Counter Act

Dressed up burgers are peeking from their egg washed bonnets all over town these days. I’m all for affordable indulgence, but certain topping combinations are becoming more overexposed than brawling Bravolebrities. 

Consider A Restaurant’s beef patty the size of a solidarity fist with its buttery brioche bun, caramelized onions, bleu cheese and  bacon. Now ponder Haven Gastropub’s mad amalgamation of pork and beef entangled with pungent pickled red onions and blanketed with triple cream bleu cheese. Sound familiar?   

The fun of  the rapidly expanding 25 branch hipster franchise The Counter is having infinite choices of what to put or not put on your juicy whoopee cushion of grilled goodness, even when the current trend is all about blue-veined cheeses, manipulated onions and pork. 

Whipped avocado, fried tomatillos and pepper jack? Check!

With its powdery blue walls, soft globe lighting and industrial aluminum furniture, OC’s brand new and only branch of The Counter is the latest backdrop for stylish alternative servers with the deliberate bed head of  Himalayan guinea pigs and the ink, but not the vacant poker-faced stares of Travis Barker.   

The treated concrete floor and large retractable wall that bathes the room in light give the impression of an artist’s studio or gallery space, but under its cool facade lies a warm fuzzy ethos. The website says The Counter was ‘anti-established’ in 2003, but the most subversive thing about the chain is the radical step of ditching factory meat and choosing humanely raised and handled Angus beef.  

Did you miss out on waiting tables? There’s still time! At the counter, you take your own order by checking off boxes in five sections of the menu on a clipboard.  While you do this, you will need inspiration. A fifty-fifty combo of sweet, wispy fried onion strings and match-stick thin savory fries served with barbecue and ranch can help. On another visit, the monthly special was a  gritty application of low-end parmesan on fries and the fried dill pickle chips channeled Carl’s Jr.’s slimy fried zucchini coins, but with a sodium-packed punch. This left valuable real estate in my gut for the main course. 

I built a 1/3 lb. manwich with horseradish cheddar, roasted chiles, roasted red peppers, mixed baby greens, grilled onions,fried onion strings and  roasted garlic aioli. In a deft feat of physics, the chefs balanced my seven unwieldy topping selections with Jenga-like precision. Juicy, savory and seared to a pink medium rare, the beef  seemed to absorb all the other flavors and textures on its pliable, crenelated surface. 

If you were fashion challenged  kid swaddled in the Garanimals mix and match separates who learned never to pair the monkey label shorts with the rhino tag shirt, choosing from a legion of toppings and sauces might be tough. My advice: order a malty bottle of Three Philosophers Ale, take a deep breath and go for it! Sun dried tomatoes, herbed goat cheese spread, fried eggs, soy-ginger glaze  and caramelized onion marmalade are just a few choices. Be brave and change it up in 2010! 

The Counter 6416 Irvine Blvd. Irvine, CA 92620.949.336.7272. Dinner for two, $25.00, food only.


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11 Responses to “Counter Act”

  1. Mr. Bill Says:


    First saw this place during the international fair and have peered through the windows from my bicycle perch on several subsequent occasions. It has a kind of green door members only feel just riding by. Might have to try it someday for a special treat.

    What I don’t get is the relagionship between “The Counter” and “Haven Gastropub” Is one the franchisee or what??? Who’s on first?

    Mr. Bill

  2. galleygirl Says:

    No relation, just mentioning Haven and A Restaurant as fine places who serve great burgers, albeit only one way. And at The Counter, you can ‘have it your way’ without the creepy masked monarch mascot.

  3. Norm Says:

    Just when you think a burger is simply a burger… YOU ARE WRONG.
    John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave it Haven Gastropud”

  4. Mr. Bill Says:

    Nuts, I missed the point. I thought you were talking about Haven, and it was somehow related to The Counter. My bad. It is The Haven I studied from my two-wheeled perch. I’ll have to peer through The Counter window tomorrow to see what it looks like from a moving Schwinn.

  5. kate Says:

    Now if we can just lure The Palm and Pink’s down our way…

  6. Suz Broughton Says:

    LOVE the Counter. They have OC’s best grilled cheese in my opinion, but who wants to order a grilled cheese when such great hamburgers are available **hand raised**
    Their veggie chili is pretty spectacular too!

  7. Ruth Says:

    I can’t wait to visit The Counter and sample a might tower of beefy goodness with a generous share of the chef’s mouth-watering toppers.
    Fried pickles, carmalized onion marlalade, avocados whipped, savory cheeses and roasted chilies – – is there no end to the gustatory delights?
    Lead the way!

  8. Lynnie-Lou Says:

    Kel ~ When are we going?

  9. Pickle Says:

    Hey Galley Gal,
    You are just DEAD WRONG on those fried dill pickle chips. Try them people. There is NOTHING CarlsJresque about them. THEY ROCK!


  10. Hilton Andrus Says:

    I agree with you, I do believe! Should this become doable to get your site translated directly into German? English is actually my 2nd language.

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