11/07/2012 01:15:00 PM

A Night at The Counter: How Many Burger Toppings Are Too Many?

 A masterpiece
We checked out one of the local Counters last night, the LA-born burger chain that takes build-your-own to potential extremes. The Counter first opened in Santa Monica in 2003, and now there are more than 50 outlets across the country and the world. Franchises are still popping up all over - the chain has grown as big as one of those burgers can if you're not careful with your toppings choices.

The gist about The Counter, of course, is that you pick everything, including the kind of patty (beef, turkey, veg, etc.), the bun (wheat, gluten-free, ciabatta, etc.) and then more than 50 toppings, from cheese to bacon to sauce. The chain claims that there are more than 300,000 different burger combinations; we're surprised someone hasn't attempted to create them all. The first time we went to The Counter 10-plus years ago, we got lost in a sea of choices and ended up with some unwieldy beast. Now that we're older and wiser, we can control our inner Dagwood urges. Turns out, it really is an age thing.

We chatted with our server about the appropriate way to order a burger there. How many toppings are too many toppings? He said four is a good amount, but it depends on which toppings. Some are light and airy (lettuce), others are bulky (grilled pineapple). But many people don't pay attention to that: he's seen burger orders with eight, 10 or even 12 toppings. "It's mostly kids," he says. "You know, the kind of people who also get 'suicide drinks'." Meaning, anyone who doesn't really care about individual flavors but would rather put every fountain soda in one cup for the novelty of it. Some guy, not really a kid, ordered a Counter burger with every single topping on it - it weighed five pounds, looked disgusting and probably tasted like it, too.

A lot of other burger joints have followed suit, and even some chains. Locally there's Juicy Burger in Hollywood and Los Feliz, 25 Degrees and Five Guys all give you a lot of choices. Keeping them in check so you get something actually edible is an exercise in restraint. Who doesn't want cheese and bacon and pickles and mustard and mayo and jalapenos and relish and...you get the idea. So do you go crazy or keep it simple?

Our creation last night was a masterpiece: wheat bun, beef patty cooked to a nice medium rare, horseradish cheddar, bacon, lettuce, fried onions and chipotle aioli. The onions made it look bigger, but smooshed down so we could hold the burger and bite into it. It stayed intact till the very last bite.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on social media using hashtag #Burgerweek.


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