Putting a hip twist on the common burger is The Counter in Santa Monica. The owner is a co-founder of Firefly in Studio City, so you get a bit of style with your substance. The décor is modern but retro, cool music plays in the background, but the vibe works as both a neighborhood family restaurant as it does for a fun night out for two or with friends.
The Counter concept is simple. Sure you could order the Old School Burger or Counter Burger, but you’re also allowed to take a stab at the "Build Your Own Burger" option. You’re given a clipboard, a miniature golf pencil and a checklist of burger options. You choose your meat (beef, turkey, chicken, veggie), cheese, topping sauce and roll. Simple, right? Well, not so simple when you have ten cheeses, twenty-six toppings and seventeen sauces to choose from!
Our group of four went on a Saturday night around eight o’clock and settled in for our short wait with a Hefeweizen on tap – a definite bonus. This also gave us time to start perusing our options and see just how creative we could get. For example, would you try a turkey burger with gruyere cheese, hard boiled eggs, grilled pineapple, homemade guacamole with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette sauce? Well, I wouldn’t either, but I’m glad we live in a country that has restaurants that allow us the freedom to make such bad decisions.
Once seated, the lovely and charming Jenny helps us navigate the menu and point us in the right direction. We start with the Fifty-Fifty, half French fries and half onion strings. The onion strings come with a tangy Dijon balsamic dipping sauce, which is a perfect compliment to the deep fried sweetness of the onion. The sweet potato fries come with a horseradish mayo that is tastier than the fries, which are a little bland.
Now, to the "meat" of the matter. As my compadres called dibs on the beef and veggie burgers, I went with the turkey "burger in a bowl," meaning the patty is on a bed of mixed greens instead of a bun. Not only is it a low-carb lovers dream, but it’s also like getting a side salad with your burger.
The problem, however, is the meat is so lean that it didn’t have the "juicyness" I was hoping for. Lean is great for the waistline, but my taste buds were demanding more fat. The beef options seemed to suffer a similar fate, as the meat is high-grade, ground fresh daily and is organic, but it’s almost too lean for its own good.
And, of course, the meal would not be complete without a milkshake. Vanilla and chocolate are solid options but the peanut butter milk shake is the call for a peanut butter junkie like myself. Desserts are hit and miss but the best is the oversized chocolate chip cookie, which is perfection in cookie form. Served still warm, slightly gooey but firm, it’s a perfect end to the meal.
The Counter is a welcome addition to the Eastside of Santa Monica. It’s a fun and versatile place and will satisfy those who expect a bit more on the side than just a burger, fries, and a shake.
The Counter is open Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sun. noon to 9 p.m. For more information, call (310) 399-8383 or visit www.thecounterburger.com.