It’s not every burger joint that offers quinoa, kale and deviled eggs.
But The Counter, which has locations worldwide now, started in Santa Monica, where gourmet, healthful grub is definitely appreciated.
That’s why the build-your-own burger chain has introduced a new menu this month at its Northern California locations that will eventually expand to encompass all its outposts.
Don’t worry — you can still design your own burger to your heart’s content from type of bun, meat and cheese to a full arsenal of toppings. But there are now new salads, drinks and set burger options, as I found out when I was invited in recently to be a guest of The Counter at San Jose’s Santana Row.
Among the new selections are a Veggie Club ($7) with grilled zucchini, roasted red pepper, grilled carrot, avocado, tomato, mozzarella and pesto; the Un-Brie-livable ($9.50 for 1/3 pound or $12.50 for 1/2 pound) ground turkey patty with brie, organic mixed greens, dried cranberries, tomato, and apricot sauce on a multigrain bun; and the Sonoma Bowl ($10.50 for 1/3 pound or $13.50 for 1/2 pound) beef burger in a bowl with organic greens, quinoa, herbed goat cheese, red onions, roasted tomatoes and pesto.
We started with the deviled eggs, which come as two halves for $2. The yolks are mashed with cheddar, applewood smoked bacon and parsley for an indulgent two-bite morsel full of smoky richness.
Next, the Hippie Salad ($9), a pretty assemblage of mixed greens, a sprinkling of quinoa, garlic croutons, dabs of herbed goat cheese and a flavorful Dijon balsamic vinaigrette. The large red and yellow tomato slices were impressive looking, but of course in March, they lacked the true flavor of ones picked in summer.
The Southeast Asian Ahi ($13.50 for 1/3 pound or $16.50 for 1/2 pound) was an occasional special that proved so popular that it’s now on the regular menu. I opted for the 1/2 pounder, which brings two ahi patties stacked on top of each other inside a pillowy brioche bun. It was topped with pickled carrot and daikon slaw that I wish had been a little more assertive tasting because it didn’t have the sharp twang I was hoping for. Small containers of nori-soy sauce and house-made sriracha allow you to add as little or as much as you like. This sriracha has more sweetness than most, and a little less heat. The ahi was cooked nicely with the center mostly still rare, as requested. I don’t think this version beats my favorite at Gott’s Roadside, but it’s a pretty good second.
I had to laugh when the manager explained that the Red Eye ($11.50 for 1/3 pound and $14.50 for a 1/2 pound) used to be a market special offered after New Year’s Eve. It’s easy to see why because it’s truly what you’d want to eat when battling a hangover. Think two big beef patties smothered with Tillamook cheese, bacon slices, tomato, sriracha and a sunnyside-up egg — all on an English muffin. My husband deemed it a gourmet Egg McMuffin. It’s a hot mess to bite into. Be sure to get plenty of napkins, as you’ll need them. Spicy, juicy, meaty and salty — it hits all the notes to wake that body up after a hard night.
On the side, enjoy onion strings ($5) with barbecue sauce, and buttermilk ranch to dip into. The slivers are nicely seasoned. They’re so thin, you could mound them on your burger, too.
For more virtuous eaters, there are grilled vegetable skewers ($5 for four of them) studded with red pepper, zucchini, onion and yellow squash — all simply brushed with olive oil and seasoned with salt.
I admit I was dubious when the manager raved about the Chocolate Cherry Pinot Noir Shake ($9) as being his favorite. Yes, real Pinot Noir whizzed with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and cherries. But when he brought a tiny sample to try, I was sold. It’s an alcoholic milkshake that reminds me of a slightly boozy tasting black forest cake.
With 37 outposts now, including one at Santana Row that had a line out the door on a recent Sunday afternoon, The Counter definitely knows how to entice.
Other Burgers Worth Trying: Short Order in Los Angeles
And: Hopscotch in Oakland
And: Belcampo in Larkspur