matthews
Published 3:41 pm, Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Fresno Fig burger - here with onion rings - is a favorite at Berkeley's Eureka, which has transformed a mundane space into a dramatic dining room. Photo: John Storey

The Fresno Fig burger – here with onion rings – is a favorite at Berkeley’s Eureka, which has transformed a mundane space into a dramatic dining room. Photo: John Storey

Eureka (they use an exclamation point; we won’t indulge) is a small chain with the seemingly offbeat mission of twinning cocktails – especially whiskey – and burgers at its nine locations down south, one in Seattle and the latest arrival that opened in October in downtown Berkeley.

The idea works, and it’s complemented by Eureka’s vision of taking buildings with good bones, blowing them out and incorporating quirky, hip design elements, a centerpiece bar and lots of TVs.

What Eureka did to a dreary space in Berkeley is nothing short of amazing, with open beams accenting high ceilings, Escher-esque wallpaper, early- and mid-20th-century-style lighting, a wall of front windows that slides open, and sleek restrooms that remained spotless even during the brutal NFC title game.

Once you’ve tried a burger, you will gladly invoke our state’s motto: “Eureka, I have found it.” Sadly, that does not work for some of the main dishes.

The cocktails pull toward traditional with a twist. The standard Manhattan ($10) is made with Old Overholt rye and is a solid take on the ubiquitous cocktail. But the barrel-aged version ($12), in which St. George bourbon from Alameda ages in a small barrel with Vya sweet vermouth for two weeks, is more blended and robust. Eureka also has 30 beers on tap.

Generous starters

The starters are fun but schizophrenic in that several could pass for mains or sides. The truffle fries ($7.75), hand-cut Kennebec potatoes topped with truffle oil, green onions and Havarti, is pure comfort food that really belongs with a burger. Hint: Your server will bring the truffle sauce with your burger’s side fries if you ask. Sometimes free, sometimes for a buck.

The generous serving of osso buco-style pork riblets ($6.95) falls off the bone and is enhanced with a peppery aioli.

Salads stand out, too. Everyone has a kale salad these days, but Eureka’s version ($8.95) pulls in toasted walnuts, roasted garlic and lemon vinaigrette to combine for a tart foil to the greens.

The side salad ($3.95) is the little engine that could, a generous portion of mixed greens, blue cheese, tomato and red onion that’s almost the size of an entree.

Of the 10 burgers on the menu, my favorites are the Cowboy and the Fresno Fig (each $11.25, including Kennebec fries).

The Cowboy is delightfully gloppy mess, with bacon, shoestring fried onions, cheddar and tangy barbecue sauce. Ask for an extra napkin.

When I first tried the Fresno Fig, I hesitated about whether I liked how the sweet house-made preserve accented the beef, goat cheese and bacon. A subsequent taste converted me.

Other burgers include the simple original ($9.75) and the jalapeno egg ($11.50) with a gooey fried egg, bacon and peppers.

The vegetarian option ($10.50) is a vibrant beet mixture that pairs well with added ketchup and mayonnaise.

Burgers are best

That said, I need to carp about the mains.

The salmon ($17.95), served with a brightly seasoned mix of roasted vegetables, had to get sent back to the kitchen. The fish encountered more salt in the rub it received from Eureka’s cooks than it ever experienced in the ocean. A new piece, unseasoned, was fine, but the delay derailed the pace of the dinner.

The crab cake ($16.50) was a spongy disappointment.

The braised short ribs ($18.50) were outstanding, moist and fork-tender. The accompanying mashed potatoes would better be described as smashed, with large lumps and barely a hint of the horseradish described on the menu.

On the other hand, the pulled-pork sandwich ($10.75) didn’t really seem like it belonged with the mains, but was delightfully tender and accented with a kicky barbecue sauce.

Don’t bother with the two dessert offerings – grainy butterscotch pudding and chocolate souffle ($6 each) – both were subpar.

Eureka can be as sweet as a small cafe or as loud as the Bear Flag Revolt, depending upon when you’re there.