Time for the next outing for "The Great Burger Quest" and this time, I found myself at The Counter in Santa Monica. Having heard how busy this restaurant gets, I had my dining group meet me at least half an hour before they opened. While waiting, a couple of us started chatting with two other customers who actually drove from Bakersfield just because they had a burger craving specifically at The Counter. After hearing that, my expectations shot through the roof. That's long drive just for a meat patty in a bun. Those burgers must be stellar.
Finally, the doors opened and we swarmed in. Before we were even seated, we were given a "Build a Burger Sheet" to help us customize our burger. So what was the first choice? Simply, burger or Burger in a Bowl? Craving carbs, I pooh-poohed the whole bowl thing and went for those carbohydrates. Of course, my hips and the rest of my body weren't too happy, but I decided to appease them with choosing lots of healthy toppings. The key word being "lots." You'll get what I mean later.
Now that I settled on a hamburger with an actual bun, I had 10 different cheeses to choose from. Cheesehead that I was, I had to restrain myself and finally settled on the Gruyere and Horseradish Cheddar. Then came the plethora of choices for toppings, about 24 that were listed. My eyes glazed over and my head started pounding. What to get, what to get. Of course, self-restraint wasn't in my vocabulary, so I went for the lettuce blend, the roasted corn and black bean salsa, an avocado and shhhhh....don't tell anyone, but topping that all off was a fried egg.
Ok, toppings done and jeeze, now I have to pick a sauce, too? All right, the winner was the ginger soy glaze and to complete my burger, my choice of bread was a honey wheat bun. Of course, you can't have a burger without deep fried dill pickles or sweet potato fries and how can you resist a peanut butter shake?
After we turned in our orders, we sat down to chit chat before our meal arrived and let me tell you, that early meet time paid off, because within a half an hour after opening, almost every booth and chair were taken. First to arrive were the sweet potato fries, regular fries and deep fried dill pickles and we happily nibbled on those until our burgers arrived. I definitely liked the sweet potato fries. I found them light and crunchy and but still prefer the sweet potato fries at Father's Office, which I felt had really good seasoning.
As for the deep fried dill pickles, well, it just wasn't my thing. Pickles to me should be cold and crunchy and somehow, hot battered pickle chips just seemed wrong, very wrong, in fact. My peanut butter shake arrived soon after and I have to say that it was the most disappointing shake I've ever had. I hardly tasted any peanut butter at all. Even when you look at the picture, it actually looks like a vanilla shake.
Finally, the burgers arrived. When my plate was placed before me, I felt sorry for my burger. The poor thing was stuffed to the gills with all the toppings I ordered and when I put the top bun on top, it looked like the "Leaning Tower of Burger." Thar she blows...over, that is. So I took my knife, cut it in half and finally took a bite.
As I was chewing away, the words "Less is More" came to mind. While all the ingredients separately were tasty, I don't think my choices in ingredients had flavors that complemented each other as well as they could have. Plus there was just too much. I went overboard and then some. The beef patty itself was fine. I found the quality to be good. The meat could have been a bit juicier, but still I was more than happy with that part of my burger. In general, I think it would have been a better burger for me if I focused on just one or two toppings and one cheese as opposed to the hodgepodge I had.
Upon reflection, it's difficult to include The Counter Burger in a side-by-side burger comparison. Whereas, other restaurants have burgers with specific ingredients each and every time, your burger at The Counter will change with your mood. There's never really going to be a complete consistency in the flavors of your ingredients. Given that, I feel that The Counter should just be judged on its own merits.
On that note, restraint, people restraint! What's cool about "Building Your Own Burger" is simply that you can build your own burger. Whatever foodie whims you have at the moment, you're free to indulge in. That's definitely the Counter's appeal. Choose whatever interesting combination of ingredients you like, but remember, 8 ingredients won't necessarily make your burger better. After all, what you don't try today, you can certainly try at your next visit.
To see pics, go to:
2901 Ocean Park Blvd # 102
Santa Monica, CA 90405