We realize that there are some excellent hamburgers to be had in Chicago. We know that. It is intellectually obvious to us that in a city with such excellent dining, such unrepentant carnivorousness, such shameless dedication to the glories of hand-held meat, there are burgers to be found that will make you stop mid-chew just to let the melding flavors of the beef, the bread, the sauce, the toppings sink into your tongue. We know this.
But we can’t shake the feeling that in this matter, we get our hats handed to us by our coastal rivals, New York and Los Angeles.
New York has the bar burger down to a science: the meat’s the matter, hefty salt-and-peppered patties with charred outsides and prime insides, with slapdash as-you-like-’em condiments on a no-nonsense bun (see: Burger Joint, Corner Bistro). And L.A. owns the fast-food patty (see: In-N-Out Burger, Fatburger): a patty small enough that it takes two to make a meal, a melt-in-your-mouth bun, special seasonings and sauces that give each burger purveyor an easily distinguishable iconic flavor (in fact, New York’s famous Shake Shack, despite its east-coast location, is widely considered a west coast burger). But, critically, both cities’ iconic burgers are unsnobby, straightforward, and pure in their intent to sate the cravings of the consuming masses.
This is all a very roundabout way of getting to the point: When we read in The Dish that there was going to be a Chicago outpost of a SoCal burger chain opening in mid-September, we went all squee and started strategizing lunches and lucid-daydreaming potato buns, all in the span of the one second it took us to get to the next sentence, where we realized that the chain in question — The Counter — is not exactly what we were hoping for:
The Concept: Choice.
Step into The Counter® and you’re greeted with a clipboard and an extensive list of fresh mouth-watering ingredients that allow you to build your own gourmet burger. Our 312,120+ different burger combinations [“You choose beef, turkey, veggie, or grilled chicken,” says Brian Berman, The Counter’s director of marketing. “You are then given choices of ten aged domestic or imported cheeses, 28 toppings, and 18 sauces, and three artisan baked buns.”] make every burger as unique as each customer. Rarely is the same burger made twice in one day.
Anti-Established in 2003, The Counter® is the 21st century’s bold answer to the classic burger joint. Ushering in a fresh era of industrial decor, today’s music, cold beer, unique wines, cocktails, and burger options that are only limited by your imagination.
Setting aside “anti-established” (and believe us, not writing an entire freaking post railing on this abortion of a neologism is an act of extremely serious willpower), this Chipotle of burger joints is not what we are looking for. We don’t want artisan baked buns! We don’t want someone telling us that grilled chicken is a burger, because grilled chicken is NOT a burger. We do not want “the 21st century’s bold answer to the classic burger joint,” because the classic burger joint is just fine by us, thank you very much, and also there is that universal rule that anything that mentions “the 21st century” is by definition totally mired in the aesthetic of the 1990s. WE DO NOT WANT AGED DOMESTIC OR IMPORTED CHEESES. WE DO NOT WANT THE MUSIC OF TODAY. WE DO NOT WANT UNIQUE FREAKING WINES. We do not want to choose from 312,120+ combinations!
Here is what we do want: We want some dude, preferably grizzled, to throw a hunk of meat on a broiler or a grill or a flattop. We want fatty chuck that dribbles when we bite into it. We want to order by saying “everything” or “plain” or “hold the pickles.” We want the combination of sauces and toppings to be determined by someone who is a burger expert, whose entire life is burgers, so that when we are arguing with our friends about hamburgers (which we totally do, and do far too often) we can refer to a burger from a certain place and have everyone understand exactly what we are talking about (see: Frege’s On Sense and Reference), without having to indicate combination #124,422 out of OVER THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND.
That is all we want from our burgers. It’s not too much. Is it too much?
Anyway. Counter opens its first Chicago outpost in mid-September, and is planning to roll out 15 more storefronts over the next seven years. Plenty of time for our rage to subside.
[Photo: Counter’s veggie burger, via Counter’s Official Site, where out of 18 photos only 2 are of the actual freaking burgers.]