The Counter - Irvine
When The Counter announced that their first O.C. franchise was debuting in Irvine, the anticipation was thicker than those beef patties I had already heard so much about. To the chowhound, its notoriety was familiar long before the ink dried on their Irvine Company lease. After all, the L.A. success story has been written-to-death on bulletin boards, gabbed about on Good Morning America, hip-checked on GQ.
It was even on friggin' Oprah fer cryin' out loud!
Short of butchering your own cow, The Counter's claim to fame is customer empowerment. Their burger is endlessly customizable. I'm talkin' the kind of control you didn't know you always wanted. Their website purports at least 312,120 different combinations. Want to verify this? Better use factorials. Remember factorials?
A clipboard with a checklist is presented in lieu of a menu. On it you mark your choice of meat, cheese, toppings, sauce and bun. Aside from the junior high Scantron pop-quiz flashbacks you'll get (remember Scantrons?) it's an efficient way to order.
Want horseradish cheddar and goat cheese? Check it!
A topping of roasted corn and black bean salsa? Mark away.
How about dried cranberries, peanut sauce, all on an English muffin? Go for it.
Pepto? Alka Seltzer? You're on your own.
So, with bated breath, I waited, not unlike that Mervyns lady. "Open, open, open."
"Coming Summer 2007," its white stenciled windows said. But June came and went. So did July, August, September and October.
By November, I had lost patience. In the meantime I rediscovered The Royal Robin Burger at Red Robin. It came with bottomless steak fries. Life was good.
Then it finally happened: The Counter's Irvine outpost was open for business. Although going there was like forgiving a long lost friend who had struck it rich and forgot all about you, it's easy to welcome someone who brings food.
Scarcely a week and the place was packed. My friends and I were in a sea of heads, crowded inside an octagon enclosure that looked like the Ultimate Fighting cage.
A wide window rolls up like a garage door. The bar is lined with rows of wine bottles and beer flows from taps. Flitting about, squeezing themselves between the aluminum tables, was a crew of Abercrombie hopefuls. They're trained to be helpful and happy. But everyone's still a little green, especially in the kitchen.
Our order of fries and onion strings ($3.95)-- limp and crunchy, respectively -- was polished off even before the burgers showed up, dipped in thimbles of sugary apricot, tangy BBQ, and watery ranch sauces. But the deep fried pickles ($4.00) don't need no sauce, unlike its cousin: the deep fried zucchini.
Twenty minutes later, the burgers ($7.95) arrived, built as a precarious stack; the sandwich equivalent of a seal balancing a ball on its nose, teetering with flailing flippers on top of another ball. It's twice as tall as it is wide, so it's tricky to grasp. One wrong move and the tower tumbles like Jenga.
The toasted buns have the sturdy crust of ciabatta. The grilled onions are past the point of cooked to become a spreadable onion paste. The patty, two fingers thick, tastes almost like meatloaf. It's densely packed and grilled to a uniform degree of doneness.
It's about time The Counter opened. But why then am I still craving that Red Robin burger?
6416 Irvine Boulevard
Irvine, CA 92620
To read Christian's post on OC Food Blogs, CLICK HERE.
To read an updated review on a second visit, CLICK HERE.