Would you like some grilled veggie skewers with that shake? How about a kale salad with your burger?
These aren’t typically things you’ve expected to hear when going out for a hamburger. But The Counter, which opened two years ago at The Village at Meridian, does things a little differently.
After all, it’s the 21st century. In many ways, the restaurant is just following the trend of eateries around the country that put out gourmet burgers smothered with high-end ingredients.
The first Counter opened in 2003 in Santa Monica, Calif. The formulized menu has evolved over the years. Besides inventive specialty burgers, the restaurant also gives diners copious ways to build their own burgers.
The Counter now has more than 40 locations (some company-owned, others franchised) around the country, and they have taken the concept worldwide in recent times. There are even two restaurants in Dublin. That’s Ireland, not Ohio.
In Meridian, the interior design boasts modern touchstones — like a shimmering metal bar and Ikea-looking wooden chairs — yet it has an old-school diner feel with rows of booths and a wall-sized chalkboard menu with the specials scribbled on it.
The Counter dishes up nearly 20 different kinds of burgers — all-natural beef, bison, turkey and chicken offered in one-third- and half-pound sizes — ranging from classic American renditions to more hybrid burgers with a serious attitude.
The Muffuletta Burger ($11/one-third pound) gleans inspiration from New Orleans’ iconic Italian sandwich. A crusty ciabatta roll encases a juicy, hand-formed beef burger (perfectly pink, as requested) smothered with roasted red pepper, gooey sharp provolone, chopped pepperoncini, shaved ham and a briny olive salad dotted with cipollini onions and capers. A ramekin of Cabernet Sauvignon-spiked mustard came on the side, greatly adding to the flavor profile.
The Official Counter Burger ($14/half-pound), the restaurant’s signature creation, is a towering mass of provolone-draped grilled beef (nailed at medium) with a stack of wispy onion rings precariously perched on top. The whole shebang gets situated on a shiny, toasted brioche bun with sautéed mushrooms, lettuce and sliced tomato. The imposing burger came with a side of sun-dried tomato vinaigrette that smacks of Heinz 57 steak sauce.
The Hot Hen ($9/one-third-pounder) is a relatively healthy bird sandwich that borrows flavors from Buffalo hot wings. A grilled chicken breast (slightly overcooked, in my case) gets plopped on a toasted brioche bun with curls of mandolin-cut carrot, julienne celery, lettuce and tomato, next to sides of cayenne-kicked hot sauce and standard buttermilk ranch dressing. You get the idea.
A Sprouted Veggie Burger ($9/one-third-pounder) took care of the budding vegetarian in my family. This meat-and-dairy-free burger is hardly an afterthought thanks to a scratch-made vegetarian patty (consisting of brown rice, roasted corn, black beans and spices) served on an oatmeal-studded bun with a tangle of alfalfa sprouts, roasted red bell pepper, sliced red onion and mixed greens.
In addition to the burgers on the regular menu, The Counter also offers a few special seasonal burgers such as the Big & Bold Lamburger. If you’re lucky, the lamb burger ($12/one-third-pounder) will still be around for a few more days. A crusty ciabatta roll gets piled high with seasoned, grilled ground lamb (pink in the center, per request) topped with herb-flecked goat cheese, grilled red onion and a sweet and surprisingly fiery tomato jam. Fresh spinach leaves and sliced tomato came on the bottom half of the roll.
A Counter special is the Mini-Mashup ($11), featuring four miniature burgers: Old School, Official Counter Burger, Baja Turkey and Sprouted Veggie. They come with accompanying sauces. On Mondays, the Mashup comes with your choice of four tasters of beer or hard cider — four ounces apiece — for an extra $2.
You’re probably wondering about fries right now. Don’t worry. Fries are served on the side at The Counter. You can go for one of the many smothered fries or simply order them uncovered.
A noteworthy pick for purists is a 50/50 mix of crispy shoestring fries and bright-orange sweet potato fries ($6) served with a side of heady horseradish aioli.
Parmesan fries ($7) are good and gooey, flecked with fragrant rosemary and parsley, next to a ramekin of aioli with no shortage of garlic.
Other deep-fried treats include dill pickle chips ($5.50), lightly breaded with corn meal and served with a tangy apricot dipping sauce with the consistency of loose jam.
The gluten-free crowd is not left out of the equation at The Counter thanks to a selection of seasonal “Burgers in a Bowl” and other wheatless options such as the kale salad ($8.50), a bowl of curly, dark greens tossed with matchsticks of crunchy jicama, green cabbage chiffonade, celery and soft crumbles of feta in zippy lemon vinaigrette.
As you can see, The Counter isn’t a typical burger joint.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: scene@idahostatesman. com.
Address: 3505 E. Monarch Sky Lane, The Village at Meridian
Phone: (208) 972-3393
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Menu price range: starters, fries and salads $1.25-$8.50; sandwiches and burgers $7-$16.50
Libation situation: Around a dozen draft brews (many from the Boise area), bottled beers and a small wine list that boasts a surprisingly good selection of Idaho and regional labels. Also expect to find inventive beer cocktails, wine cocktails and wine-spiked milkshakes.
Kid friendly? Yes. There are plenty of shakes, malts and floats to keep them interested. What kid doesn’t like a Graceland milkshake spun with vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, banana and tiny bits of smoked bacon?
Wheelchair accessible? Yes