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The Counter?

I'm curious if anyone has been to the new 24-hour "upscale diner" at the Thompson Hotel. The space was designed by Susur Lee's wife, but I don't know much about the menu. Still, given that the 24-hour options downtown currently include the Lakeview, which is terrible, and Fran's which is even more terrible, I'm pretty interested on hearing more about The Counter.

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  1. I have not been but am very curious. There was brief mention of it in the Globe and Mail. Diner comfort food in an upscale space. Burgers, mac and cheese, poutine. Excited to check this out, was a bad weekend to head down there so might try it next weekend. There's spot on the Thompson web site for it but very little info or a menu.

    1. I've been twice (live in the building). The food is typical up-scale diner fare. Burgers, BLT, mac and chesse etc. Burger and fries are $12. Burger is a good size but a touch on the dry side. They are open 24 hours to provide room service food to the hotel guests..
      I'll report back when I try more menu items.

      1. Went on Monday night at about 10pm, l'homme and I live in the neighbourhood and have been really excited about a late night food option other than the Wheat Sheaf. (Yeah, I know... I post on chowhound but eat at the WS... let the stoning begin!)

        I'd been in the space before opening, and was pleasantly surprised at how it balances chic and homey. The booths are roomy, the lighting is kind, and I covet the floor tiles. Whole look is a bit diner+train car+moroccan bordello.

        For a place still finding its feet (we were told it had been open for just a week) I was impressed by the service, pacing and most of the food. I'm confident that the snags will work themselves out with time and more plates going through the pass.

        We had fried chicken (with cheddar mac and cheese) a side of wilted spinich, and mac and cheese.

        The M&C was good, but pretty bog standard and frankly not interesting. Served in a cast iron kettle - nice touch - and garnished with two thin baguette toasts (which made no sense, because if you are serving a dish that is solely comprised of carbs and dairy and fat, why would you top it off with more carbs?) and two rounds of pancetta, over crisped to the point of blackness. This dish could be hoiked up a notch with the simple addition of some sort of properly cooked pig (lardons, bacon, threads of prosciutto...)

        The chicken came in five pieces in a bucket, an enormous portion for one person, and was served (oddly) with tartar sauce and (less oddly) cheddar mashed potatoes. L'homme avoided the sauce, but raved about the chicken. A thick crust of slightly sweet batter wrapping tender, juicy chicken pieces. Two of which are still in our fridge, because, despite our best efforts, we couldn't go the distance. Cheddar mashed pots were delicious, but the cheese was just melted over the top of the potatoes, when we'd expected a golden mound of cheese infused starch. Regardless, the dish tasted excellent.

        The wilted spinich was properly wilted, but over salted and wilted baby spinich leaves with the stems left on lead to limp and drippy stem threads which are sort of unappetizing.

        Large selection of bottled beer, a select few on tap - served in chilled glass mugs!

        Other menu items: a variety of all day breakfasts, a muffuletta, shrimp po-boy, salads, burgers and sammies.

        Overall, I think it is a great addition to an area with many condo-ites and few mid-range dining options.

        3 Replies
        1. re: clairelizabeth

          How much was the bucket of fried chicken? Seems like a good option to split. Hold the tartar sauce.....

          1. re: childofthestorm

            I think the fried chicken came in at about $17, which we thought was pricey... until the serving arrived and it was huge.

            Totally share-able.

            1. re: clairelizabeth

              mitizi's sister has a great fried chicken (2 pieces) with ontario corn on the cob, cole slaw and potato salad for $14, great deal, very filling and very tasty

        2. I went today with a friend - it was ok, but not overly impressive. There's a photo of what we ate here (burger and the mac and cheese) http://welovebrunch.blogspot.com/2010...

          I was hoping for a good new late night spot, but I'm a bit on the fence right now with The Counter. Some of the prices are pretty high ($12 hot dogs) but I'm pretty curious about the fried chicken that claireelizabeth had, so I might go back and try it.

          8 Replies
          1. re: ggom1

            Those fries look pretty good in the picture. Did they have a poutine on the menu?

            1. re: abigllama

              Yes, there's two. The prices are cut-off in the menu photo I took, but I can read Poutine Classic and Poutine Quebecoise (looks like this has smoked meat added in). They're listed under "Sides" so taking a stab in the dark, I'd guess maybe $8-12? Since the sandwiches all seem to be around $14.

              1. re: ggom1

                can we see the picture of the menu you took?

                1. re: hungryabbey

                  I'm not sure if this will work?

                  The menu is on one big page so I tried to zoom in on the different sections to make it legible.

                  1. re: ggom1

                    woo, thanks for posting. for menu shots!

                    For reading it later, I usually just shoot it straight on and then zoom in flickr. It's like scanning, but faster. You'd have to change the permission settings though. Like this:

                    And if you click on the menu tag on that page, you can see allllll of the menus I've shot. It's a handy thing, I find.

                    1. re: ggom1

                      Thanks so much!
                      Can you recall what the app offerings were? Thats the only one I cant see. And is it breakfast all day?

                      1. re: hungryabbey

                        Thanks for the tips jlunar! I'll try to play with the settings but I generally avoid using flickr. Lol it took me about 5 minutes before I figured out how to even upload the menu photo.

                        We didn't really look at the apps when we went. Looking at the menu on extreme zoom, I think I can read: soup of the day; fried calamari; crab cakes; fries and onion rings. I don't think there was anything in that section that really jumped out as interesting when I was looking through the menu walking by.

                        And yes, I think it's an all day breakfast - they wrote "breakfast anytime."

                        1. re: ggom1

                          My mistake. I dont know what I was thinking, I somehow overlooked that breakfast statement Ha.

            2. ate there on canada day.

              i had the mac & cheese and now upon reading, i think they forgot my pancetta! it would've been nice if i could add lobster cuz it was really rich and salty.

              looking forward to going back to try other menu items, and the window booths are great for ppl watching.

              1. Bumping this thread to see if anyone has been there recently. Has anyone tried the muffuletta or po'boy yet?

                4 Replies
                1. re: fickle

                  I tried the po'boy on my first visit but didn't enjoy it. I dunno what a true po'boy is supposed to be like though, so take what I said with a grain of salt.


                  I've been one more time since and had the pulled-pork burger (also pictured in the flickr stream) again. Not as good as the first time, sadly. Still need to go back and eat the mac 'n' cheese again to see if it was as good as our first visit...

                  1. re: jlunar

                    Ah thanks. I was hoping to find something close to one I had (see pix - it was in Denver of all places!) That one had fried shrimps on ciabatta with black bean chile, cucumber, cilantro and wasabi with a side of cajun fries.

                    The fried chicken sounds good at the Counter so I'll probably try that instead.

                    1. re: fickle

                      The space is great, the service was good, the food was presented and executed well. We ordered the fried chicken (4 pieces for $14) with onion rings and the pulled pork beef burger with fries. The fried chicken was perfectly cooked but it lacked any flavour. Both the batter and the chicken was bland, it didn't even have salt. The onion rings were okay, a bit crunchier than I normally like them but they were greaseless which was nice. The burger was overcooked (I don't think it was freshly grounded either), not beefy at all, the pulled pork was too subtle and lacking in sauce & flavour but the fries were decent. I'm glad I tried it but I don't think I will be rushing back anytime soon. I can get a better burger down the street at the Beast for 2 dollars more and way better fried chicken and onion rings at Stockyard for 50 cents less!

                      1. re: fickle

                        But the Counter is open 24/7. I think that is the main selling point. And the prices are decent for the portions.

                2. Went to the Counter one night about a week ago.

                  Had the pulled pork burger and the mac n' cheese (along with a side of fries and rings).
                  Here are some pics:
                  Down South Burger: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lricharz...
                  Mac n' Cheese: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lricharz...
                  Fries and Rings: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lricharz...

                  The burger was good, but the mac n' cheese is not recommended. I post likely will go back and try the fried chicken. This place definitely will give reggie's some late night competition if you want a more comfortable place to sit down and eat.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: flying101

                    (lLongtime reader, first post, so hi everyone, and thanks for the many good recommendations!)

                    I ate at the Counter last night. It was my third time there. I really like it because the food is good, it is a comfortable place to sit and eat, they don't rush you, and the servers are very nice. And the options for eating at 10:30 pm are limited. Last night I had the turkey burger with grilled veggies, my companions had the fried chicken, the All Day Breakfast, and the Smoked Salmon Platter. Across all our visits we have tried most items on the menu (except the enormous Muffaletta). Everything is at least "good" and some things are really good. My turkey burger was well-seasoned, moist and perfectly cooked, with a pile of nicely arranged grilled veggies on top. It was enormous. I had to deconstruct it to eat it. Same went for the Pastrami Reuben last visit (and we had to take half of that home). The presentations are attractive.

                    We've also had a few of the desserts. The portions are large and they were all good. The Strawberry Rhubard Pie with vanilla icing was excellent. The Chocolate Fudge cake was very dense and fudgy (although I didn't care for the caramel sauce they drizzled on it). The ice cream sundae was enormous and delicious (but it didn't have the kind of hot fudge that balls up when it hits the ice cream, it was more of a chocolate sauce.)

                    I think of the prices as factoring in rental of the cool booth for two hours or so.

                    1. re: lyssak

                      Thanks for the review. Just curious, since this is your third visit does it seem like things have improved? We really stayed away due to really bad word of mouth from friends, here, as well as in the press. Glad to hear some positive things the changes were made.

                      1. re: lyssak

                        Are the menu items (non dessert) also typical large diner portions?

                        1. re: hungryabbey

                          Abigllama: I re-read the reviews, and I have to say, my experience has been totally different. We never got the wrong order or wrong sides (12 entree orders, plus drinks and desserts) and nothing was every bad. The staff has always been energetic and friendly, not befuddled, and the manager usually stops by our booth to ask if everything is OK. LIke I said, the food was always good and sometimes very good. Maybe it depends what time you go. I've only gone there after 9 pm. I noticed that some reviewers said that they expected more more adventurous selections, but my interpretation is that the menu is deliberately retro.

                          Hungryabbey: the portions on most items are generous. Not so for the sides. The onion rings (thick cuts, lightly battered) comes with about 8 rings. The fries come in a container about the size of a 1 cup measure.

                      2. re: flying101

                        I went a few months ago and had the burger (decent but nothing special) and a side of the mac n cheese which I absolutely loved, so much so that I'm planning a second visit just for that dish. Do you mind elaborating upon why you didn't like it? Just curious and wondering if they've changed the dish.

                        1. re: LTL

                          I really liked the side mac 'n' cheese too...

                      3. Stopped by today for an early dinner. The room is really nice in my opinion. It is very comfortable, but clean, modern and bright. Service was very friendly, but very slow. I wasn't impressed that the server saw us waiting for our drinks (which sat after being poured for at least 5 min) and while she knew we were ready to order, as she chatted it up with some guy at the bar. It was also pretty slow to get our food. I mean, we ordered matzo ball soup to start, does it take 15 minutes to pour it into a bowl when the place only has an additional 4 tables??
                        Food was pretty good for the price, presentation was really cute. We started with matzo ball soup (very bland, but good matzoballs.. they are "sinkers" so I guess it depends how you like them). We also shared the mediterranean dips and pita. This was a great selection of baba ganoush, tzatziki hummus, olives (pimento stuffed), toasted pita and some celery/carrots. The dips were a touch underseasoned but not terrible.
                        We tried: Fried chicken (huge portion of 3 large breasts.. very crispy batter), burger with grilled vegetables (again, underseasoned and served slightly cold), poutine quebecois with smoked meat (really great. The fries were crispy and there was a good balance of cheese/gravy/meat)
                        Mac and cheese with pancetta, and truffle oil- someone must have dumped in the truffle, because it was WAY too prominent. I love truffles, but after a few bites, it started to get a bit nauseating. It was also served with some crispy slices of bread, but they were SO stale (no, they werent just toasted really well), you couldn't even eat them, even if they had been softened in the cheese sauce. The pancetta wasn't scattered throughout the pasta, but was just one piece that was crisped and served on top. Looked pretty, yes, but not very practical for eating.

                        In general, I would return because there is a lot of things on the menu I'd like to try, but I'd probably wait a few more months to let them iron out any kinks.

                        1. I tried their "veggie burger". It was advertised as coming with a pesto mayonnaise. I only remembered this because the burger by itself was basically a lot of mashed black beans with some corn kernels. Totally bland and lacking even in salt. It was good because I'm watching my calories these days, but bad because it seems like the chef was relying on the pesto mayonnaise to provide flavour to the veggie burger. The side of fries was very tasty, however, and the service was really good.

                          Like others, I would return later, and also only go for the breakfast type items.

                          1. Just came back from lunch at The Counter. I was actually going to e-mail the management to give them a chance to respond before posting here first, but the website doesn't seem to have an e-mail listed.

                            Went with a friend from the office, he ordered the 3 eggs with bacon. The potatoes which came with it were delicious. Dark on the outside, soft inside and with a generous amount of sauteed onions flavouring the dish. Oddly the bread wasn't buttered, but I can understand in that area that some patrons might prefer it that way. Though if you are eating a full breakfast with eggs, bacon and potatoes, I don't think cutting back on the butter will really make much of a difference!

                            My poutine was inedible. Completely overcooked. The manager and waitress were both extremely busy (maybe someone didn't show up for their shift?) so I wasn't able to get their attention to discuss. Looked like it might have been curds in there, but it was so melted and frizzled brown, they had completely lost their shape. The fries were almost burnt.

                            Would defintely agree with the post above, I'd go back for the breakfast option but not when I'm in a rush on my lunch break and I wouldn't order anything else.

                            1. I went to the Counter for a late night dinner last week and had the fried chicken w/ mac n cheese w/ truffle oil subbed in for mashed potatoes. The fried chicken was hot, crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside. If you have a cold or are on a low salt diet, this is the fried chicken of your dreams because it lacks flavor. Ask for hot sauce and use liberally. The bubbling hot mac n cheese wasn't bubbling and was devoid of any truffle flavor.

                              My wife had the reuben which she deemed ok. To my eye, it was the same size as the reuben you get at Druxys which to me means small.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: GoodGravy

                                I went to the Counter awhile back- I wasn't impressed with the boring chicken (although admittedly well fried, like GoodGravy said, it was not seasoned) and the poutine was just major thumbs down!
                                At 4AM, next time I'll walk to Metro!

                                The Counter
                                550 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5V, CA