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May 29, 2010 10:41 AM

The Counter (Carlsbad, burgers)

They come pink and juicy and very tasty- something that is very hard to find these days due to the E-Coli concerns. However E-Coli isn't a big risk for those who are in control of their process. It's a much bigger risk for those buying pre-ground beef from the common suppliers. Yes, if you didn't grind it yourself, you better cook it down. But if you know what you are doing, you can have it rare and safe. Most restaurants don't care enough to do it well.

Frankly, I had given up on finding a good burger. Tasteless grayburgers seemed to be the rule everywhere. Sure I could get a good one at a high-end steak house, but I can't pay money like that like that often. When I first discovered the marquee for The Counter my hopes weren't high, but I thought if they were claiming to have great burgers I could at least give them a shot.

What I got far exceeded my expectations. Not only were they pink and juicy as I remembered from the old days when rare was common, but the list of toppings was extraordinary. You must check out the menu at the link below. Also we are talking about 100% Angus beef, hormone and antibiotic free, humanely raised and handled at a particular single Montana ranch. These people are serious about controlling their process and delivering a good burger at a reasonable price and know what they are doing. I was surprised it is a chain restaurant.

Decor- modern, sleek, clean, airy. Very well designed interior. Atmosphere- cheerful. Full bar and a decent selection of good brews on tap as well as a wide selection of high-end brews in bottles. Local brews, Belgians, etc. The most finicky beer connoisseur will be able to find something. Service- variable. Some of the waitstaff are pros, others less so. None have been unpleasant so far. They're mostly pretty young, and it's probably a first job for some of them. But so what? It's a burger joint. With awesome flavors. And it's fun.

Anyway- lots of good particulars (including menu) at their site:

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  1. Nice post, Although it's a chain, I like the fact that their burger weights are after cooking, I also liked the way you can build a burger. What is an average burger price?

    1 Reply
    1. re: cstr

      The regular 1/3 pound burgers with plenty of topping choices are between $8 and $9 dollars. I don't remember the pennies. But they are 'high end steakhouse' worthy. They have some "market price" specials that go higher, but I haven't wanted to go past the burgers yet. Maybe after I've had another 5 or 10.

    2. Great to know. I drove by and just assumed it's another Fuddruckers-type place. Thanks for the post! I'll have to try it out.

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. No sooner have I posted my first review than I have to post a caveat. In writing the review, I managed to make myself salivate, so had to go over again for lunch today. For the first time in many visits the burger came out.... not pink. Good tasting, but not as pink or juicy as usual. I pointed it out to the sever who was extremely accommodating in getting me an expedited replacement which arrived in a few minutes. And then the replacement came out just the same as the first one. Medium, not medium rare. Since it tasted good, I wasn't in the mind of making a big deal about it, but the server came by to check on the replacement. I showed him the cross section and said "what do you think?" He immediately replied it wasn't right and he was ready to have them do it again. I stopped him. I told him I was enjoying it, i just like it best when it's more rare as advertised. But since it tastes fine, I'll just eat this one. The server made an adjustment to the price. I'm still happy, but I'll be on alert next time I go in. If they blow it again, I'll go to the manager. So whether it was a new cook, or an off day in the kitchen or what, I don't know. Hopefully they'll fix it promptly. If anyone reading the review orders it pink (which is their default) but doesn't get it that way, you know the back story.

          4 Replies
          1. re: mouthmusic

            I went today with some friends, one of whom ordered it rarer than their normal doneness ("pink throughout the middle"). When the burgers came out, there was no noticeable difference in doneness, which make me suspect that they are off-and-on with how well they cook the burgers. I do not know if it is a problem with specific timing (grass-fed beef cooks faster) or if it is due to uneven grinding for the burgers, but if that is a major concern, it might be better to see if the Carlsbad location irons out the kinks?

            I think the breadth of fixings is a huge advantage over other places, as you get much more flexibility for creating flavor profiles.

            The same friend who ordered a rarer burger also ordered the spiced apple pie milkshake, but we were brought the nonalcoholic one instead. It was at the nonalcoholic price, so my guess is the server simply assumed we did not intend to order alcohol or something.

            1. re: hye

              I'm going to check and see if there's a channel for complaints.

            2. re: mouthmusic

              I just wanted to update my previous post on the slightly overdone burgers (2 in a row). I submitted a polite complaint via email- mostly so I would know that someone in management knows there was a repetitive problem. (I would never have complained about one burger, which was cheerfully replaced- but when it happens twice in a row, you assume there's a problem in the kitchen.) The manager contacted me by phone and offered to do whatever it takes to accommodate me. I told him I was quite happy that the server already comped me the dish and that mostly I wanted to make sure he was aware of the problem. He said they did have a couple similar complaints that weekend (hye?) and they have already had an employee meeting about it. So I consider the issue appropriately resolved, and hope that weekend was a rare aberration. I went in again this Saturday and had the usual excellent pink-and-juicy burger that I come in for along with good service from the experienced servers. My partner enjoyed her grilled chicken ordered on greens instead of a bun. (All the proteins can be ordered that way if desired- a choice for the gluten-free folks?)

              1. re: mouthmusic

                I didn't complain -- I realized I had parked in a tow-area that I had originally misread as 7am - something when it was actually 7pm - something... (car was still there, though, yay!)

            3. Went yesterday- had a very positive experience. Cooked properly, topped as requested, pleasant service.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Fake Name

                Welp, went there earlier this week after seeing the comments here. Went mid-afternoon, I was the only one in there. Sat at the counter, waited forever for someone to take my order. The burger was good, cooked perfect; the grilled onions were a bit excessive, the bun was great. If that place is around after a year or so, I'd be surprised. Too big of space to support the concept. The list of possible ingredients are lengthy and look impressive, but gotta wonder as you look at that list, if it's more "gimmicky" than something that more than a few would take advantage of. Don't get me wrong, burger was good, but doubtful the concept can be supported in that space. Would I go back? Perhaps if I'm over there, but certainly wouldn't drive out of my way.