Ncounter, the new breakfast and lunch spot on Mill Avenue courtesy of Thom Coker and his wife, Kathy, owners of T.C. Eggington's in Mesa, was bustling with activity when I recently popped by.
It's a hip but friendly place with a decidedly clean decór, a palette of grays, and pop music playing in the background. Families and college kids sit around wood tables or at Ncounter's cocktail bar (which is also accessible from the outdoor patio), bathed in natural light, courtesy of several large windows.
The menu includes traditional breakfast and lunch fare, which I'd recommend familiarizing yourself with online before dropping by on a busy day. Unfortunately, the counter ordering area's a bit jacked, with guests first required to weave through eating patrons then attempt to order from a menu that's difficult to read with half the items out of direct sight lines. Less fortunate are the folks sitting at tables around this area, who will be bumped by asses or purses or babies or all of the above until the line dies down.
Will the food be worth the hassle? Let's take a bite and find out.
For breakfast, Ncounter offers the classics, including pancakes and French toast, eggs Benedict, breakfast sandwiches, omelettes, and sautéed dishes.
My friendly counter gal recommended a breakfast sandwich called "Killer." Made with bacon, Gorgonzola, thyme, tomato, and "almost hard" fried eggs (huh?) on grilled ciabatta, it was uninspiring. The ingredients were ho-hum and there weren't many of them, leaving a unwanted bounty of bread. And the side salad for breakfast? Puzzling.
My huevos and chorizo fared better. No knock-out but well-prepared and tasty.
Lunchtime fare at Ncounter features hot and cold sandwiches, soups, and salads. My "Mill Avenue Stack," a cold sandwich with sirloin, cheddar, red onion, blue cheese spread, and spring mix on ciabatta was average. My hot Gruyere ham stack featured way too much arugula and the Gruyere was barely there.
Ncounter's sandwiches seem to be suffering from a lack of oomph. Where are the zingy signature sauces, ingredients that pop, or a balanced mix of flavors? Perhaps that explains why I saw many of them being picked at by patrons.
The biggest disappointment was Ncounter's fusion chopped chicken salad. The menu called out the ingredients as mango, noodles, peanuts, Napa cabbage, mint, grilled chicken, and Thai peanut dressing. Really? 'Cause it sure tasted like an iceberg lettuce wedge with no mint, one little chunk of processed chicken, canned fruit, and a flavor that, sadly, I would expect from the likes of Applebee's.
Thanks to the high rent on Mill, there aren't too many mom-and-pop places to visit, which makes me wish all the more that Ncounter will right its food wrongs and seize the opportunity to be the breakfast and lunch joint in Tempe. I'm crossing my fingers as hard as I can.