What’s the quintessential American meal?
Burger and fries.
It’s a classic combo that’s become a menu staple at both fast-food joints and fancy restaurants. But Stasha and I seldom order a hamburger when we dine out, because we usually discover more interesting dishes that demand our attention.
However, after hearing several friends extol the virtues of the newly opened The Counter and their custom-built burgers, we had to see for ourselves what the fuss was all about.
We arrived at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and missed the lunch rush, so we had much of the place to ourselves and chose a shady patio table. Our server handed us the menu, which was attached to a clip board, and explained the process of ordering a custom-build burger.
“First you choose your protein – beef, chicken, turkey, veggie or market selection – and whether you want it on a bun or in a bowl. Then you choose a cheese, toppings, sauce and bun. We also have signature burgers, starters and sandwiches.”
“Wow. You have a lot of options,” said Stasha as she perused the menu. “Do most people build their own burger and just mark off on this sheet what they want?”
“Yes, most do, but sometimes it’s a little much for people who are indecisive.”
“Like me,” laughed Stasha. “It’s daunting. The Signature Burger Bowls look good, like the Mediterranean, Backyard Barbeque and Asian.
“Look at the choice of cheeses – Danish blue cheese, Greek feta, gruyere, herb goat cheese spread, brie. This is amazing,” I said. “And we get to choose four toppings? Talk about exotic. Grilled pineapple, dried cranberries, roasted corn and black bean salsa, a fried egg, sautéed mushrooms. This ain’t your Daddy’s hamburger.”
“Do you know what you want? All of the choices look good to me,” said Stasha. “How about you build a burger on a bun and I do a bowl?”
“Sounds good. What are you going to build?”
“I can’t decide, but I guess I’d better commit to something,” moaned Stasha.
“I didn’t think you were the kind of person who made many commitments.”
“No wonder you’re having such a hard time,” I teased.
“Are we still talking about burgers?” she asked defensively.
“I’m having a 2/3 pound turkey burger on a bun with herb goat cheese spread, organic mixed greens, roasted corn and black bean salsa, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, with basil pesto on a multigrain bun. Oh, add sautéed mushrooms to that.”
“Nice segue, Trela,” Stasha remarked, dismissing me as she turned toward our server. “How’s the veggie burger?”
“You’ll like it. It has corn, spinach, brown rice, pretty much everything in it.”
“OK, I’ll have that, in a bowl, please. Now, should I do the Signature Mediterranean or build my own? I think … no. Yes! I’ll build my own with brie, bean sprouts, roasted red pepper, and … what else? That’s it, I think. No, wait! How about fries?”
“Sweet potato or Parmesan fries with parsley, rosemary and garlic aioli?”
“Ummm…well, gee, I -”
“She’ll have both, side by side” I cut in, as Stasha shot me a look.
“And a healthy grilled vegetable platter, please, to help counteract the effect of the fries,“ added Stasha with a laugh. “The number of choices is overwhelming, and for someone like me who has trouble making up their mind, it’s good to have predetermined options on the menu … although I have to admit it was kind of fun to assemble my burger.”
The fries soon arrived along with the grilled veggies, followed in short order by our burgers.
“Wow, look how fantastic looking your burger is,” said Stasha, admiring the tall mound on my plate. “And look at mine, really nice – except they put mushrooms on it. I did not order mushrooms, but you did and you have yours. I don’t mind, I love mushrooms. I just want to make sure everything else I ordered is here. How is yours?”
“Great,” I replied. “Really good – not your typical turkey burger. I’m glad I went with the herb goat cheese spread.”
“That’s one architecturally sound burger in terms of design,” Stasha pointed out.
”I designed it, they built it.”
Stasha took a bite of her burger, then paused. “The temperature of my burger could be warmer. In fact, it would be nice if it was simply warm. But it’s still good, even lukewarm. Here, try a bite.”
“Hmmm … for a veggie burger it has a lot of flavor, but I prefer the turkey burger.”
“I think if we came back I’d try a regular beef burger. But I’m loving the garlic aioli, it’s ridiculous. And both the sweet potato fries and the parmesan fries. I’m glad you ordered them fifty-fifty, so we could try both.”
“Me too, but … I’m getting full,” I said. “That’s a lot of food.”
“Did you save room for dessert?” asked our server. “We have great shakes and malts, key lime pie…”
“What, you mean we can’t build a dessert too?” I asked the server.
“As if we had room for dessert,” said Stasha slowly, “let alone time for me to make another decision.”
The Counter is at 1104 Irvine Ave. in Newport Beach. Visit the website at www.thecounterburger.com.