The Counter is For People Who Like Burger Craziness
Yesterday it was reported on the Midtown NYC section of Midtown Lunch that The Counter would be expanding to Times Square this October. The Counter’s “build your own burger” craziness is old hat here in L.A., and some New Yorkers with connections to the West Coast were pretty excited by the news. But most people in NYC are unfamiliar- so yesterday, at the request of a few lunchers, I headed over to Santa Monica to scarf down a burger and fries at The Counter… you know, for my old friends in Midtown.
See the sacrifices I make for you people?
There are many different things to take into account when judging a burger place, and different people find different things important… quality of meat, style of cooking, burger size, the bun, bun to meat ratio, price, and of course french fries and onion rings (very important!) But The Counter is mostly about one thing, and one thing only: toppings. They have a few pre-designed burger creations, but the real draw is getting to build your own burger from their large list of toppings. And make no mistake about it, no decision is too small.
Naturally a counter is the centerpiece of “The Counter”, and you can sit there and order from a waiter. During lunch, though, the tables are self serve… you fill out one of their order sheets, pay at the register, and then go take a seat at a table to wait for your food to come out. If you’ve never been you’ll want to study “the sheet” for a few minutes before making a decision…
There are 4 different kinds of burgers (beef, turkey, chicken, veggie), that come in 3 different sizes. 1/3 of a pound is $8.50, 2/3 of a pound is $10.50, and the 1 pound craziness is $13.50. I guess if you were willing to share, 1 pound is the best deal… but otherwise 1/3 of a pound is really all you need, especially once you start in with the toppings. NOTE: 1/3 of a pound is the weight *AFTER* cooking… so it’s actually a pretty sizable burger
Included in the price above is a choice of cheese (there are 12), 4 toppings (there are 20) and one sauce (there are 21). Their cheese selection is a site to behold, but the toppings are slightly less exciting. You’ve got all your standards (lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles) and a few things that I’m down with (grilled onions, cole slaw, jalapenos), but all the best toppings ( fried egg, guacamole, bacon, onion strings, and grilled mushrooms) are labeled “premium” and cost an extra $1… or as I like to call it, a classic case of “that’s how they getcha!”
Discouraged, we soldiered on and created a plan of attack.
For burger #1, we went the classic route. (Or, at least classic in my book.) Grilled onions and swiss are a must, roasted red peppers for the intrigue, lettuce, and what the hell… we paid an extra buck for the fried egg. It put the burger dangerously close to being over the ML price limit of $10, but in the end how could I not!? For the sauce: roasted garlic aioli. Bun: honey wheat.
For burger #2, we went for crazytown. Roasted green chilies? Why not. Grilled pineapple? Hello! And why bother with mayo and veggies when you can just get cole slaw and call it a day. Onion strings on the burger for an extra $1? Had to be done. Sauce: Ginger Soy Glaze of course (what else goes with pineapple?) Cheese: brie. Bun: standard hamburger bun.
Getting to build your own burger is both a blessing and a curse. Burger #1 = blessing. Burger #2 = curse. Four toppings plus cheese and sauce is a bit much, and you obviously want to take advantage of everything that is already included in the price. The temptation to go to crazytown is huge, and the more you can reign yourself in, the better your burger will be. In the end my suspicions were confirmed, The Counter is really all about the toppings… and your enjoyment will hinge mostly on how you choose (and, of course, how important toppings are to you.)
The green chilis were kind of tasteless, and were put under the burger- rendering the bottom bun of Burger #2 almost useless. Plus the fried egg on burger #1 was well done, so there was no yolkage at all- and quite frankly what’s the point of a fried egg without yolkage!? Might as well have just taken the free “hard boiled egg” topping instead. Other than that, it was all good. If the idea of grilled pineapple, or roasted red peppers, or cole slaw on a burger sound good to you- you’ll have a lot of fun at the Counter.
Burger purists might be a little disappointed though. Getting a plain cheeseburger at The Counter isn’t worth it, since the toppings are all built into the price. And the burger itself is kind of strange… the patty is on the thick side, and medium rare really was medium rare (so if you don’t like the rawness, medium-medium well is the way to go). Plus the fairly tasteless burger had grill marks, but no real crust. Instead there was this weird steamed looking greyness to the outside, and the burger was more greasy than juicy- leading me to believe that they must grill it with some kind of steamer lid so that it will cook faster? Of course once you throw some pineapple, cheese, and coleslaw on top, it’s all good! In other words, if the burger itself is the most important thing to you, and you’re not that into toppings, you’ll probably be disappointed with The Counter.
When it comes to burgers joints I feel like a place has to give you a burger *and* fries for under $10 to be a true Midtown Lunch spot… so technically The Counter doesn’t really qualify. If you shared fries with a few people you could all get out for around $10. But it’s a stretch. The one good thing I can say for The Counter is they offer half and half… fries and sweet potato fries, fries and onion strings, or sweet potato fries and onions strings. And they’re all good- especially the regular fries which live in this amazing no mans land between potato sticks and shoestring french fries. Love it. I guess if you wanted it to be a true Midtown Lunch, you could just pay the extra $1 to get onion strings on your burger- but then take them off and eat them separately. They give you enough of them!
So, how will The Counter do in Times Square? I’m not really sure, but the biggest fear is that it will be more expensive then it is here in L.A. The rents in that area are insane… and I can’t help but think they’ll either have to raise prices (in which case it *really* won’t be a Midtown Lunch) or do crazy volume. And with all the toppings, The Counter isn’t really set up to do the kind of insane Midtown volume that might be necessary to make it profitable. Would I personally choose it over Bill’s Bar & Burger, The Shake Shack, or even Five Guys? Probably not. Even HB Burger is kind of better- due in no small part to their use of La Frieda beef (and who knows- maybe The Counter in NYC will use La Frieda beef as well.) As for how it ranks here in L.A., I’ve only just begun my burger eating… so I’ll reserve judgement (but I’ll probably go back to Umami before I go back to the Counter.)
Anyway, The Counter is a fun lunch spot for people who love topping their burgers with all kinds of insane shit. Midtowners who fit that bill, you have permission to get excited about the new Times Square location.
- I love topping my burgers with all kinds of crazy stuff. Bring it on!
- I’m not a burger aficionado, so when I do burger it up I want it to be a big, greasy, sloppy mess
- Their fries and onions strings are awesome, and they’ll do half and half
- I’m a burger purist. Meat + cheese + bun. I could care less about fancy toppings and sauces, and don’t want that stuff built into the price of my burger
- I like a nice crust on my burger
- The flavor of the meat (or lack thereof) is totally obscured by all the toppings. (Which I guess might be a good thing in the case of this burger.)
- Too many decisions!! It took me 20 minutes just to fill out that card
The Counter, Multiple Locations in L.A.
- 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica
- 7919 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
- 4786 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey
- 140 Shoppers Lane, Pasadena