If you are a burger snob and are the sort to tell the fast-food speakerbox to hold the tomatoes and mustard, grill the onions and, oh yeah, no buns, and can I get a side of BBQ sauce with that…then the Counter on Ocean Park is where you need to go.
Today was only the second time I’ve been there since the first time the burgers seemed too expensive. Later I discovered that was only because I got crazy with premium toppings and such. But if you are disciplined, a 1/3-pound burger will only cost you $6.50.
Pretty good considering this is a burger that you customize yourself. Choose from 10 different kinds of cheeses (Gruyere to Yellow American Cheese), 17 types of toppings (dried cranberries to spicy pepperoncinis), and 17 sauces (apricot sauce to peppercorn steak sauce). All come standard. It’s only the “premium toppings” like the homemade guacamole and fried onion strings that you have to pay the extra $1 for.
The “Build Your Own Burger” idea behind the Counter, a fashionable new dive in Ocean Park, makes it a universe of possibilities centering around the hamburger and its matrix of 40-odd fixings, a restaurant where a thick, rare, organic-beef hamburger with herbed goat cheese, dried cranberries and roasted chiles seems not just the fancy of a celebrity used to flexing his whim of iron but almost an imperative.
Those overwhelmed by all the choices can simply stick to one of their signature burgers, like the Old School (beef, Tillamook cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and red relish) or the Taco Turkey (turkey, jalapeno jack, lettuce, scallions, dried cranberries and spicy sour cream).
Or if you want to go the protein-style route, you can order the Counter salad, aka Burger in a Bowl, which is simply the burger without the bun served on a bed of lettuce or mixed baby greens ($7.75 for 1/3-lb).
For drinks you have a nice selection of beer, from Heineken to Chimay Red Cap. There’s even a wine list available for your viewing pleasure. But who are you kidding, fancy pants? Order a coffee shake or a float.
Those who will dare dessert (I’m sure there aren’t many after a burger) can choose from a delectable array of goodies. Apple crumble or the Chocolate Burger (a donut filled with chocolate mousse, strawberries and bananas)?
For lunch today, I used one of their order forms to check off the ingredients I wanted for a Caroline on Crack special of the day: the 1/3-lb turkey burger with Gruyere cheese, grilled onions, mixed baby greens and roasted garlic aoili sauce. It sounds savory but it wasn’t as good as I had imagined it to be. The garlic sauce didn’t taste garlicky at all; only like mayonnaise. And the turkey burger seemed kinda dry, making me wish I ordered a beef patty. But maybe I ordered the wrong combination. I’ll have to give it another shot with different ingredients next time.
The highlight of the meal for me was the Fifty-fifty — fries and onion strings ($3.50). It came with sides of sweet BBQ sauce and buttermilk ranch. They set it down in front of us before the burgers so we chowed on those nonstop until the food arrived. The onion strings were skinny and lightly breaded, perfect with the BBQ sauce. The fries were nicely seasoned.
Past excursions to the area during the height of lunch time on a weekday promise a fight for parking and seats. But the best time to go seems to be 11:30 when there’s hardly anyone there. The lunch rush doesn’t roll in until noon.
2901 Ocean Park Boulevard
Santa Monica, California 90405