A fellow dining critic and I were discussing the phenomenon of the burger, and he asked me why – in Atlanta, particularly – I thought this meager mound of meat had made its way into the gourmet status it now enjoys.
Having just had lunch at the Counter in Roswell, my answer came more easily than I might have expected. But there’s a little history to be explored first, to properly tell the tale.
First, bourgeois burgers aren’t exactly a new trend: Daniel Boulud introduced New Yorkers to his truffled burger with foie gras waaaaay back in 2003. A burger war of sorts ensued, with stylish burgers popping up on menus from New Zealand to Tokyo, ranging in price from $30 to $130. It was part of a wave of bistro backlash, where dishes of undistinguished origin began to replace those of classic, European pedigree.
The burger, in short, was elevated to filet-mignon status. But what’s happening years later is different: In 2009 it’s not just the burger that’s jumped to the front of the culinary caste system, it’s the burger joint.
Flip, the Westside burger palace opened by Barry Mills and chef Richard Blais, is Atlanta’s première example: Burgers of varied sorts made with hand-ground meats, combined cleverly with ingredients gathered from hither and yon, plus a cool take on liquid nitrogen milk shakes and various fried accompaniments. Affordable, approachable – this new kind of burger place is the restaurant equivalent of the girl next door. Pretty, but not intimidatingly so. Everyone likes her because she’s sweet, smart and mixes good manners with common sense.
If the Counter, a franchise from California, looks like a cookie-cutter version of itself, it’s because it is. Locations from Hawaii to Ireland prove that this new-century burger joint’s mod version of the classic, all-American burger palace of the 1950s is alive and well.
Roller skates and curb service have been replaced with an industrial vibe and ultra-cool beer list. But the signature that gets the Counter noticed is its clipboard menu listing dozens of ingredients that, according to company public relations, allow for the creation of more than 312,120 versions of a patty between a bun. Ingredients like herb goat cheese spread, Tillamook cheddar, dried cranberries, a fried egg, sun-dried tomatoes, peanut sauce or Russian dressing allow you to create whatever version – with options for turkey burgers, veggie and even grilled chicken – your little burger-shaped heart desires.
Here’s how it works: You can order one of the restaurant’s signature burgers, like the “old school” (the standard, with cheddar and red relish); the Counter’s signature (with provolone, fried onion and sautéed mushrooms); or you can check off ingredients on your clipboard, starting with the protein you’d like and ending with the type bun: Hamburger, English muffin or honey wheat.
You’d have to be a total burger Scrooge not to at least have a little fun here. The burgers are darned good – freshly ground, all-natural, humanely raised Angus beef (in three sizes), and if you are willing to goof around a little, it can get interesting. We had a contest: Turkey burger on a bun with jalapeno Jack cheese, black olives, lettuce, avocado, tomatoes and spicy sour cream versus beef with grilled pineapple, grilled onions, roasted chilies, scallions and ginger soy glaze.
Add some fries with melted cheese and chili, or a big load of wispy onion rings, and game’s on. Stay away from desserts, though – big brownies might entice with loads of caramel and ice cream, and apple crumble might sound homespun, but none are worth the wait or the calories.
Better to build another burger and take it with you. For later.
The Counter, 850 Mansell Road, Roswell
Food: Build-your-own burgers
Service: Fun, young burger- and beer-slingers
Price range: $ - $$
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
Hours of operation: Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Best dishes: You build it, so you've only yourself to blame if you don't like it. Also try the "old school burger," the chili-and-cheese fries, onion rings and chocolate shakes.
Vegetarian selections and special needs: Turkey and veggie burgers are available, plus any burger can be made in to a veggie bowl.
Parking: Adjacent lot
Reservations: Not needed, but call ahead for larger parties
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: A big set back: the noise level is so ridiculously high it will make your ears ring
Address, telephone: 850 Mansell Road, Roswell, 678-461-9661
Web site: www.thecounterburger.com
Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.
Key to AJC ratings
Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.
One of the best in the Atlanta area.
Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.
A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.
Food is more miss than hit.
Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.
You can write your own review here .
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Credit: Channel 2 Action News