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The Counter

April 11, 2012

With locations mainly in California, but with several other locations throughout the lower 48 states and Hawaii, as well as a few Ireland, and soon to be Saudi Arabia, The Counter bills itself as an anti-establishment with the 21st century’s answer to the classic burger joint.  Their website states that, “Ushering in a new era of industrial decor, today’s music, cold beer, unique wines, cocktails, and burger options that are only limited by your imagination.”  With their create-your-own burger from fresh ingredients concept, they claim you can make over 312,000 different burger combinations.  With this kind of billing, how could you not want to try out this restaurant?

A few months back when The Counter revealed that they were opening a location at the mall just across the street from my office building, everyone was so excited.  I think a few people, like me, had heard of The Counter’s reputation before and had understood that this was the type of place where you could create your own burger/sandwich from menu of different ingredients.  Nonetheless, new lunchtime eateries that open around here are always welcomed.  As the opening date for The Counter approached, people became more excited and anticipation built.  The first day The Counter opened, the line was long as people clamored to get their hands on a handcrafted burger.  Someone told me that there must have been over 100 people in line!  I figured that I’d wait awhile to give this place a try.

A couple of months later, a co-worker of mine, suggested that a couple of us go and try The Counter for lunch on the last work day of 2011.  We figured that since none of us had been since it opened, and we had heard great things, that this would be a fun way to say goodbye to 2011 and celebrate the new year that would shortly be upon us.  Sometimes, when you expect so much from a place because you’ve heard so much, it disappoints you.  But, The Counter wasn’t this place at all.  I had expected a lot, and what I experienced was beyond what I expected.

Being a burger joint, I expected this to be more like a fast food joint, a place where you walked up to a counter (all pun intended) perhaps and ordered your burger from a selection.  Perhaps you’d be given a number and then your burger would be delivered.  The first surprise I had when I walked into The Counter was that this was set up exactly like a restaurant.  There were hosts that walked you to a table, clipboard in hand.  The inside of The Counter is, exactly as billed – a sleek, modern, industrial decor that is half bar with flat screen tv’s and half tables to eat at.  Each person is given a long narrow clipboard, to which the last page is a laminated menu with all of the restaurants offerings.  The bulk of paper clipped to the board is a half-sheet sized order card where you take mini pencils provided to you to mark your food selection.  Each table has a waiter/waitress who serves you; takes your drink order, explains the concept of the restaurant and answers any questions you have about the menu.  With this kind of set up, I don’t know that you can even call this place a burger joint, as it’s really more of an all-out restaurant that happens to specialize in burgers.

As in any normal restaurant, our drink order was taken first.  The Counter has a wide variety of drink options.  As I mentioned before, half of the restaurant is a bar, so they have a fully-loaded bar with mixed drinks, cocktails, wine and beer selections.  Combinations perfect to go with your burger choice.  They also serve the traditional soft drinks.  Additionally, they also make floats and serve milkshakes.  The milkshakes really caught my eye.  They must have at least 10 different flavors to choose from, of which I was told you can mix and match the flavors in any combination you want to create your own milkshake.  These options ranged from chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, to apple pie, caramel, butterscotch, banana and much more.  They also had some speciality milkshakes you could choose from where the flavors were already pre-determined, such as Birthday Cake shake and Banana Split shake.  I overheard someone else order the birthday cake shake and rave about how good it was.  As soon as I saw the banana split shake, I knew exactly what I wanted.  The shake was a combination of banana and vanilla mixed with strawberries and caramel and topped with whip cream.  Boy, was it good!  You could taste the banana and the strawberry and it really did taste like a banana split!  A great way to start the meal!  On top of the normal selections that are always available at The Counter, they also have a selection of Market Place items which they advertise as being seasonal or in-season items that they offer for a limited time period.  For their Market Place shake, they were offering an Egg Nog shake for the holidays.  One of my friends decided to order the Egg Nog shake as a dessert to her meal and she was more than pleased with the Egg Nog shake.  You just can’t go wrong with a milkshake!

I loved their milkshakes so much that on a subsequent visit to The Counter, I knew I had to order another milkshake.  A girl just can’t pass up a good milkshake!  This time around, I decided to use their flavors and combine them together to make my own shake.  Since I can’t resist banana, especially in a milkshake, I decided to combine chocolate and banana to make milkshake.  It turned out quite tasty; the flavor of the chocolate was more pronounced than the banana, but it still made for a good combination.

Alright, the next step was the hardest part of the whole meal – trying to craft your own burger!  You start with the basic choices of what type of burger you want: beef, chicken, turkey, veggie.  You move on to what size you want: 1/3 pound, 1/2 pound or full pound.  Then you decide if you want a bun, lettuce wrapped or in a salad.  And then come all the yummy toppings!  Start off by selecting a cheese from a whole variety of cheeses including, Danish blue cheese, Greek feta, sharp provolone, horseradish cheddar, soft ripened brie, imported Swiss, yellow American and a few others.  You also get your choice of 4 basic toppings that include items such as roasted red peppers, Bermuda red onions, roasted green chilies, sliced cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, grilled pineapple, lettuce blend, scallions, organic mixed greens, carrot strings, black olives and dried cranberries among others.  There are also premium toppings, including fried egg, chili, avocado, black forest ham, applewood smoked bacon, housemade guacamole, fried onion strings, sun-dried tomatoes and sauteed mushrooms if you want to go that route and pay a little extra.  But the choices aren’t done yet, you still need to choose a sauce from their long list of sauces: ginger soy glaze, roasted garlic aioli, horseradish mayo, russian dressing, apricot sauce, chipotle aioli, sweet bbq sauce, classic caesar, tzatziki sauce, honey mustard, steak sauce, spicy sour cream, hot wing sauce and many more.  Finally, your long list of selections ends with the type of bun you want (if you’re getting a bun).  Your options include hamburger bun, multigrain bun, english muffin and onion bun.  Dizzy yet with all of the choices for your burger?

Don’t forget, there’s also starters you can order as well.  Your burgers need fries and whatnot, don’t they?  The Counter makes french fries, sweet potato fries and crispy onion strings.  Or you could get any combination thereof.  We opted to order a three way: 1/3 french fries, 1/3 crispy onion strings and 1/3 sweet potato fries.  All three of them were fantastic.  The sweet potato fries were delicious, sweet, but not too sweet and perfectly fried.  The crispy onion strings are light and crispy and crunchy; they aren’t the thick onion rings.  And the french fries were nice and crispy on the outside and tender and hot on the inside.  The thing we loved was that the fries came with a trio of dipping sauces: ranch, bbq sauce and horseradish mayo.  The horseradish mayo blew us out of the water, it was so good.  The horseradish was incredibly tangy, but not overpowering and using it as a dipping sauce worked well with our trio.  But, not to worry if you don’t want fries or onion strings, The Counter offers grilled vegetables, side salad and turkey chili if that floats your boat.

Finally, time for the burgers.  Between myself and my friends, we got quite the range of burgers.  One of my friends ordered the veggie burger on a multigrain bun with avocado, roasted red peppers and organic lettuce blend.  Her sauce was the dijon balsamic dressing.  She loved her burger, so much so, that the second time we all went there together, she ordered it again!

I ordered a 1/3 beef burger on a hamburger bun with horseradish cheddar cheese, grilled onions, organic lettuce blend, tomatoes and the addition of fried onion strings with roasted garlic aioli as my sauce.  The burger was fantastic!  The bun was nice and eggy, but not too heavy.  The fried onion rings may have been a little over the top for the burger, though.  The burger itself was juicy and tender and very flavorful.  A bit messy to consume, but delicious nonetheless!

My other friend is more of a purist when it comes to hamburgers.  She’s no frills and wanted a medium rare burger with just white cheddar cheese and avocado with a hamburger bun along with the horseradish mayo sauce.  She too, enjoyed her hamburger.  Though, like her, we all agreed that even 1/3 pound burger with all those fixings was a lot of one person to try to finish for lunch.  I think we were all stuffed by the time lunch was over.

But, being a glutton for punishment, my friends and I actually went back to The Counter for lunch again just a few weeks later.  This time, I decided I wanted to try something a little different.  So, I went with a chicken burger instead, topped with sharp provolone, grilled onions, tomatoes and organic lettuce blend.  This time, I went with the dijon balsamic vinaigrette as my sauce of choice.  However, instead of getting a normal hamburger bun this time, I chose to do the Market Place selection for my bun; their current offering was ciabatta bread.  I thought that the ciabatta would pair nicely with the grilled chicken breast and the tomatoes and organic lettuce would be great with the dijon balsamic dressing.  It would be almost like eating a grilled chicken salad but in the form of a sandwich.  And I was right!  The chicken burger was delicious.  The chicken was cooked to perfection with great flavor, but without drying out the chicken meat.  But, I will say that the ciabatta bread does make for a heavy sandwich, so, again, trying to finish the whole sandwich was a challenge.

I’ve got to say, I’m a bit obsessed with The Counter right now.  I think the fact that you can mix and match the toppings on your burger is brilliant, because with their list of offerings, everyone can find something that they love.  The Counter is a bit on the expensive side for a burger joint, but you do get what you pay for.  Their sweet potato fries and crispy onion strings are fantastic, their burgers are big and juicy, their sauces are fantastic, and the best part of the meal, the milkshakes are out of this world!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2012 10:49 pm

    It makes me hungry reading about our delicious meal. Let’s go again, soon.

  2. April 13, 2012 12:42 pm

    It’s almost 10pm here but seeing these pictures is making me hungry. 😉

    • April 13, 2012 1:03 pm

      You can never go wrong with burgers and a milkshake!

      • April 13, 2012 1:06 pm

        So true! I love strawberry milkshake. In the Philippines, I love both yellow and green mango shakes. We also have back there the “buko” or young coconut shake. That’s also very yummy. 😉

      • April 13, 2012 1:10 pm

        Oh, I love mangos and young coconut! I love tropical fruits!

  3. April 13, 2012 3:28 pm

    They offer so many combinations! The pictures are great, and the food looks delicious. I’m getting hungry… 🙂

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