I've been wanting to go to the counter cafe since it opened, and finally found time to come in Sunday (10/19/08) for brunch/lunch. Excellent poached eggs, and great iced tea (strong but not bitter). All else left to be desired. While parking, my wife and I noticed one of the cooks (with an apron on, no less), sitting on a porch with two dogs. I love dogs, but...sanitary? We thought it was strange.
We were welcomed and sat immediately. Our waitress came within a minute to take our drink order, and asked if we were ready to order. We were not ready, but we appreciated the expediency. Our appreciation stopped there.
I ordered the Counter Benedict, and my wife ordered the 2 eggs plate, with biscuit and sausage. First off, it took an easy 20 minutes for the food to arrive, and we were one of three tables, excluding one table of two waitresses.
Upon arrival, my benedict arrived with tasty pastrami and perfectly poached eggs, but no biscuit, as promised on the menu. Instead, it was served on dry, almost burnt whole wheat toast, with sub-par (packaged?) Hollandaise sauce. The "home fries" were obviously chopped up french fries. For $10, they could have mentioned that their benedict would be served on toast.
As for my wife, she fared worse than I did. A simple cafe order of 2 eggs, scrambled hard, with a biscuit and sausage, was $8. In the spirit of enjoying the fresh, local, Austin grub, we didn't bat an eye. AND THEN, came the food. Eggs ordered scrambled hard were somehow hard-scrambled on one side and semi-runny on the other (scrambled eggs have sides?). One piece of toast (halved), not a biscuit, was served burnt, dry, and cold. No sausage, but bacon.
The owner/manager?, who delivered our food, was a bit combative. My wife meekly mentioned she ordered sausage, not bacon, only to be met with a surly, "The ticket says bacon." She reflectively said we could keep the bacon and would send out the sausage. We were privy to witness her "question" our waitress if sausage was ordered.
The manager/owner? did ask if my wife needed butter or jelly for her burnt, dry, cold, toast. Yes, of course, but when she came to the table, she brought an ice cold butter packet and a large jar of grape jelly containing only the dregs. Upon her better judgment, she returned to the table with approximately 1 Tbsp. of said jelly in a 2 oz. ramekin.
The missing sausage was brought out reasonably quickly, yet massively undercooked. The medium-rare breakfast sausage (need I say MORE), was...inedible.
The service was OK, overall, but the FOOD?, come on! Anyone can get good breakfast/brunch all over town, be it diner, casual, fine-dining, or WAFFLE HOUSE. Don't waste your time or MONEY with the Counter Cafe.
If you can take it for what it is than Counter Cafe is fine. On that note, cheers to the owner for adding something to the 'hood. She uses local, organic food and that should be applauded. Okay, now my real feelings. Counter Cafe is missing the boat,or maybe just my boat. If I go to such a place,
I want the portions to be big and sloppy. I want a BLT with a thick slice of avocado on a big piece of crusty bread. I want some slow cooked oatmeal overflowing my cereal bowl. This sounds obscene, I know, but really for those prices I am just as inclined to walk over to Whole Foods and make up my own concoctions. I have brushed shoulders with Counter Cafe's chefs picking up ingredients at Whole Foods, which did make me happy, but what incentive does that leave to make a trip to the Cafe instead of my regular trip to Whole Foods?
Some of the staff are of the hip, disinterested trope. Others are sassy ladies over forty, sometimes way over forty. I don't care about slacker ennui or kissin' grits, I care about chow. And I can say that in my limited visits, the food has been good, at least for what it is.
I will say that the price is all out of whack when compared head-to-head with other diners. Not so if you consider property values, though: for cool kids in Clarksville to have a diner like this in walking distance, you have to expect to pay some sort of premium. However, as a deep South Austinite who only sometimes gets applicable greasy spoon breakfast cravings, I would much rather make a trek to Airport or the East Side for my misadventures and save a couple coins.
Now, on to the food. I feel like their fare is good, but the real standout dish is the biscuits and gravy. When I had them, the biscuits and gravy were sublime, though thoroughly non-Texan. The gravy reminds me of a South-style, thin and off-white (almost leaning towards a brown or gray), with onion flavor piercing throughout. The biscuits weren't as good as my Mom's, or possibly even Dan's, but they're definitely good enough to serve as a gravy vehicle. Keep in mind that if you're wanting hearty, sausage-laden or bacon-grease-laden gravy, this is not the dish for you. This gravy is Nuanced(tm).
In the final analysis, I'll consider hitting this place when business takes me downtown or parts northern in the early morning. The food is good. But for the price and the location, relative to my home base, I certainly wouldn't ever go out of my way. If I do arrive there again, I'll definitely try the steak and eggs and report back.
I had a similar experience yesterday, peps1. I stopped in for breakfast (10:30am) and ordered the 2 egg breakfast - over medium eggs and bacon. The bacon tasted like it was deep fried and not in a good way. It was over cooked with the predominate flavor being grease - hiding it's former bacon-y goodness. The eggs were extremely overcooked. Burnt around the edges, the yolks were completely dry and solid. With 5 other customers in the restaurant there was no need to turn the burners on high and cook it a searing pan! This was no steak! When i asked if I could switch to toast instead of a biscuit I was told that it would be an upcharge. I stuck with the biscuit and it was passable. When it was all said and done - I ate the bacon, half a biscuit and one egg then pushed the plate away in disgust. Will i be back - probably not. Hey Counter cafe - if you are going to serve breakfast all day it would do you good to perfect it - I offer you a quote from Pierre Marco White
"A perfectly cooked fried egg is quite beautiful. Apply the cook's brain and visualize that fried egg on the plate. Do you want it to be burned around the edges? Do you want to see the craters on the egg white? Should the yolk look as though you need a hammer to break into it? The answer to all these questions should be, no. Yet the majority of people still crack an egg and drop it into searingly hot oil or fat and continue to cook it on a high heat. You need to insert earplugs to reduce the horrific volume of the sizzle."
I went to Counter Cafe for lunch one afternoon and expected good things. It took them forever to get my food out. When it arrived it was only a little bit better than mediocre. Left frustrated and decided never to go back. I ended up going back though a couple of months later with my lady. This time the service was fine and the food was serviceable. After my trips there, my feeling is that the food is just okay, and for all the gusto they put into the organic, local feel of their place you expect a lot more. Prices are high, seems like the service is hit or miss. Place isn't bad, may be worth a try, but I'm not going back b/c as I see it, it is a waste of time and money. Not too many strong options in that area outside of Whole Paycheck.
My husband and I went for dinner last spring. It took us about 15 minutes to place a drink order (sitting at the bar with 1 other table in the whole place). I ordered wine. My wine arrived in a dirty, greasy glass. It was gross. When I mentioned this to the guy behind the counter, he gave me a dirty look, inspected the glass, shrugged his shoulders as though he had no clue as to what could be offending me, THEN proceeded to pour my wine into another glass. We walked out and haven't been back since.
Not to diminish your frustration, but I have never ever had an experience like the one you have described at Counter Cafe, and I seriously eat there every Saturday and have for most of this year. My benedicts have always been served on homemade biscuits and have been perfectly poached. The waitresses have remembered my preferences from previous visits and taken time to talk to me. They pretty easily have the best steak and eggs I have had in town as well.