When a friend called to insist that we visit The Counter in Santa Monica because it was recommended on the Oprah show, I was happy to oblige. Before Oprah, GQ Magazine listed The Counter as one of “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die.” The great press makes the Counter one hoppin’ burger joint. In addition to doing an outstanding job of making stuff that’s not so good for you, they have an impressive selection of tasty items that are relatively guilt free.
Build Your Own Burger
For those who always have to customize their orders with more of this and less of that, The Counter’s do-it-yourself menu is an epicurean delight. From the Step-by-step checklist on a mini clipboard, you choose one of 10 cheese selections like yellow American, Danish blue or horseradish cheddar; four of 17 toppings ranging from your basic lettuce and tomatoes to the more exotic dried cranberries, grilled pineapple or roasted red peppers; and one of 17 sauces from mayo to peppercorn steak sauce to peanut sauce. All of this is piled on your choice of 1/3 ($8.25) to a full pound ($13.25) beef, turkey or veggie burger served on a hamburger bun, honey wheat roll, English muffin or in a lettuce bowl. Nine additional premium toppings like sautéed mushrooms, fried egg and guacamole are $1.00 more. There are over 300,000 possible combinations.
For the indecisive, the Old School and Counter Burger offer a predetermined combination of popular toppings. Ketchup and mustard are not on the topping list, but they’re on each table.
The Right Stuff
The Counter grinds its own meat and makes fresh veggie burgers daily. They use “certified humane raised, natural grain-fed beef,” and 70 percent white meat, 30 percent dark in the turkey burgers. The vegan veggie burgers are made with a brown rice and wheat base mixed with cranberries, carrots, black beans, roasted red peppers and spinach.
On the Side For the traditionalist, you can have your burgers accompanied by a duo of French fries and fried onion strings. For the more adventurous, sweet potato fries or fried dill pickle chips might appeal. If you're health conscious, the “hobo pack” of herb-seasoned vegetables grilled in a foil pouch should do the trick. But truly, with all the extras on top of the burger, you don’t need anything on the side.
From the fountain you can select from a variety of sodas, floats, shakes and malts. In addition to the ubiquitous chocolate and vanilla shakes, there are strawberry, banana, coffee, peanut butter and the Apple Pie Shake, with a whole piece of the Apple Crumble dessert blended in. The Counter also serves beer and wine.
The Counter is located at 2901 Ocean Park Blvd on the outer corner of a strip mall in a residential area of Santa Monica. The self-proclaimed industrial décor has concrete floors and a wall of horizontal pane windows that can be rolled up in good weather. Formica-topped tables are crammed close together to maximize seating potential, putting you in easy conversing distance with your neighbors. You can also eat at the soda-fountain-style counter.
Hours are Mon-Thu: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and Sun: noon to 9:00 p.m. You can call in pick up orders to (310) 399-8383.
Jeff Weinstein opened The Counter December 1st, 2004 at the corner of Ocean Park and 29th Street in Santa Monica. As the Build-Your-Own concept has taken off, he has started to franchise the restaurant. Steve Gruman bought the franchise in the original location and took over March 1, 2006. Weinstein continues to oversee the overall franchise operation. A second location is opening in Palo Alto, CA, with new franchises coming soon to Pasadena, Los Angeles, Orange County and Las Vegas.
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