As promised last week, I want to share my impressions of Palo Alto's newest burger joint, The Counter. In short, go! Soon! It's a good burger served by very friendly and enthusiastic people. The restaurant just opened last Monday, August 21, and has hit the ground running. When we arrived around 8pm, the place was packed and we had to content ourselves with the free samples of sweet potato fries as we waited for a table (nice touch, the free samples, and good marketing too -- of course the first thing we ordered when we sat down was an order of fresh, hot fries).
The Counter is all about "Building a Better BurgerTM, like so:
- Step 1: Choose a burger (beef, turkey, veggie, or... grilled chicken which is not technically a burger) and size (1/3 lb, 2/3 lb, 1lb). For the carb challenged, "Burger in a Bowl" is an option which is served salad style over lettuce or mixed baby greens.
- Step 2: Choose a cheese (standards such as Tillamook Cheddar and Danish Blue Cheese, as well as more unusual varieties such as Horseradish Cheddar and Jalapeno Jack).
- Step 3: Choose up to 4 toppings (again, ranging from everyday items -- say, lettuce, tomato and onions -- to the burger fringe such as dried cranberries and grilled pineapple).
- Step 4: Choose a sauce (caramelized onion marmalade and roasted garlic aioli were popular, while the sour, mustard-challenged dijon balsamic dressing was not).
- Step 5: Choose a roll (English muffin, honey wheat bun, or classic burger bun).
Whew! I didn't check the math, but The Counter claims 312,120+ burger combinations, which should be enough to keep me coming back for a while. Not recommended is ordering every sauce and topping at once, as attempted by a wild young man named Tim (warning, graphic food image may not be suitable for all audiences). I spoke with the waitress who served Tim this dripping burger orgy, and she noted that Tim very nearly finished it, and probably would have done so if he had not just finished a full meal before attempting this feat. Now there's a man with consuming ambitions!
Besides the sweet potato fries, we tried the fried dill pickle chips, which also were good. Two people at our table who normally don't like pickles found this preparation to be pretty tasty; the batter and grease neutralized the usual sourness of the pickle for them. The apricot dipping sauce is good in its own right (it's a burger sauce option) but didn't really go with the pickles.
Desserts are secondary at The Counter. We tried the Chocolate Burger and, though the presentation is cute (think Krispy Kreme meets beef), the donut filled with chocolate mousse, strawberries, and bananas didn't quite do it for us. To the restaurant's credit, somebody came over to solicit our opinion and was very open to our suggestion of substituting dark chocolate ice cream for the mousse. Another dessert option, the chocolate chip cookie, was fine but ordinary except for its oversized dimensions. Much to my horror, no coffee on the menu! It was pretty much like living through my own personal "Got Milk?" commercial except that I craved coffee instead of cow juice. The Starbuck's two doors down had long since closed, chairs stacked high on the sidewalk and the familiar green-and-white sign darkened. So it goes on the mean streets of Palo Alto.
I may be getting ahead of myself by suggesting that a week-old restaurant is now the Bay Area's best burger, but The Counter clearly does have a good thing going. With only a single location (Santa Monica) prior to the opening of the Palo Alto store, The Counter has won acclaim in Los Angeles and even attracted the attention of pop culture kingmaker Oprah Winfrey. One word to budding entrepreneurs fresh out of ideas: plastics! No, wait, franchise! The affable Managing Partner of The Counter Palo Alto, Peter Katz, told me that he and his business partner George have already laid claim to the Northern California franchise region. However, according to Business Week, The Counter envisions 60 locations throughout California and 400-600 nationally over the coming years, starting with Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and New York. The next Bay Area location? According to Peter, The Counter will open soon in Santana Row.
369 California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306