Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
Eureka! I've found a Grade F veggie burger!
A disappointing experience at UTC’s posh new burger and beverage den
Typically, I plan out where I’m going to eat and what I’m going to write about in advance, but every now and then, a dining experience is such that it merits a write-up even if it wasn’t premeditated. In the best cases, this is when something’s so incredibly good that I simply have to shout it from the rooftops so others can enjoy, but sometimes it’s the opposite. Such is the case with this post, which was inspired by a meal shared with a fellow journalist last week at UTC’s recently installed outlet for California burger and craft beverage chain, Eureka! Gourmet Burgers and Craft Beer (4353 La Jolla Village Drive, University City) at Westfield UTC Mall.
When I get together with my writer friend, a fellow craft beer enthusiast, we always look to check out a new brew-centric place. I had been hearing great things about the beer selection at Eureka for weeks, so it seemed the perfect place for us to catch up over dinner and a brewskie or two. On arrival, looking at a nicely appointed contemporary space with ample seating indoors and out, as well as a friendly atmosphere and, as billed, a really nice craft beer and brown spirit selection (for the former, there were beers from Southern and Central Cali that I’ve never seen offered in San Diego—very cool), I was patting myself on the back for making such a seemingly great selection. Had we only had a drink, I’d have left with but one complaint, which I’ll get to soon. Unfortunately, we decided to have dinner as well, and that was where the negatives arose.
To start, we ordered two appetizers—fried green beans and corn dog lollipops. The latter weren't my choice. Corn dogs are mighty tasty, but I try not to order them at restaurants as they're usually marked up to prices that make them hardly a wise fiscal choice. Also, they're usually store-bought and/or plucked from a freezer. I can say with certainty that the one’s at Eureka! come from the icebox, because the lollipop I sunk my teeth into (a sliced segment of an everyday hotdog encased in a thick layer of varyingly golden fried cornmeal) was still cold. And not “stone cold” as TV chef Gordon Ramsay would petulantly holler to an underperforming chef…ice cold.
Burgers are enduringly popular. I've consumed a great many in restaurants in the past few years. To break up the monotony, I stay on the look-out for good veggie burgers. On this occasion, I allowed my alternative lunch-style wild hair to guide me and ordered their Maui Wowi Burger with a “San Joaquin” veggie patty in lieu of beef. I also “upgraded” from standard fries to their sweet honey cinnamon sweet potato fries. I should have known better. Sweet potatoes are sugary enough on their own. The honey takes the sweetness way too far. But the toughest thing to get past was the heavy dusting of grated cinnamon applied by someone with the enthusiasm of the confectionary sugar shaker at Café du Monde.
On to the burger, or lack thereof. If you look at the Locations page on Eureka!’s website, you’ll see a photo of the veggie burger. It’s literally beet red and as thick as any large meat patty you’d expect from a place with “gourmet” burgers. Mine was so thin that I at first mistook it for a layer of ketchup. That sounds extreme, but it was barely over a fourth-of-an-inch thick. Made of beets and black beans, it tasted bland except for heavy-handed sweetness. Worse yet, it had a super soft consistency and was so crumbly that, even with two buns to help me out, I couldn’t keep it within the confines of the sandwich.
I tried the beef patty as well and it was fine. At least it came with regular fries (which, in keeping with the best of Eureka! were only OK) and some ketchup. I received zero condiments nor the offer to get me any. It’s part of a burgeoning trend that makes me wonder how much restaurants save on food costs when they dole out condiments in small portions or opt not to offer any the way Eureka! does. There’s no way some Heinz would have saved my burger, but it would have been nice to have an option as standard as that.
At least there was good beer. I had a taster flight of Epic Sage Saison, Bear Republic Cafe Racer, Ballast Point Barrel-Aged Tongue Buckler, and AleSmith Speedway Stout. The beers were varied and tasted great. But here's what didn't sit well with me. The beers at Eureka! are reasonably priced and can be ordered from the regular beer menu as well as a list of rotating special offerings. The prices on both lists are comparable if purchased by the glass, however, if you want to order tasters of rotating stock as part of your flight, for each you order, you add one dollar to the nine dollar four-taster base rate. If a full pour of an IPA from the regular list costs five dollars and an IPA from the rotating list costs five dollars, why should a customer need to pay another dollar for a four or five ounce pour of the rotating IPA versus the one from the standard list?
While my visit to Eureka! was less than inspiring from a food perspective, it is nice to see legitimate craft beer options in a mall setting. Maybe I caught them on a bad night. Hopefully, I did. Either way, quality beer is being made available, not just to beer lovers, but to those who have yet to be exposed to it, and that is a good thing.