|Yeah, this place.|
On two occasions, I have been contacted by PR companies and offered gift cards in exchange for visiting a particular restaurant, trying certain things, and writing about it. Neither of them were places I was chomping at the bit to go to myself, but I figure if it doesn't cost me anything (although it did on both occasions, when all was said and done) and I get a write-up out of it, why not? Both times I disclosed upfront in the reviews that I had been compensated, and I pulled no punches in my write-ups. The first one was very negative, and the second was positive, albeit not overly enthusiastic. I never heard from the first PR firm after the review, but the second contacted me again to let me know that The Counter had just opened up a a branch in The Village at Meridian. This time I was able to respond that I love the location, had been anticipating the opening of the restaurant in question for some time, and that I had every intention of trying them ASAP. Despite that, they still wanted to give me a gift card, and this time I was excited to receive it. My enthusiasm was well-rewarded. The first two times, I'd basically been given enough money to try what the companies wanted me to try. This time I'd been given a significantly larger amount with no restrictions on its use, enough that I could get two visits out of it if I used it wisely...
Nah, being decadent sounded a lot more fun.
|Forgive the 60's Batman TV show camera angle...|
The roommate and I showed up on a surprisingly dead evening. Even our waitress remarked on how slow it was, not just at Counter but at the Village in general. We sat and perused the menu for a while before deciding that we would rather have our meal on the patio instead. The staff was very friendly and accommodating about the change, and we were quickly re-seated.
|Nice patio, and perfectly shaded in the evenings.|
My roomie's a beer gal, and ordered a glass of Payette North Fork Lager. As for myself, the Mimosa shake kept grabbing my attention. I also ordered the Deviled Eggs off the appetizer menu because, well, it's something I love and don't see very often in restaurants.
The Mimosa Shake was the most surprising thing I had all evening, so much so that I seriously contemplated ordering a second one after I finished the first. Who the hell orders a second milkshake?! Not me, I'm happy to say. All that's in it is vanilla ice cream, sparkling white wine and orange juice, but it's so delicious I can only assume that the ingredients are all top-notch. My dining companion dug it quite a bit as well.
Nothing on the menu is particularly cheap (kind of par for the course for the Village, I imagine the rent must be pretty high since even the food truck-cum-brick and mortar eateries have adjusted prices and portion sizes), but by far the most overpriced thing we had that night was the Deviled Egg. The menu says Deviled Eggs, plural, but cutting an egg in half doesn't make it more than one egg. That having been said, it was a damned good deviled egg, with cheddar and smoked bacon, garnished with parsley, and whipped into the smoothest example of its ilk that I've ever come across. Still, two bucks is just too much for one egg.
|Look at all these choices!|
As for the burgers, there are indeed a LOT of options available. There are six proteins in three different sizes, on any of eight different buns, or five different salad bases if you're looking to low-carb it. There are fifteen cheese options, twenty-three sauces, and forty-four toppings. Some of these are a bit of an upcharge, but the majority are yours to choose at no added cost. And this doesn't take into account the "market selections" that are not yet available at the Meridian location. I'm sure someone has calculated the number of possible variations, but it wasn't me. Anyway, we decided that on a first visit we should probably keep it fairly simple, and both went with beef. The roommate ordered 1/3 pound, well done. I swear I die a little inside each time she does that, and that's at regular places! Here, you're paying premium prices for what the menu describes as Angus beef that's antibiotic-free, no added hormones, naturally raised and humanely handled. The last thing I would want to do with beef like that is to cremate it, so I ordered my 1/2 pound burger medium-rare, because I know that people in this town tend to go one level past what you tell them. I like medium-rare but prefer medium, so I order the former and usually get the latter. If I order medium, I usually get medium-well, or just plain well done.
|The roommate's beef burger with veggie skewers.|
She chose the brioche bun, dill pickle, lettuce, red onion, sharp Provolone, and added bacon. She also wasn't feeling adventurous about the sauces, so I drew her attention to the small print at the bottom of the menu which says that in addition to their house sauces, ketchup, mayo, malt vinegar, sriracha, yellow mustard, dijon mustard and Cholula are also available. She chose mayo and ketchup. The burgers don't come with sides at Counter, but there are eight available at the same price, so she picked the two grilled vegetable skewers. She shared, and I have to say that the veggies make a nice, healthier alternative to fries or chips. Definitely something I would order in the future.
|A better look at the roommate's burger.|
I didn't try her burger, because the fixings were similar enough to what I'd chosen that there didn't seem to be a point. She said it was very good but not quite great, and the main reason she gave is that there wasn't enough vegetation. She likes a lot on hers, while I like just enough to accent and compliment but not equal or overpower the meat.
|My burger, with sweet potato fries.|
I also chose brioche, dill pickle, lettuce, red onion, and added bacon. Additionally, I picked Tillamook Cheddar as my cheese, added tomato and a sunny side up egg, and decided to try the roasted garlic aioli. The sauces are served on the side at Counter, so you can add as much or as little as you like. In addition to the roasted garlic aioli for my burger, I was given a cup of horseradish aioli for my sweet potato fries. This was a surprise, since every other place I've ordered sweet potato fries either served a sweet sauce to go with them or gave me the same ketchup or fry sauce as they would for normal fries. I thought the horseradish was a perfect compliment, very balanced and not too spicy. The roommate dug them as well, though we both wish that normal fries were an option in addition to the sweet and shoestring varieties.
|A better look at my burger.|
Look at that thing, would you? Look how crispy the bacon is, without being dried out into jerky. Look at how perfectly melted that cheddar cheese is. Look at that egg with its perfectly soft yolk, yet cooked enough so that there's no milky white gunk on the surface. See that char on the patty? Better make sure it's not overdone...
|An even better look at my burger.|
Nope, it's still nice and pink inside (called it on the medium-rare/medium thing, didn't I?), and even though you can't see it in the picture, when I picked up that burger and squeezed it, a lot of juices came flooding out. I destroyed four napkins eating it, and probably shouldn't have cut it in half because it seemed to cause a tectonic shift that made it nearly impossible to hold the thing together. I was very happy with everything about this, and can't wait to go back and try the turkey and ahi options.
Somehow, we decided that we were up to splitting a dessert. Left to her own devices, my roommate would have chosen the Apple Crumble, but I wasn't having it. If I want an apple, I'll eat an apple. I just plain don't like the things in a dessert. Well, except caramel apples, but I digress. If it were up to me, I would have picked the Oversized Chocolate Chip Cookie, because, well, I like oversized chocolate chip cookies. Somehow we ended up compromising on the Caramel & Chocolate Brownie, which is funny considering that both of us often gripe that you can never find a good brownie at a restaurant. I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream as well because really, what was another three dollars at that point?
|It's bigger than it looks. Those are NOT small spoons.|
I'm going to state definitively right now that this is hands-down the single best brownie I have ever had at a restaurant. By far. It was warm, it was chocolaty, it was chewy, and just a little crisp around the edges. It would have been impressive enough on its own, but add the generous amount of warm caramel sauce and the scoop of vanilla bean-flecked ice cream into the mix, and you end up with the best dessert I've had all year.
I did plan to do a second visit before writing Counter up, just for the sake of diversity, but why bother? I already know I'm going to go back. As we were walking to the car, the roommate was already talking about how she wants the Chili Cheese Fries next time, and I have to have another one of those milkshakes. And maybe that cookie.
Food: Delicious, quality ingredients, lots of surprises, literally hundreds of thousands of mix-and-match options.
Value: Not cheap. Two burgers with a couple of upgrades, two beers, an alcoholic milkshake, two sides, an appetizer and a dessert came to just under sixty bucks (going over the gift card once again). Still, nothing in the Village is cheap so I guess that the elevated prices are normal for the "neighborhood". Plus, I just love the Village. I definitely won't order so extravagantly on every visit though.
Service: Friendly, well-trained, efficient while being neither cold nor pushy.
Atmosphere: Fast casual, somewhat spartan but not cold. I recommend the patio if the weather permits.
Final Grade: A