Thanksgiving found me at my parents home in Charlotte, North Carolina visiting with family and taking some time away from the stress of moving and finding a new home. And while these things are important, it was also a chance to follow up on some of the great eats that Charlotte has to offer. Long time readers may remember the amazing burger I took down at the Penguin Drive-In in 2008.
This year I found myself sitting at the counter with family members at a burger joint in South Park named appropriately - The Counter - which was packed with a well healed lunch time crowd of business people and families who were taking a lunch break from shopping at the nearby mall. We opted for the counter due to the wait for a table and I was immediately reminded of this great scene from one of the greatest Seinfeld episodes ever - The Maid.
The concept behind The Counter is a customizable burger with enough combinations of burger, toppings, sauces and buns to result in over 300,000 different flavor combinations.
With mini-pencil in hand I began to work this menu with the ultimate goal of creating the famous Aussie Burger, but I was quickly distracted by the lack of pickled beets on the menu. With over 300k + combinations available, you would think a pickled beet would be found someplace.
Undaunted I created the Andrew burger, a 1/3 pound patty topped with dill pickle chips, grilled onions, grilled pineapple, roasted red peppers, honey cured bacon and a roasted garlic aioli. Ridiculous is size and scope, I quickly added a tall chocolate shake to my order and the turned my attention to the first round of appetizers, ordered by my sister at the end of the counter.
First up we had a shallow plate of fried pickle chips, a staple of southern bar menus and a treat that I find largely missing here in St. Louis. I've had fried pickles across a broad swath of the south - from the Carolina's to Texas, and while all fried pickles are good, some are just better. They are the best when they have a light, almost tempura coating and are paired with a tangy ranch dressing. They are even better when instead of pickle chips - they are made from dill pickle spears - like they make at The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.
Sadly, the pickles at The Counter have a heavy breading that the pickles can't really compete with and it was more like biting into a poorly executed fried zucchini than a crisp fried pickle.
Next up we dug into a plate of sweet potato fries coated liberally in sea salt. The fries were perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside and waiting for a pairing with mayo or the ranch dressing from the fried pickles. For the most part I watched these fries from my end of the counter, tasting once but not really getting to dig in. Everyone seemed to enjoy them, I know I would have had I been sitting more towards the center of the counter. Bummer - such is life when you are eating at a counter with a crowd.
As the apps were swept up and carried away my shake appeared - a picture of ice cream, whole milk and whipped cream in a tall glass. As a good shake should be, this one was way to thick to pull through a straw until you hold it in your hand for a while, allowing your body heat to melt the drink just enough to begin sipping. I moved the shake to my side and leaned forward to hide it from my wife's roving hands with my arm - alas she never orders her own shake - opting instead to "tax" mine at will - the cost for ordering such a decadent burger side.
After some good natured ribbing of my little brother and a few quick scans of the burgers that were making their way out of the kitchen and too waiting tables, my burger appeared on the counter before me. My first thought was amazement at the construction of this burger as it was obvious that there is forethought given to which toppings ride under the patty and which ride on top.
My burger came with a solid foundation of dill pickle chips and then a liberal coating of roasted red peppers, forming a nest for the 1/3rd pound (after cooking) burger, charred in a manner that suggested it was broiled instead of grilled or smashed out on a flat top.
On top of the patty came a layer of thick cut and grilled onion, several slices of grilled pineapple and then some crisp bacon. Roasted garlic aioli came on the side and I applied a healthy coating to the grilled bun before placing it atop this monstrosity.
What did it look like? Well I'll show you.
The burger lasted in this state for only a moment before I attacked it in the only way I know how - for a burger this tall you can only knife it down the center, pick it up side ways and eat your way to the other side.
The burger was moist and cooked to a perfect medium. I found myself trying to get a taste of pineapple into every bite as it played so well with each ingredient, especially the grilled onions and the bacon.
Here are some of the other burgers my family tried that day. I didn't bother to ask them what they put on them because I was to busy focusing on my own.
Distraction - its a five inch tall burger.