People often ask me if I’m a vegetarian because I generally don’t eat something that used to make an animal noise, except something unique like: le quack quack of duck confit in France, la oink oink of morcilla (blood sausage) in Spain or the “DAMN YOU Francisco Pizarro” of Cuy (guinea pig) in Peru. While I’m no Andrew Zimmern, my picky childhood taught me that life’s too short not to try something new. Still given my preference for vegetarianism, you wouldn’t expect me to recommend a burger joint. But The Counter in Santa Monica, CA is not your J. Wellington Wimpy’s Burger joint. From the outside, The Counter doesn’t look like much. A sun beaten facade on a busy LA street.
Inside the place sports a retro burger joint feel. It’s bright with lots of unadorned tables, a serve yourself soda fountain and of course – a counter.
You start by filing out a check list. While I didn’t order the beef, it was reassuring to see at the top of the check list, “Fresh 100% Natural Angus Beef. Hormone and Antibiotic Free. Humanely Raised + Handled.” I assume that applies to the chicken and turkey too but I’m not positive. Something to ask if you’re inclined to order them. In my experience, if a restaurant or store cares about the quality of their meat then the veggies will be good and vice versa.
The checklist is broken down into 5 easy steps.
1) Choose a burger and size. Your options are 1/3lb, 2/3 lb or a whopping pound of beef, chicken, turkey, veggie or market selection (which were crab cakes the day I was there). I went with a 1/3lb veggie.
2) Choose a Cheese. I love the options here. Danish Blue Cheese, Sharp Provolone, Brie. I went with Horseradish Cheddar cuz I loves me some spice.
3) Choose up to 4 Toppings. For me, grilled onions, roasted green chiles, roasted red peppers and organic mixed greens.
4) Choose a Sauce. I opted for the Chipotle Aioli
5) Chose a Bun. Multigrain me.
Then you hand your homework in, at the counter of course, order any extras like fries or a drink, pay, take your number back to your seat and wait. I love that there are so many options on the menu. It means you could eat here scores of times and still invent new flavor combos or go with a big group and share several combos at once.
While waiting for my burger, my fries arrived.
I love a good french fry but sadly, these were not those. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t amazing. Even worse was the Heinz Ketchup lurking on every table. I used it because I’m a ketchup-holic but I despised every bit of high fructose corn syrup. It boggles the taste buds that a place that would emphasize quality ingredients and even creative sauce concoctions for your burger wouldn’t include homemade ketchup or ketchup concoctions with your fries. Imagine: Chipotle Ketchup, Tamarind-Mandarin Orange Ketchup. Got flavors you think would be good? At the very least, how about just offering a good ketchup like Trader Joe’s organic or Whole Foods 365. They’re inexpensive, better tasting and NO corn syrup.
How many bottles of Heinz ketchup can you find in the picture above? (The winner will receive a bottle of Heinz Ketchup)
I’ve eaten a lot of veggie burgers and too many of them are sorry soy patties masquerading as a meat burger. Veggie burgers are no substitute for meat. Never will be. So I want and expect them to taste like what they’re made of: vegetables. And that’s exactly what The Counter’s veggie burger looks and tastes like. Behold people of Earth, I give you (cue angelic choir), my custom veggie burger.
Let’s go in for a closer look. It’s big. It’s well made with real veggies, big caramelized onions, red peppers and green chiles. There’s a hemi under that hood.
As for the taste, the burger is everything I wanted it to be. The onions are slightly sweet and the bun is nutty but it’s the cheese and aioli sauce that really made this burger sing and are two of the many reasons I’ll be going back to The Counter, hopefully this time with friends…and my own ketchup.