I was thrilled to hear that a new burger place was opening its doors (and my mouth) in Ballard. As a foodie, one of my favorite friendly debates is “Who makes the best burger in Seattle?” Everyone has their preferences, from a $1.40 Dick’s cheeseburger to Spring Hill’s $17 1/2 lb. masterpiece, and all the meat sandwiches that fall between. And although we may never agree on who flips the best beef, I’d like to add one more name into the conversation: The Counter.
I won’t go so far as to proclaim that The Counter makes the best burger in Seattle, but damned if they shouldn’t be on the ballot.
Although I was dismayed to discover that The Counter is a chain (from California, no less!), I was very impressed with the Seattleishness of their menu and concept. First, they start with 100% natural, hormone and antibiotic-free beef from Meyer Company Ranch. This is exactly the right foundation for a burger joint: great beef. It let’s you ask questions like, “Would you like your burger pink with a warm center?” instead of “Do you mind that we’re going to incinerate your dinner meat because we’re too cheap and/or careless to buy beef that’s safely edible?” And, although being choosy about your cattle farm may still be ahead of its time, anyone can appreciate that quality beef just tastes better.
Then, they give you topping options that would make Coldstones blush: 10 types of cheese (including Tillamook, yay!), 28 toppings (ex., fried egg, roasted chiles, chili, sun-dried tomatoes…), 18 sauces and even a choice of bun (or none). The mix-and-match magic is up to you, though I can say with some confidence that it’d be tough to go wrong with any combination. I choose a 1/3 lb. burger (after-cooking weight) with Tillamook cheddar, a fried egg, avocado, grilled onions and a caramelized onion marmalade on a honey wheat bun.
I made the rookie mistake of cutting my burger in half, which caused my toppings to topple overboard. But, what did my bisection reveal? The bright, beautiful pink center of my patty, as juicy and flavorful as can be. Once recovered from the plate, the toppings were equally excellent. The fattiness of the fried egg and avocado slices along with the sweetness of the onions sent signals told my mouth to tell my brain that life is a celebration, not to be wasted with bottled ketchup and inferior mustard.
If you’ve brought a gigantic appetite (and testicles to match), The Counter sells a 1 lb. burger (after-cooking weight) that makes their normal burgers look like a kid’s meal. In fact, this monstrous meat slab takes nearly 30 minutes to cook. I’ll have to return for it another time, when my doctor isn’t looking.
The rest of the menu at The Counter is pretty solid: delicious fried dill pickle chips, tasty sweet potato fries, and a (seasonal) apple pie shake that made me want to cancel Thanksgiving. And if sweet drinks aren’t your thing, they offer a surprisingly thorough wine and beer menu. Best of all, it’s not hard to get out full for under $15/person.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for an intimate Northwest atmosphere to accompany your natural beef burger and glass of malbec, The Counter isn’t it. Built on the back side of the Trader Joe’s shopping center, the restaurants interior is sparse and sterile. Having a Ballard address almost necessitates sarcastic, Emo kitsch on the walls, or at least dim lighting and exposed, reclaimed wood beams. Instead you’ll find a tall room with no place to hide – only spacious rows of tables and the din of a cafeteria. But, look on the bright side: you won’t have to wait an hour to be seated, you don’t have to know the secret handshake, and there’s even abundant free parking!
I wish The Counter the best of luck in Seattle. I look forward to comparing notes with my fellow foodies, and returning to try out the next permutation of toppings and sauces. They may not be the fanciest burger in town, nor are they the divey-est. But if you value great beef, quick service and freedom of expression between the meat and the bun, go check ‘em out.
Full disclosure: I got free stuff but that doesn’t pay for my opinion.