With the amount of exclamation points on the menu at Eureka!, Claremont’s new gastropub sets a high bar for itself.
Although it's only a little over two weeks old, the place is already as hopping as the Back Abbey, its obvious rival in this now gastropub-rich village. However, Eureka! offers a far roomier environment, located where the highly rated but rarely visited Three Forks Chophouse used to be, at the far western end of the Packinghouse.
Eureka! succeeds on the beverage end with its expansive list of brews, but the other side of the burgers-and-beer equation falters in its rival's shadow. There's simply no comparison to the signature carmelized-onion-and-bleu-cheese Back Abbey burger. The overly fatty, undercooked strips of bacon with fig marmalade from Eureka! underwhelm; the medium-rare version arrived medium-well, lacking any seductive juiciness and barely topped with the promised accoutrements.
The “Pearl’s Street” burger topped with bleu cheese is fine, but comes with only skimpy and strangely-arranged servings of the promised mushrooms, grilled onions, and chipotle ketchup (which tasted exactly like Heinz). There’s a barbecue-sauced “cowboy bacon” burger, a caprese burger that would make any Tuscan cry, a Cobb salad-inspired turkey burger, a token vegetable burger, and of course the Eureka! Burger that aspires to be exactly like In-N-Out. The best burger happens to be the most outrageous: a burger topped with an oozy fried egg and jalapeño garnish that has a fascinating blend of spice and yolk-covered meat.
These are all fine burgers, but something seems off with almost all of them. The meat is merely status quo, and the toppings are too sparsely added. The toasted sesame wheat buns are also banal, imbuing the exciting sandwich combinations with a cardboard taste.
Sandwiches and sides are where Eureka!’s kitchen shines. An order of honey and cinnamon-soaked sweet potatoes is mandatory—not too sweet nor soggy like they might sound. The crisp onion rings are top-notch and not greasy, although the hand-cut fries are pedestrian. A riff on a Philly Cheesesteak is better than most on Broad Street in South Philly, full of perfectly-braised short rib meat interspersed with the sour, charcoal-tinged twang of grilled red peppers. There’s a commendable hickory pulled pork sandwich, which gets the meat right but begs for more sauce to break up the monotony.
The gastropub's list of starters is essentially a spruced-up greatest-hits collection of sports bar grub. Lollipop corn dogs are, well, corn dogs. The highly recommended Eureka! fries, supposedly doused in truffle oil, are just plain French fries like you get with the burgers, no truffle oil in sight. The fries come with an unexciting gruyere dip to add insult to your injured arteries. Nachos, chicken lettuce wraps, short ribs quesadillas…they’re all here for you to channel P.F. Chang’s, Casa de Salsa, and El Torito under one roof. They’re excessive. This is a sandwich and burger place. Yet, for lunch or a lighter starting dish, the salads are actually quite well-thought-out. I could eat the beet salad—full of dried cranberries, fresh red and gold beets, and a mild (but, oddly, fried) goat cheese—all day. BBQ chicken chopped salad, the mucho gusto taco salad, or the steak salad are all wise, non burger-heavy choices to accompany a beer.
Oh, those beers. While some gastropubs feel more like pubs than culinary centers, Eureka! strangely feels more like a place to eat, but absolutely excels at the bar aspect. With 31 beers on tap, all of which are artisan American microbrews (mostly local from Southern California), no other bar in Claremont can come this close to being a craft beer lover’s haven. If you’re in a coffee mood, go for the Green Flash Double Stout, which puts Guinness to shame. I could drink the double IPA from Bootleggers in nearby Fullerton every day, a beautiful blend of floral hoppy notes with the subtle fruit kick of top tier Belgian ales. Then again, I’d say the same for the Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye IPA from Northern California. Beer connoisseurs across Southern California should take note of this place—it's as impressive as Father’s Office, Santa Monica’s renowned gastropub. Have another pint and forget about dessert: the fried ice cream melts before arrival, covered in whipped cream and accompanied by an overly-crisp, excessive crust.
The wait staff is affable and service is very helpful when you're choosing your beers and burgers, but they're too eager to get the timing down. Burgers arrived before appetizers were finished—my biggest dining pet peeve—water glasses went empty for far too long, and beers were delivered by servers who didn’t even know the type of beer or its destination. I don’t usually visit young restaurants because of these frequent errors, but still, it’s not that hard to glance at what type of beer you're carrying out to the table. Eureka! has two outposts in Fresno and Redlands already, so it’s not like the enterprise is just breaking into the business.
It’s a sign of the dining times that a destination steakhouse in the village has now become a gastropub, a symbol of the de-formalization of our dining culture that embraces upscale renditions of humble day-to-day American cuisine. Eureka! is a great addition to the village, certainly commencing a new gastropub rivalry. Prices are shockingly reasonable too, especially for the high quality of the beers. It already is the must-visit bar for Claremont beer drinkers, and hopefully, with the improvement of its burgers, a dining destination too.