One would have to be living under a rock not to notice all the corporate hamburger joints that have opened around the Treasure Valley in recent years.
Diners have come to expect accoutrements such as an oozy fried egg, smoky bacon jam and fancy aioli on their burgers.
But when does extraordinary become mundane? Do these kinds of corporate places live up to the hype that their public relations teams produce?
I asked myself these questions during my first visit to Eureka! It debuted early last month next to Freak Alley in the Mode Building along the busting-at-the-seams 8th Street corridor — otherwise known as Restaurant Row.
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First off, I noticed the black-clad servers outnumbered the guests on this night. It’s good to be prepared. The exuberant wait staff moved about the brightly painted dining room (the colorful murals with Hitchcock-esque birds silhouetted on the walls were painted by Freak Alley artists), readily dispensing a corporate spiel about the splendor of the concept. One server was updating the draft brew list on a large chalkboard next to the wrap-around bar.
California-based chain Eureka! pours around 40 craft beers from around the country. It’s important to note that many Boise-area brews flow from the tap handles here. The place is also known for its large selection of small-batch bourbons.
Burgers, beer and bourbon. Sounds like a winning formula, right?
For starters, the lollipop corn dogs ($8) seemed like a good pick on the page. Sure, the puffy orbs of sweet corn dough-battered kielbasa bites were tasty enough, yet the spindly, round wood sticks skewering each corn dog didn’t stay on very well. Actually, one of the golden-brown orbs came off the stick and rolled across the table. Luckily my son nabbed it like a second baseman before it hit the floor. A flatter stick would definitely secure the dog better. Plus, the spicy porter mustard dipping sauce had a harsh aftertaste. Adding some honey would surely balance out the flavors.
I also wasn’t impressed with the macaroni and cheese ($7.50), mostly because the three-cheese sauce that coated the plump little ears of pasta tasted surprisingly bland, and the crunchy bacon pieces and pulverized Fritos corn chips on top didn’t help much to bolster the overall flavor.
Let’s talk burgers. All Eureka! burgers, which come with hand-cut fries, get made with seven-ounce patties of grass-fed, grain-finished beef from Colorado and freshly baked Gaston’s Bakery buns sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds.
The grilled burgers are typically served medium-well — at least that’s what my server told me — but in actuality that temperature translated to well done on both burgers during my first experience here. Word to the wise: Order your burger medium and chances are it will be close to medium-well when it hits your table, as was the case the second time I showed up.
The Cowboy Burger ($12.50) is a big, goopy mess, but in a good way. A sharp cheddar-draped patty came piled high on a grilled bun, leaning a little to the left, with a crisscross of crunchy bacon, wispy onion rings, and sweet and slightly spicy barbecue sauce spiked with beer.
My Jalapeno Egg Burger ($12.50) wasn’t as fiery as I thought it would be. Nonetheless, it’s a tasty cheddar burger with smoky chipotle sauce, bacon, pickled jalapeno slices (not enough for my liking) and a fried egg losing its yolk on top.
During a second visit, my chosen starters tasted noticeably better than the first go-around. At a new place, it can be kind of like rolling the dice. You never know what to expect.
A plate of grilled shishito peppers ($5/happy hour) were popular at the table. We quickly gobbled up these blistered, little green peppers, simply finished with sea salt, a spritz of lemon juice and bright-orange beads of flying fish roe (tobiko).
Onion rings ($5) get cut by hand and coated with finely ground panko breadcrumbs, which cling tightly to the large hoops of yellow onion, keeping the sliced allium tender and fragrant on the inside and the golden-brown exterior nice and crunchy.
The Original Eureka! burger ($10) is a good barometer of what to expect in terms of burgers here. It’s essentially a cheeseburger with hickory-smoked Gouda, dill pickle slices, lettuce, red onion, tomato and a “special sauce” akin to fry sauce.
Most diners will probably balk at the price of the Bone Marrow Burger ($16.50), yet I found it to be luxuriously prepared and worth the dough. The beefy flavor of the burger gets bolstered with a smear of earthy bone marrow-porcini mushroom butter, tangy mustard aioli and oven-roasted Roma tomato and onion. No cheese needed. Keep in mind, though, this burger with a beer costs more than $20. I went for a pint of dark and chocolaty Alaskan Brewing Heritage Coffee Brown Ale ($5.50), which played well with the burger’s bold flavors.
Besides beef burgers, the restaurant serves some signature chicken sandwiches, hybrid tacos and entrées.
The influence behind the fish tacos ($10.50) hails more from the eastern seaboard of Mexico than the Baja peninsula, meaning the mahi mahi is rubbed with spices and sautéed (not deep fried) and served on two warm corn tortillas with avocado salsa verde, bright mango salsa and shredded cabbage.
Chicken sliders ($11.50) are a noteworthy pick as well. Two flour-flocked buns come with a stratum of crispy, deep-fried chicken breast, mashed potatoes, chiffonade coleslaw and piquant chili sauce, served with hand-cut fries.
If spendy burgers and a large selection of draft brews and bourbons float your boat, then Eureka! is right up your Freak Alley.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: email@example.com.
Address: 800 W. Idaho St., Boise
Phone: (208) 286-4410
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Daily “Hoppy” Hour from 2 to 6 p.m., 9 p.m. to close. Brunch menu offered 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Menu price range: appetizers and salads $7-$14.50; taco plates, entrées and burgers $10-$24.
Libation situation: Expect to find 40 tap handles of handcrafted brews (20 of which are in constant rotation), around 40 different bourbon whiskeys, cocktails and plenty of wines from California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: October 2016