By April Falco Lewandowski
Lately, I have learned to make better food choices by scouring packages and web sites for ingredients such as GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, and other scary terms. As the parent of a child with food allergies, I especially want to be sure I’m buying the healthiest foods at the grocery store, as well as making the right decisions when dining out. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Apparently I am not alone. According to the National Restaurant Association, the top trends in the culinary world this year focus on local sourcing, environmental sustainability, and nutrition. Basically, people are now more interested in what they eat and where their food comes from and we can see this reflected in menu trends. It seems that consumers have spoken and restaurants have finally heard them.
This brings us to THE COUNTER, a unique, high-end, fast-casual restaurant chain that opened in 2003 in California and later became a franchise, with stores popping up all over the U.S. and internationally. New Jersey’s only location is one of the latest residents in the booming Riverfront Center on Route 3 West in Clifton, just minutes from the Izod Center and MetLife Stadium.
The Counter’s mission statement boasts about “creative construction” and “making things delicious” through fresh and healthy food options. Their Market Selection menu offers locally sourced and sustainable protein, cheese, toppings, special sauces, and fresh buns, allowing you to customize your burger any way you want. If you are eating gluten-free, no problem. You can have your burger served in a bowl “salad style” with your choice of greens and add-ons.
Since I tend to make a lot of changes to existing menu items, I chose to build my own burger: however, if you are not good at decision-making you can always choose from the “Expert Builds” section where it’s already done for you. All of their proteins are 100% natural, including the beef which is hormone and antibiotic-free. If you are looking for something a bit different, you can even opt for organic bison. The burgers are deliciously grilled – although I did feel that my medium-well was a little more on the well side – and the sweet potato fries were completely addicting.
When I decided to treat myself to a little dessert, I was ready to order the caramel and chocolate brownie until my server told me about the shake menu. Not only can you choose a signature shake like birthday cake or banana split, but you can actually build your own shake, malt, or float. Key lime pie, apple crumble, even an oversized chocolate chip cookie can all be blended with ice cream for an amazing, frothy delight.
I also loved the creative cocktail menu, because this place doesn’t just offer the standard beer and wine options. Step outside the box and have a pinot noir with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and cherries. Or mix your choice of draft beer with vanilla ice cream to make a beer float (a stout is recommended for this option). Plus, you can order off of the “Adult Shakes” menu and spike your apple pie shake with Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum or add a shot of any spirit or liqueur to a shake or malt.
It seems that in my quest for healthy, locally-grown fare I didn’t have to travel very far. The Counter gives me everything I’ve been looking for in a restaurant. Not only do they offer sustainable food options, but they also encourage patrons to be inventive and experiment with new combinations. I have to say, it felt pretty empowering to have so much control in ordering a meal when dining out. So come by The Counter in Clifton and be prepared to try something unique. And as they say in their mission statement, “show us what you got.”
Check out the full menu on their website or go to their Facebook page to find out what’s happening at the Clifton location.
374 Route 3 West
Clifton, NJ 07014
Facebook: The Counter: Clifton
Read articles like this in the May 2014 Issue – Now Available