While I’m not a big fan of franchises, there are some that have such a cool concept and execute on that concept so well that it certainly makes sense to duplicate that for the masses to enjoy.
The Counter nails it on many levels, starting with their website, www.the counterburger.com, which is a testament to the thought, style and level of technical sophistication put into this endeavor. It begins with a beer glass filling, appropriate music playing, then dozens of combinations of burgers and salads being built hands-free. It makes you want to go there, which is what a website is supposed to accomplish and where so many restaurants fall short.
The Counter was, as they say on their website, “anti-established in 2003, ushering in a fresh era of industrial decor, today’s music, cold beer, unique wines, cocktails, and burger options that are only limited by your imagination.” That sums it up perfectly. The Carlsbad location in the Forum Shopping Center does not lend itself so much to the bar crowd, but I’m sure that’s a perfect fit in their more urban locations.
I went for lunch with my friend Michael and his two children Rosemary and Mitchell. The staff was very attentive to the kids, immediately bringing them crayons and puzzles which were evidently up to kid cool as they went to town on them immediately. The space is very clean with a nice mix of old school diner and a modern twist on industrial design.
We were also greeted with a clipboard and an extensive list of fresh ingredients that allow you to build your own gourmet burger. They claim 312,120-plus different burger combinations, which is a little overwhelming but you can just as easily go for a signature burger which they already have designed and are also available in a bowl minus the bun. If you go the build your own burger route, there are four straightforward steps to make that happen. I counted 12 cheeses available, 30 toppings, 21 sauces and four buns.
We started with parmesan cheese fries which at $4.50 were plenty for 2 adults and 2 children and a nice mix of crispy fries and cheesy goodness. The kids went with the two mini burgers and fries and were very happy with their selection. Rosemary commented on the freshness of the buns and Mitchell liked the portion size, explaining in detail how he is full after half of a regular size adult burger but the two mini burgers are the perfect size for kids. The mini plate comes in at $4.95.
The adults went for the Counter and Lamb burgers, the Lamb was on the daily special menu. The Counter Burger was loaded with a 1/3-pound beef patty, provolone cheese, onion strings, lettuce blend, sautéed mushrooms and tomato and sun dried tomato vinaigrette. Amazingly, all this fit on the burger and was not a sloppy mess. Contrary to the Carl’s Jr. advertising agency, I don’t want my burger all over myself. The Lamb burger was a moist burger topped with a killer combination of sun dried tomato, feta cheese, fried peperoncinis, Bermuda red onion, organic mixed greens and a tzatziki sauce. This burger was full of flavor, both from the patty and the great combination of toppings. By the way, if you are not familiar with tzatziki, it’s a Greek sauce made of strained yoghurt, usually from sheep or goat milk, mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil and dill. It compliments lamb perfectly and worked perfectly on this burger. It’s nice to know that the meat from The Counter is never frozen, humanely raised and hormone and antibiotic free. All their produce is also locally sourced. That’s a nice touch from a chain operation. Burgers range from $8 to $12 and are well worth it.
While the burgers were fabulous and I highly recommended them, it was the malted milk shake that blew me away. It is real ice cream and malted blended together old style and a perfect ending to a really delightful lunch. Shakes and fresh iced tea are also available. The Counter also has a full bar with a nice selection of local beer and wine. Happy hour is daily from 3 to 6 p.m. and after 8 p.m. I could see making a dinner night of it with the kids or a beer and burger night with friends.
The Counter is located at the Forum, 1923 Calle Barcelona, Carlsbad, 92009. Call (760) 652-5480 or visit www.thecounterburger.com for details.