First of all, one should know that there is no counter at The Counter, the new California build-your-own-burger joint just opened on Washington Avenue. Well there is, if you want to sit at a counter, but you certainly won't be ordering at one.
Walking in, there's no line to be found, instead a hostess stands at the ready to seat you. The interiors look a lot like Reef: modern, with soothing blue tones and floating orbs of light, as well as some unfortunate Top 40 tunes in the background.
The menu is a clipboard which holds the custom burger form and some non-custom choices. So the question quickly becomes how bad do you want to be?
Burgers can be made of beef, turkey, chicken or a veggie patty and start at 1/3 pound up to one full pound, and for carbo-phobes, there's even a bunless burger bowl option. From here, the options are nearly endless: a dozen cheeses (gruyere! brie! horseradish cheddar!) plus 30 extras like a fried egg, guacamole, applewood smoked bacon and pineapple, and another 20 sauces, which are brilliantly served on the side.
With a waiter involved, the custom order sheet does feel a bit gimmicky. In the old days didn't we just do this orally, with the waiter writing it down?
Depending on what toppings you get, The Counter can be quite pricy, starting at $8 with some premium toppings running at $1 each. And that's before you even order fries, which you should definitely do. The Counter is the rarest of places where the thin-cut fries actually surpass the flavor of the thicker sweet potato fries.
And then there's the parmesan fries and the fried onion strings, a little greasy but too good to miss. Luckily, The Counter has planned for your indecision and offers fry combos, which can run up to $5 more.
The burgers are pretty much as good as you make them. Served medium rare and pink (but never red) throughout, the beef is a great base just waiting to be made awesome or ruined by overly ambitious topping choices. Even the 1/3 pounder, once loaded up, was difficult to fit in my mouth, which is a rather excellent problem.
Between the topping surcharge, the sides and the waiter's tip, a budget lunch this isn't. It's actually a high-end burger place that just happens to have an overly casual air — I guess that's what's to be expected from a California import.
How great it is depends on how seriously you take your burgers, and it's just possible I don't take mine seriously enough.