By Judith Salkin

“eu-re-ka: interjection \yu̇-ˈrē-kə\” — used to express excitement when a discovery has been made; from the Greek heurēka (I have found it); from Webster’s dictionary

If you haven’t discovered Eureka!, taking the short drive to Indian Wells to check it out should be on your list the next time you’re out for lunch, dinner, happy hour or a late night beer and a snack.

The restaurant, which opened Aug. 12, is the newest in the nine-store chain of polished casual dining spots that started in Redlands in 2009 and now includes locations in Fresno, Claremont, San Luis Obispo, San Diego and Santa Barbara.

Originally started as Eureka Burger, as the company expanded the focus changed.

The chain was started when gourmet burgers were an emerging trend, said Managing Partner and co-founder Paul Frederick. Along with partners Nick Fontova, Justin Nedelman, Frederick’s real-estate partner, and Manhattan Beach restaurateur Ron Guidone, they knew that opening a restaurant in the midst of a recession was risky.

“We went after something that was more affordable than a steakhouse, but that had the kind of ambience price that was appealing to everyone,” Frederick said.

While In-N-Out is the standard for a fast food burger, Eureka set the bar much higher for its menu, which designed by Guidone, embraces a farm-to-table, chef-driven philosophy.

“Besides being all-American, we’ve taken traditional dishes and updated them,” he said.

As the chain grew, they knew that the Eureka had to change. “People can’t eat just burgers,” Frederick said.
Today’s Eureka is a cross between a gastro pub and an upscale casual dining restaurant with lots of attention to detail, with friendly, attentive servers.

The Indian Wells restaurant was previously the site of Le St. Germain, although only slightly more than half of the building is Eureka. The atmosphere is hip, but comfortable, with a large patio that’s heated for winter months.

The main room is split between the bar and dining areas, including a small space for live performers. The décor is casual and earthy, with reclaimed wood between the booths and on the ceiling and leather seating. The chain’s motto is “Discover American Craft,” and the bar serves up a selection of artisan hard liquors and craft beers, many from California and a fair wine list.

Every selection is from a small-batch American distiller or brewer, and if you’re looking to expand your appreciation of crafted spirits, this is the place to do it.

From the Corsair Single Barrel Triple Smoked Bourbon, with its rich aroma and intense taste to the 1512 Prohibition Rye with its vanilla and pepper profile or the St. George Breaking and Entering Bourbon, all are fine sipping whiskeys. And each of the American made spirits (only the tequila, because of Mexican government regulations, isn’t a true citizen of the U.S.A.) is hand-picked for Eureka, said General Manager Sally Hennemuth.

But it’s the food that makes Eureka a stand-out. The meats are all-natural, 100 percent vegetarian fed, hormone and antibiotic free. If you’re not into beef, opt for ground turkey or a vegetarian patty; don’t want bread, go naked and have your burger served on a bed of arugula tossed with a light lemon vinaigrette or wrapped in lettuce or a tortilla.

“We’ll make any of our burgers any way you want it,” Hennemuth said.

The burger menu offers up surprising combinations that don’t read like they’d work, but the flavor profiles are magnificent.

The Jalapeno Egg Burger ($11.50) comes melted cheddar cheese, bacon, spicy chipotle sauce and jalapenos, gets a nice creaminess from the perfectly cooked sunny side up egg that tops it off. Bite into the yolk and you’ll see what I mean.

The Fresno Fig Burger ($11.25) was the one that got me. The burger features fig marmalade that’s paired with melted goat cheese, bacon, minced tomato, onion, arugula and the house spicy porter (from the bar) mustard; rich, slightly sweet and yummy.

The burgers were plump and hand-formed, not a thin slab thrown on a bun; and cooked on a flattop so that there was a nice bit of caramelizing on the outside, sweet and juicy on the inside. With the toppings, they are definitely two-handers. Most come with the house hand-cut Kennebunk fries (real potato taste), but feel free to add some of the hand-cut, panko-breaded onion rings or the Sweet Honey Cinnamon potato fries ($1.25 each with a burger), the latter especially if you have a little one dining with you.

What I really liked about Eureka, if you’re not into burgers, there are options. Real options. The shredded chicken tacos (two for an appetizer, $8.50 or three for a meal, $10.50) are filled with sweet, flavorful chicken, cabbage, jack cheese, pico de gallo, avocado and a sliver of jalapeno. The lollipop corn dogs (five for $7.50) are natural casing bites of polish sausage in slightly sweet corn batter (very tasty!) that come with a trio of house-made sauces including ketchup, porter mustard and I.P.A. cheddar sauce. They’re great for an appetizer or for a little kids’ meal.

The watermelon salad ($11.25) with quinoa, diced cucumber, tomato, zucchini, dried cranberries, red and green bell pepper, carrots and drizzled with a balsamic lemon dressing and garnished with feta and walnuts, is a light but nicely filling alternative.

If you’re hungrier, Eureka’s House Signature meals now include pan seared salmon ($17.25), King crab sliders with the sweet potato fries ($14.95), beer braised (Hanger 24 Orange Wheat beer) duck sausage ($12.95) and a grilled Angus hanger steak with Chardonnay-infused blue cheese sauce ($23.50).

While there is no kids menu, there are plenty of options that can be adjusted for a child’s taste buds. Presentations are simple, but appetizing, and prices are quite reasonable for the portions presented on the plates.

Eureka is quickly becoming a place for families and is drawing a number of regulars, like Bob and Gale Horne, who have been in several times since it opened. “We like the food,” Bob said. “There’s great variety and it’s a lot of fun.”

Gale doesn’t expect to be a regular once season is in full swing. “We’ll never get a table,” she said. “It’s already crowded. They should have taken over the whole building.”

Eureka! 74985 Highway 111, Indian Wells
(760) 834-7700
Open for lunch, dinner, late night and happy hour