We were excited to hear that The Counter was opening in the Woodlands, on Market Street. We received an invitation to the soft opening, and trekked "downtown" to check out what The Counter had brought to the community.
When we pulled up to the new Market Street store (located on the west end of Market Street, across from the Avia Hotel) we weren't surprised to see a lot of folks milling around. The place was packed with patrons for this invitation-only event. We overheard the harried hostess turning away those without invitations - they'll be invited back tomorrow, when the store officially opens.
The interior of The Counter is bright and airy. A bar (!) occupies a prominent position to the left of the room, serving beer and wine. Local photography decorates the walls, and the total effect certainly fits in to the Woodlands -- it is far less jarring than the faux-50's decor that the late-and-not-lamented Johnny Rockets brought to Market Street. All in all, a very pleasant setting.
We were seated fairly promptly, and placed our order. Between the soft opening and the packed house, we didn't expect our food to come out quickly... and we weren't surprised. But after a bit of a wait, the first to come out was the "Fifty-Fifty", in this case, half sweet potato fries and half parmesan fries.
The parmesan fries were covered with parmesan, rosemary, and garlic aoili. We didn't think the garlic aoili added to the dish - it tasted like weak mayonaise, and caused the melted cheese to slip off of the fries, leaving only the mayonaise-y flavor. The sweet potato fries were fine (if generic) and served with a horseradish mayonaise dipping sauce... not the first choice we'd have for sweet potato fries. Apparently someone at The Counter really likes the flavor of mayonaise.
After a bit more time, the burgers arrived. I ordered a third-pound (after cooking weight) burger with Gruyere cheese, grilled onions, and their lettuce blend, on an English muffin. (The late, lamented, Tesar's taught me the magic of the English muffin for the foundation of a burger, so I was pleased to see it offered as an option.) I had high hopes.
What arrived was... interesting. First, there were a LOT of onions. Easily 4x what would have been a generous helping. After removing the lion's share of the onions, I assembled the burger and bit in. The overwhelming sensation was odd. Front and center was the onion flavor, but these weren't any onions I'd tasted before on a burger. I don't know the variety, but the flavor profile was very different than a typical burger onion. The consistency was wet and slippery, and they tended to slide out of the bun. The beefy flavor was completely absent, so to remedy this, I removed even more onions, leaving only one or two slices, which was still enough. Finally I could taste the beef, and it was very mild and underseasoned, albeit extremely tender. The gruyere was lost in the mix as well. Perhaps this was just opening-night jitters, but the grill cook should consider visiting Samba Grille or The Burger Guys to learn how to season a hamburger patty. Without skilled seasoning, even the best meat won't shine.
I think that The Counter has an excellent concept, but some fine tuning is needed to the product's flavor. Perhaps the California palate is different from that of a Houstonian, but now I understand why The Counter has been getting mixed reviews. The burger is simply unlike any other premium burger I've experienced in Houston, and to my taste, not in a good way.
But if you've been searching for the burger of your dreams, and you've yet to come close, give The Counter a try. I have no doubt that they'll surprise you. Whether it's in a good way depends on you.
The Counter | Market Street | The Woodlands, Texas 77380 | 281-231-2147