Burgers and beer. What's not to like about them individually? And as a pair? You can unconditionally count on this food and beverage combination to satisfy your hunger and thirst and always put a smile on your face. Knowing what a fantastic duo they make, The Counter, the burger joint transplanted from California with locations on Washington Avenue and in The Woodlands, is offering a burger and beer "flight," which pairs four sliders with four four-ounce beers. Do the slider and beer combinations pass with flying colors?
Yes and no. Before we delve into all of the details, we should mention that a couple of things were uniform among all the sliders. The slightly toasted bread they were served on, which had sweet undertones to it, served as an excellent vessel for the patties and their respective toppings. Also, all of the patties were flavorful, fresh, and cooked medium-well. Their only considerably large fault was that they were on the drier end of the juiciness spectrum. It ended up being okay, though, as the sauces that accompanied each mini-burger came to the rescue. Bonus points go to The Counter for serving the sauces on the side, rather than smeared on the bun. This ensured that each slider was dressed to our liking and didn't get soggy while waiting to be eaten.
The burgers, however, did not have to wait long to be eaten. After admiring the cute-as-a-button presentation of the beer for a split second, we began our journey with the left-most combination, comprised of a burger topped with swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms, applewood-smoked bacon and roasted garlic aioli, paired with a brown ale. The gooey swiss cheese and flavorful aioli were commendable. The bacon and mushrooms, not so much. The bacon was far too crispy for our liking, and the mushrooms disappointingly tasteless. Nevertheless, the beverage and burger combination was spot-on. This wasn't very surprising, as brown ales typically pair well with most beef dishes. We happily downed the well-balanced brown ale before moving on to the next pair.
Our second burger-beer union consisted of a creative spin on a caprese salad: fresh mozzarella, organic mixed greens, bruschetta mix, balsamic glaze and basil pesto atop the patty, with an amber ale alongside. The mozzarella, unmistakably fresh, stole the show. What was so special about it? Well, nothing more and nothing less than its freshness. Sometimes, it is such simple things that make or break a dish. This was one of those times. The bursting-with-flavor basil pesto was also memorable. Flavors of balsamic glaze were absent, as was almost the case with the brushchetta mix, which would've been more aptly described as five tiny cubes of tomato with two slivers of basil. On a more positive note, the amber ale that went with this slider had prominent citrus overtones that paired very well with the fresh summer flavors of the burger.
The Counter's third creation, which contained roasted corn and black bean salsa, two giant fried jalapeños, jalapeño jack cheese, lettuce, and chipotle aioli, was fantastic. The jalapeños and the spicy aioli gave the burger a nice kick, while plenty of roasted corn and black bean salsa on the bottom bun gave the whole burger great crunch and Tex-Mex flavor. Its accompanying beer, an IPA with medium malt character and sharp, hoppy flavors was wonderful. IPAs are said to pair well with spicy foods, but this particular IPA's flavors clashed with its burger pair, rather than complemented it. We do believe that The Counter was going for a counter-balance of flavors with this combination. But the counter-balance was a bit too extreme to be enjoyable. Again, both the burger and the beer were great, just not together.
Our journey ended with a hefeweizen paired with a burger topped with creamy brie, three slivers of julienned basil (was there a shortage of basil in the kitchen?), tomato, and apricot sauce. This was hands down the best-tasting, most unique burger of the four, as well as the best-paired with its beer. Despite brie and apricot being known to complement one another famously, we would never have thought to put the two on a burger. The surprising mix of ingredients was delightful, as was their pairing with the smooth, crisp hefeweizen. We will be back to have a full-sized burger of this kind in the very near future.
Rounding out our slider and beer meal was an absurdly large serving of The Counter's parmesan french fries. Parmesan, parsley, rosemary and garlic aioli were intermixed throughout the fries to create an appetizing dish that could have been a meal in and of itself. The fries served as an excellent accompaniment to our food and drinks, but we should have ordered a "single" order rather than a "full" order. Lesson learned.
Our overall experience with The Counter's limited-time offering was pleasurable.The pairing concept made the whole meal seem gourmet. And not having to study the menu for 30 minutes to choose which toppings would compose our custom burger was a welcome stray away from The Counter's "build-your-own" burger concept. The hand-crafted burgers were assembled with imagination, and tasting each one was exciting.
It was also fun having the brand-less beer we were drinking chosen for us, as we perhaps would not have ordered it otherwise. While we had planned on asking our waitress which brands we were drinking, in the end we opted to be left in the dark. Too many times, brand affinity and association clouds our perception of what we're consuming. We enjoyed all of the beers that we sampled, tasting each with an open mind and without any pre-conceived notions.
The mini beer and burger combination ($13) can be purchased any day or time of the week through March 18 at either Counter location. Do remember that if you go try it, you'll have to ask for it by name, as it's nowhere to be found on The Counter's menu or website.