BYOB: Bring Your Own Blogger
There’s something to be said about this clunky old machine known to us as The Internet. I often take it for granted because it has become so integrated into my
life – almost like eating or breathing – that I forget how truly lucky I am that it is available to me. Uncovering information is as easy as google. Communication is as convenient as typing an email. Therapy is only as far away as logging into Blogger. People and places are closer than they have ever been. I can allow my fear of flying to keep me in LA (at least for now) because there isn’t a place on earth that I can’t see with the internet. Google Earth is scary, isn’t it?
The Internet connects us with our friends and family and keeps us close.
Whether a good thing or bad thing, The Internet has become my primary means of socializing. It’s not that I don’t ever take a shower, put on makeup, change out of my three-day-old outfit of sweats-that-double-as-pajamas, and go out to hang out with friends or meet my sister for shopping or my family for dinner. However, it has become a way for me to meet new people. Not “meet” new people the way other people use The Internet to “meet” new people, but just, you know, meet new people.
In the real world, I am horrible at meeting new people. I am introverted. I am shy. I am painfully insecure and so obviously self-conscious that I stumble over myself and my words. At a party, in a lounge, at any type of social function, I am that awkward girl who is hovering around the food table with a death-grip on a security cocktail, occasionally pretending to be too busy taking pictures of food to talk to anyone so she doesn’t look like a total loser standing there by herself in the corner with a broken cracker stuck to her elbow.
Sometimes it’s a piece of cheese.
Many people do as I do and “meet” new people via various webbish outlets, develop relationships via email, and maintain friendships via IM. However, there always comes that point when they take it to the next level. They might be outgoing, extroverted, and secure enough with themselves that they meet after one email exchange. They might need a year of IM to “get to know” one another. Either way, they take the friendship outside the “personality” and “intelligence” of the Internet and actually meet in – fully Technicolored, untouched by Photoshop, up close and personal, real, live, face to face – person.
But I still agreed to meet up with a fellow sometimes food blogger at The Counter.
I just like a good burger. Meeting up at The Counter had to be done. I gagged and blindfolded my personal Nervous Nellie, shoved her in the pantry and agreed to meet for burgers.
BYOB: Build Your Own Burger
Twice, I drove past The Counter without its seeing gray, black, and blue sign. Twice, I circled the block looking for street parking even though there is a parking garage under the corner plaza where the restaurant is located, perhaps with a subconscious hope that I would have to give up in mock desperation and go home. My inner Nervous Nellie was trying to influence me back to the safety of the anonymous Internet.
I pulled into the garage, turned off the car, and took a deep breath. I eventually let it out. I’m too weak to make myself pass out in the car.
It was odd looking for someone for whom I had no mental image. It had not even occurred to me to ask for a physical description before we met. Somehow, though, it was obvious to us who we were. We introduced ourselves on the small set of steps in front of the restaurant. It was fluttery and weird for me. I hope it didn’t show.
Whom am I kidding? It showed.
We went inside. The Counter is housed in what looks like might have been an auto body shop. The airspace is lofty with exposed ducts in the ceiling, as well as railings for what used to be garage doors, but are now permanently fixed as the front, glassed wall. The bright dining room was full of people hunched over their tables in the BurgerBend - leaning forward so that whatever renegade burgers toppings escaped the monster mess in the hands would be captured back on the plate.
Apart from my being already slightly ruffled by the first-time meeting, I was overwhelmed by what appeared to be some sort of silently understood assembly line process in The Counter's industrial factory atmosphere. The line at the ordering counter was chaotic, and yet it seemed a
s though people know what to do. For someone new to the operation, it could be intimidating. Luckily, I was with someone who had been there before. We grabbed two clipboard "menus" from the stack and proceeded to Build (Y)Our Own Burgers.
Making an order at The Counter seems as easy voting in a Presidential election - check-box your way through a burger size, meat type, cheese, toppings, sauces, and bun - but given the sheer volume of choices and additional parameters like "included," it rendered me almost...paralyzed. I had no idea what I wanted because I wanted everything from avocado (a "premium" topping that costs a $1 extra) to simple sliced tomatoes. I could feel my grip tightening around the tiny golf pencil under the pressure as I moved it up and down the clipboard, unable to bite the bullet and actually leave a mark on the page. I felt like I was taking the GMAT all over again (wait a second, I rocked the GMAT).
I made it through the harrowing process - ⅓ pound turkey burger with the standard LOT (lettuce, onion, tomato), and rhyme-less, reason-less pepproncini and Feta cheese. My decision-making mind was exhausted.
Then I was faced with French fries. I almost fell over.
We made it easy for ourselves and made an order of The Fifty-Fifty: sweet potato fries and onion rings. When in doubt, go balls all out.
The staff at the counter was surprisingly friendly and composed for how chaotic and busy the restaurant is. After placing our order, which was expensive for a QSR burger joint, we went to sit down at a table and wait for our food. We stepped carefully and slowly through the dining room, but my mind was racing. With the ease of discussion that comes with the comfortable task-at-hand of placing our orders now behind us, there was a growing dread about The Conversation While Waiting. Had I read the blog recently? What was that last place he posted about and did he even like it? I can't remember! Where have I eaten that's interesting? What's in season right now at the Farmers' Market?
Why didn't I cook anything besides hard-boiled eggs this past week?!?!
The fear was escalating at the prospect of long, awkward silences.
I can't even remember what came out of my mouth at the table. I'm sure we commented about the restaurant, opined about the reason for the hype, gave brief histories about our foodish lives, etc. For all the internal stress through which I went, it wasn't awkward at all. When the food arrived at the table, we flowed naturally right into The Conversation While Eating. We marvelled at the pho-sized bowl of deep-fried deliciousness in The Fifty-Fifty. We praised the place for "sauce." We challenged each other to be the first to tackle the depth and breadth of what had been constructed on our plates.
Then we ate.
I swear I think I am going to get lynched for this by Oprah and all the thundering hordes of uber-fans of The Counter.
I thought my burger was just...eh.
*ducks under her laptop from flying meat patties*
After all that hype, all that anticipation, all that prolixity for a single post about The Counter and all I have to say about the Burger that Sarah Built was that it was *eh*?!?!
No doubt, my turkey burger was beautifully browned, securely anchored on a bed of shredded lettuce with red onion rings and sliced tomatoes playfully peeking out the sides, accessorized with a pert little pendant of Feta cheese. Even the top half of the English muffin had been artfully placed slightly askew in the vignette that was my lunch. It was almost slightly annoying that it was too much to put together and take a bite. I ended up leaving it on the plate and eating it with a fork and knife. And for what I ate with a fork and knife, the taste of the burger was not any more special than a good turkey burger anywhere else.
The Fifty-Fifty, however, more than made up for *eh*. The fact that we got both sweet potato fries and onions rings was a point on its own, but both were very well done - crisp, salty, and accompanied by three sauces made for people like me who have gustatory ADD.
Perhaps under duress, I had made the wrong decisions. I had chosen turkey over beef (clearly, I was not of sound mind and body). I had put together a random pairing of Feta cheese with pepperoncini. I selected the waistline-wary English muffin. But I don't think those are the reasons I wasn't more impressed with the burger. Maybe the burger was just overshadowed by the Fifty-Fifty. And the conversation. Whatever the reason, the burger wasn't bad enough that I wouldn't go back, but not good enough that I would go back.
BYOB: You Don't Have to BYOB
Oh yeah. The Counter serves beer and wine.
2901 Ocean Park Blvd (at 29th)
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Who Else Built Their Own Burgers at The Counter?
~ Yelpers give it 4 out of 5 stars
~ LA.com: Build your own belly-bustin' burgers
~ CAroline on Crack: Pimp your burger (Nov 2006)
~ The New Diner: The Counter (Jun 2006)
~ la.foodblogging: Burgers at The counter (Apr 2006)