When a restaurant has an exclamation point as part of its name, it implies a certain level of enthusiasm and spirit. Both were evident on two recent visits to Eureka! Located near BART, the UC campus and the heart of Berkeley’s performing arts district, Eureka!, which is one of more than 20 locations of a California-based gourmet burger chain, always seems to draw a crowd. Theatre-goers rub shoulders with sports fans, families share the large room with couples on date night, as well as students relaxing after class and others who find themselves out for an evening in downtown Berkeley.
Burgers might be what this hot spot is most well known for, but the restaurant also takes pride in its drink offerings. Eureka! specializes in American craft brewing and small-batch distillation, sourcing locally and around the country. For the summer, Eureka! added seven new drinks to its roster. On our visit, we met up with Eureka!’s beverage director Trevor Tyler, who was more than happy to go over these new additions.
While intrigued by the new additions, our choice for the evening was the Eureka Milk Punch ($12). Tyler walked us through the three-day process of creation: day one, make the base (the list of ingredients goes on for days: bourbon, spiced rum, white rum, herbsaint, brandy, bitters, clove, coriander, cinnamon, green tea, pineapple and lemon); day two, add milk; day three, strain out the bits you don’t want. The punch is the most labor-intensive concoction we’ve ever had — and the results are well worth it. The punch doesn’t look at all like what we expected: almost clear, poured over a single large ice cube and garnished with a pineapple leaf. What you taste when you sip the punch is a hint of winter from the spices, complemented by the citrus and rum that make you think of swaying palm trees, pineapples and trade winds. This unique seasonal mash-up is unlike anything we’ve ever tasted.
Eureka! also offers non-alcoholic drinks, and we were invited to try the charcoal lemonade ($5), which is made with passion fruit, lemon and activated charcoal. Yes, charcoal. This is a popular drink at lunch time, we learned. While the color may startle (it looks more like a dark lager than a traditional lemonade), there is no mistaking the taste: delicious, intensely lemony — and piquant. Charcoal is rumored to have some health benefits pertaining to digestion and hangovers. We enjoyed the refreshing taste, but did not put ourselves in the position of having to test its hangover prevention powers.
Thanks to Eureka!’s emphasis on, and celebration of, American-made spirits, we saw some familiar names on the bar menu — several distilleries that are branching out into making liqueurs and bitters. Tyler mentioned Brovo Amaro from Brovo Spirits in Seattle; and from Portland, House Spirits’ Krogstad Aquavit, which is flavored primarily with star anise and caraway. Also featured is one of our favorites: raspberry liqueur from St. George Spirits in Alameda and blood orange shrub from Berkeley’s Shrub & Co.
According to Tyler, American-made amaros and liqueurs are “lighter, more vibrant, and fruity — bright and summery.” Which makes them the perfect additions to seasonally inspired cocktails. And the menu will change, says Tyler, every six to eight months. The classics will remain, he says, but he’s starting to think about fall flavors and maybe a hot cocktail. But for now, the menu includes Tan Lines, made with vodka, Chareau Aloe, lemon, mint, watermelon and sparkling wine ($10), and Some Like It Hot, made with vodka, cucumber, lime and habanero ($12). These are summertime-inspired, cool flavors to satisfy any taste.
On a subsequent visit, we couldn’t resist the Holy Smokes cocktail ($15) which combines bourbon, maple, chocolate and hickory smoke. It was served in a tightly sealed mason jar, and when the lid is unscrewed, the smoke slowly spirals up out of the jar. This was a revelation: a grown-up campfire experience with a combination of unusual flavors: sweet and smoky with a subtle hint of chocolate.
Eureka! lives up to its exclamation point — a lively venue with high energy and spirit, inventive cocktails, and something on its menu to please everyone.
The crowd: Pre-theatre, post-game, families and date night, all generations
The drink: Milk Punch and Holy Smokes
The one to try next time: Tan Lines or Young and in Love
Good to know: Eureka! offers a 10% discount for same-night Berkeley Rep ticket-holders
When to go: During the game, before or after the show, when classes are over