50 Burgers, 50 Days: Counter Cafe

 
A burger a day all around Austin, plus an answer to the pressing question: fries or rings?
 
Day 16: Counter Cafe
626 N. Lamar Blvd. 780-8800, www.countercafe.com.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.26.11
 
The burger: Counter Burger ($10). I thought about Ernest Borgnine at the Counter Cafe. I thought about Ernest Borgnine in “Marty” because you can get a good cup of coffee at the Counter Cafe, and Marty’s idea of a big night out was coffee and a burger. It was a film about the quiet desperation of simplicity as it evolves into a celebration of life’s small victories. And that’s what Counter Cafe feels like, the triumph of the simple in a space the size of a two-room bungalow.
 
Simple ingredients make the difference: grated cheddar, ripe red tomato, feathery Bibb lettuce, vibrant red onions, on meat that isn’t afraid of medium-rare. It tastes like all you’d need is a cup of coffee and that burger and someone with whom to share your modest aspirations. It worked for Ernie. He won an Academy Award for it in 1955. It’ll work for you.
 
UPDATED 07.08.12: Ernest Bornine died Sunday (07.08.12) at the age of 95. Read a sweet obituary of the man here.
 
Fries or rings?  Potatoes don’t taste much closer to the source than they do here. Still the color of the earth. Every piece seems to have a long strip of peel, as if it were grown especially for the connoisseur of the hand-cut fry. Fries are included, or you can substitute soup or fruit or salad. And I’ve had some really good soup at Counter Cafe. Carrot-ginger the first time, a cool cup of gazpacho this time, a spoonful of tomato and herb and cucumber and August for a seat inside at the petite lunch counter or outside where the sun hides behind the shrubs and laughs at the misters spraying their optimistic summer fog.