Restaurants

Build your own at The Counter

Burger bliss

It’s a simple pleasure, but one that can’t be overstated: the ability to barbecue throughout the year is high on the long list of luxuries we enjoy around here. But it also requires some creativity on the part of grill masters. Even if you’re not willing to shell out the cash for the convenience of someone else flipping patties (though at least one of these options is too good to pass up*), these unusual burgers may inspire you to get more inventive next time you’re tending the grill.

Ostrich

The carnivores among us tend to compartmentalize the part of our brain that knows how good something tastes from the part that realizes what it looked like when it had four legs.

But it’s actually kind of fun to imagine eating an ostrich. OK maybe not the slaughtering part, but ostriches—with their sharp talons, beady eyes and weird rubbery necks—are kicking, galloping, mean, prehistoric beasts. And they taste pretty good, too.

‘Umeke Market serves them up with your choice of cheddar or provolone cheeses, sprouts, lettuce and tomato and onions on a sesame wheat bun. Perfect for those who aren’t big on traditional burgers, this dish is reminiscent of a soy burger and it will satisfy you. Served with chips and carrot sticks (more chips than carrots), it’s a high-protein and lower-fat alternative.

‘Umeke Market, 1001 Bishop Street, , $9 522-7377

Stuffed Portabella

Forget what it looks like from its perch in a far corner of the Kapahulu Safeway parking lot—Burgers on the Edge is no fast-food joint. For one thing, the service isn’t fast: you’ll easily wait 15 minutes. Once you finally sink your teeth into it, however, your burger will be far tastier than anything you could get at a drive-through. Fresh ingredients go a long way in making Burgers on the Edge stand out. The stuffed portabella, #2 on the favorites menu, is a rich mushroom patty filled with creamed spinach, then layered with tomato, fresh baby spinach leaves and thin flakes of grated parmesan cheese on an dense bun. It’s a hearty but manageable burger, one that you can actually pick up and take a bite of without unhinging your jaw or resorting to knife and fork. It’s also worth mentioning that the menu has a number of unusual burger options, including The Parisian, a $17 creation that’s stacked with wagyu beef and foie gras, and the Thanksgiving on a Bun, a sandwich classic that has been a staple on hipster beer bar menus across the mainland for the a while now, but never gets any less delicious. Burgers on the Edge may not have yet achieved its mission of creating the best burgers on the planet, but they’re worth a try—and the wait it will take to do so.

Burgers on the Edge, 890 Kapahulu Ave., $8 , 737-8866

Pineapple Room

It’s probably true that Chef Alan Wong could take grilled cheese and make it exquisite, so in addition to being the only beef burger on this list, the Pineapple Room Burger is unique simply for being a Wong creation. It’s a huge, flavorful tower of a dish anchored by a patty of Kiawe-grilled North Shore Cattle Company beef, beneath a pile of bacon, cheddar cheese, avocado salsa and a coaster-sized onion ring. It may be too massive a lunch even for someone who comes with a big appetite. Try a scoop of the wasabi potato salad as a side—it provides a relatively dry and starchy zing to an otherwise juicy meal. The restaurant itself feels only a little out of place—a lovely, chilly interior with clean, ironed linens, servers trained to be almost too polite and a green-curtained view through tall windows and onto the Macy’s parking lot of all things. Still, it’s worth stopping in to delight your taste buds, even if you’re not planning on doing any shopping. Besides, add a couple of drinks and an appetizer to a two-person lunch and you’ll easily spend as much as you would on that cute sundress you saw on the way in.

The Pineapple Room, Macy’s, Ala Moana Shopping Center, $14, 945-6573

*Build-your-own

Appearances, they say, can be deceiving. From the outside and at-a-glance, The Counter, which stands beneath the looming Chili’s in Kahala Mall’s parking lot, looks almost like a 24-hour Fitness. Something about the slanted text of the neon sign better suggests burning calories than ingesting them. But from the inside, what you see is what you get. And what you get is arguably the best burger in Honolulu.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the do-it-yourself ordering system, which entails clipboards with checkboxes for ingredients you’ve probably never considered burger-worthy (hard-boiled eggs, kim-chee and dried cranberries to name a few).

But before you get to the add-ons, have your choice of bun: classic, honey wheat or extra-large English muffin. You can also go bunless and have your burger—beef, turkey, veggie or grilled chicken, in sizes ranging from the already-big to the trulyhuge—in a bowl with mixed baby greens or a lettuce blend. Now, the fun part: Choose from among 10 cheeses, pick four additional toppings (there are 29 on the list) and find the perfect dressing to drizzle on your creation. Among the 18 different sauces: apricot, peanut, caramelized onion marmalade, red relish and many more. The other fun part: The Counter has a full bar with basic beer and wine options and all kinds of booze. The possibilities for burger creativity at The Counter are endless—especially now that they’re offering burgers, sauces and toppings of the month (look for lamb in October). For starters, try what we came up with: Turkey in a bowl with mixed greens, gruyère, tomatoes, jalapeños and spicy pepperoncinis. You will not be disappointed.

The Counter, 4211 Waialae Ave., $8.95–$15.50, [thecounterburger.com], 739-5100

Thirsty Yet?

What’s a burger without a crisp, carbonated beverage to swill? There is something ridiculously satisfying about the classic burger-and-beer combo. So while you’re rethinking the parameters of burgerdom, why not expand your beer horizons, too? Flip to page 27 for a sneak peek at the line-up for this year’s Kona Brewers Festival, where for the 14th year in a row, attendees will be reminded of what it really means to be in paradise.