If you're not from Hawai'i, take note that here in the 808 locals call their eats "grinds". So for the next few posts, that's what this Pennsylvania-bred blogger will attempt to do: grind it out devouring one meal at a time at some of Honolulu's best places to eat. I'll offer a mainlander's perspective on the locals' most prized food places and see how they match up to East coast fare. So here we go from the 215 to the 808 and back again...starting with a universal favorite, the American cheeseburger, served at a lunch spot in Kahala called The Counter.
The Counter is a build-your-own-burger franchise that originated in Santa Monica, California in 2003, but their Hawai'i location tops the list of good burger joints that I've tried here. The great advantage of The Counter is the sheer potential of endless burger combinations that could come out of this miracle of modern burger manufacturing. The high-quality ingredients and interesting ordering procedure take the "have it your way" burger model to a few steps above your typical fast food.
In the bluish-white haze of The Counter's clean industrial decor, the customer is first presented with a checklist of choices on a clipboard that contains dozens of burger options. For eaters like me whose eyes often become bigger than their wallets, it would be easy to go checkmark crazy and let the impending burger become a $20 meal. However, a self-controlled eater is looking at a $15 dollar lunch customized to meet the standards of a great burger with some personalized flair.
For the purposes of an impartial review, I kept my order within the boundaries of a classic BBQ bacon cheeseburger, so as not to send my tastebuds askew with wacky flavor combinations. Glancing at my checklist-style menu, the adept server made a mental note of my order of a medium cooked, proprietary blend of beef from Meyer Natural Angus, a natural food company boasting hormone and antibiotic free, humanely raised products. On steps two and three of the checklist, I went with the Tillamook cheddar cheese, Bermuda red onions, dill pickle chips, lettuce, and tomatoes. Safe choices, I know. Next time I am back at The Counter, I anticipate that the gruyere, grilled pineapple, and cucumber slices will get the better of my imagination, but that is another story for another time. Getting back to the BBQ bacon burger of today, I finished off my creation with apple wood smoked bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and a sweet BBQ sauce all piled atop a classic hamburger bun.
Munching on the appetizer plate half filled with thinly sliced French fries and half with sweet potato fries was a perfectly appropriate warm-up for my taste buds. Although I'm not a big fan of anything with horseradish, the tangy dipping sauce accompanying the fries was pretty excellent, reminiscent of the blooming onion sauce found at Outback. Next time I will definitely replace the regular fries with the crispy onion strings in the fifty-fifty pairing.
After a short wait, the orders came up. Upon first bite my burger juiced out the moisture hiding beneath the charred edges of its 2/3 pounds of beefy girth. This ground beef mixture was a flavorful revelation close to, but not quite as good as the renowned Pat La Frieda hamburger meat blends I used to get back on the East coast. The bacon was cooked hard, adding a good crunch to the burger, but lacked some of the fatty chewiness that I like in my pork products. If there was any noticeable flaw in the burger, all greasy fingers point towards the bun. While the bread had some sweetness to it, the bottom portion became too crumbly halfway through the meal. The Counter's succulent patties require a sturdy roll, and next time I will definitely check the English muffin box when I select my bun.
Even if the counter didn't offer its loads of build-your-own-burger options, customers could still walk away with that supremely satiated feeling that one gets after eating a tangible, honest-to-God hamburger. Choices are nice, but at the end of the day, the long after smell of greasy burger hands and the memories of happy mouthfuls are what we burger lovers really want out of lunch. The Counter provides both all-day satisfaction and endless options making it a must-stop for O'ahu residents and for any meat-loving traveler on this island called Earth.