Most of the time, our mail is made up entirely of bills. Bills and credit card applications, neither one of which I welcome. But the other day, the mail person also left us a little gift, a coupon for a free burger at the Counter, a burger chain boasting over 300,000 different burger options. The rapidly expanding chain can be found in 11 U.S. states and Ireland, but more than half of their current locations call California home.
The Miracle Mile location on Wilshire does a nice job balancing the classic-look of a 50s-style-diner with the modern touch of bright lights and clean lines. Flat screen TV replace kitschy Americana memorabilia. The extensive bar offers more then malt shakes - there's a decent selection of local craft beers (we washed our burgers down with some Green Flash IPA), wines and even milk shakes made with booze.
Once we were seated, our peppy server presented each of us with a pencil and a slip of paper on which to mark our preferences for our very own custom burgers. We were a little overwhelmed with the choices - customers at the Counter may select a protein, a cheese, up to 4 toppings, a sauce, and a type of bun. Each category offers standard selections plus one market selection which is based on locally sourced ingredients. For those completely paralyzed by indecision, the Counter offers 6 signature burgers, as well as a variety of starters (fried pickles, fries, chili, etc.), sandwiches, and salads.
We started out with a "Fifty-Fifty" order, half sweet potato fries, half onion strings. Both selections were pretty good, hot and crispy. I will say that the portion sizes are pretty massive, especially if you are planning on getting a burger. We only made it halfway through our order, which is very rare for us.
Mark and I each got the 2/3 lb sized burger, the mama-bear portion between the 1/3 lb and 1 lb options. We had a difficult time fathoming that there was a larger burger on the menu because ours were enormous. The monstrously thick burger patties themselves were surprisingly good (I automatically lower my expectations when I'm dealing with a chain), juicy with a really nice grind and well-seasoned. While the Counter offers an eclectic assortment of toppings like soft-ripened brie, dill pickle chips, and roasted corn and black bean salsa, I decided to keep mine (below) simple, topping it with tomato, organic greens, fried egg, and a tasty roasted garlic aioli.
I really liked my bun selection - I picked the preztel roll (which was the market selection), which served the twin ideals of being sturdy enough to stand up to the juiciness of the meat and the many toppings, yet not being too dense and bready. I won't talk about the toppings too much, since there's so much variation, but if you've never gotten a fried egg on a burger before, you are missing out. My burger (below) was also cooked to a perfect medium rare.
That being said, it's difficult to go wrong with your choices. Mark took full advantage of the excess of options (below), piling his burger high with horseradish cheddar, hard-boiled eggs, organic mixed greens, tomatoes, applewood-smoked bacon, grilled onions and a wasabi aioli. It sounds like a lot when you write it all out, but it's even more when you have to fit this mountainous concoction into your mouth. All of the ingredients offered are high quality, and the kitchen is generous with the portions.
In fact, they may have been a little too generous. The danger of the Counter burger is that it's easy to order too much stuff or to mix and match ingredients that have no business together. This time we managed to keep things in relative balance and luckily things worked out.
We walked out of The Counter generally happy with our experience. And even without our coupon, it would have been a good value - for our monstrous 2/3 lb burgers with 4 toppings (minus extra $1 charge for premium toppings like the fried egg), we each paid $10.95, and another $5.25 for our ginormous order of fries and onion strings.
Yeah, there are better burgers out there. And many times, I prefer to have a chef prepare a burger for me that he or she has determined has the most delicious combination of ingredients. But the Counter definitely offers a very solid burger, and for those picky eaters among us, the opportunity to have someone else make the exact meal we want. So if our mailperson wants to gift us with more coupons to the Counter in the future, I'll say thanks in advance...