Sometimes an urge rises within you to feel fancy and still feel cool. Though you might consider spending your work-study funds on the newest Off-White release, the best solution would be to go visit Counting House, a downtown Durham restaurant with a pleasant atmosphere and just enough pizzazz to make you think that you’re a Great Value Gatsby.
Located within downtown Durham’s 21c hotel, one can say that, to enjoy Counting House to its fullest extent, one should appreciate art. The hotel itself has built an impressive collection of works, and as you visit the host’s table, you’ll undoubtedly be met with something astonishing. For me, it was a Kehinde Wiley portrait the size of a car. For you, it may be different. Take it all in as you walk to your table — so many different pieces are hung up on the walls that it’s difficult not to absorb it and sit with a sense of awe. As you look over your menu options, it’s clear that Counting House is a place where business transactions are made, couples have Valentine’s dates and old friends reunite after years apart.
Given the acclaimed chef behind the menu, it’s no surprise that everything looks appealing. Chef Thomas Card trained under a James Beard semifinalist at The Fearrington House in Pittsboro, N.C. (boasting a Five Diamond Designation from AAA), and arrived at Counting House in 2017. He’s been head of the dining program since. Needless to say, my expectations were high. So, when I requested a humble burger, I hoped that they would provide something a bit more extraordinary than usual.
It’s safe to say that this burger was the most thoughtfully composed that I’ve had in Durham yet. Upon the first bite, it’s clear that the beef is the star. Beefy, juicy and rich, it’ll linger in your memory for a while. Crucial to this, however, is the patty’s complement: a sweet and savory onion jam that accentuates the beef’s flavor, drawing out the texture and seasoning manifested within the patty. Humbly complementing all of this is some lettuce and mayo, providing a good crunch and slight sauciness, respectively. Arguably the most impactful of the ingredients, however, is the Grafton Village cheddar. Expertly melted and stretchy as you sink your teeth into it, the cheese has a slight funkiness and butteriness to it, resulting in a more distinct addition to the burger and a wonderful enhancement of the other flavors.
The buns were well-selected for the bold flavors in the creation, not showing any signs of sogginess while a perfect toast brought out their slight butteriness. The fries that came alongside, incredibly crispy with a soft interior, were similarly tasty. When all is said and done, you’ll leave satisfied, stricken by the zeal of the burger itself and impressed at how it managed to maintain its structural integrity throughout your entire meal. However, a toothpick would have been handy, as the contents of the burger often slip and slide around from within the bun as you go about eating the creation.
When combined with the ambience within the restaurant (and the hotel, for that matter), eating at Counting House becomes both a delicious and incredibly enriching experience. Art surrounds you as you feast, and as you reluctantly put your burger down, you’ll feel as if you’re dining in a millionaire friend’s room dedicated to soirées. But with classic food executed this well, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as pompous as it should.