Monday, August 11, 2014

Cook Out: Where Loaves of Bread and Wine Become Burgers and Shakes...sort of...

This was one of the places that locals gushed about when I got here. The fact that there's one in my backyard (no, literally...if I step out the rear sliding door of my townhouse, I can be at the walk-up window within two minutes) meant that it was just a matter of time before I ate there. Every day, around 3:30, the smell of burgers fills the air, as they start bracing for the dinner rush. And I'll give them that--the burgers are fresh. We're not talking about the frozen patties that other chains use. It also seems that each patty is inspected for thorough cooking. I've noticed over the years that the patties are split up the middle, probably to insure  they're not too pink.

The delivery system and concept are simple: drive through or walk up. There's no eating area...unless you count an adjoining parking lot, like our townhouses. It's as fast as fast food can get: get in, get the food, get out. The menuboard requires both a graduate degree and 20/20 vision to read. It's dense and a bit difficult to navigate. They simplified it about a year ago, but it's still tough to get through the first few times. This is further complicated by the fact that the location I go to is staffed by obnoxious teenagers who don't like to be given an order twice and hate being asked to confirm orders. I rarely have someone get my order right the first time I give it, and even more rarely get someone who's not annoyed when I ask them to confirm it...just to make sure that "extra pickle" doesn't translate to "no pickle" somehow.

Yea...come unto me for coronary disease...
Cook Out deals in the standard burger joint fare: burgers (or chicken breasts), barbeque, hot dogs, shakes, and sides. And to be honest, the food's fairly-priced for the portions. Their signature item is the "Tray"--a make-your-own meal that gives a pretty large reign over the menu (shakes extra, of course), for under five dollars. But their other signature is the subtle placement of bible verses and a little Lee Greenwood-influenced patriotism on the fry bags and shake cups. Now let's be honest here, few things say "'Murrika!" like inexpensive, artery-clogging burgers, fries, and shakes. But the only time I want Jesus involved in my meal is if he can take my cheeseburger tray, double fry, and milkshake and make it feed me more than once. Yes, it's their right to do it, but it's a bit disjarring for the nonreligulous.

Little sticks of artery-hardening goodness...
The food's decent. Like I said, the burgers seem to be cooked on the premises and either kept in a warmer or microwaved until they're server. The usual toppings are free, and things like tomato, cheese, and bacon will run extra. The burgers themselves do have a nice grilled taste to them that blends well with the toppings. The meat's good, and the toppings are fresh.

The Mexi-Dog
I can't tell if the fries are fresh or frozen...and I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. The hot dog offerings are decent--the "mexi dog" in particular, with chili, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a shot of Texas Pete to keep it local.

The burgers...they're kind of a big thing...
Cook Out's shakes, while legendary in local food culture, are overrated. I'm sorry, but they just are. When people gush about the shakes, what I really think they mean is the sheer combinations of them, more than the quality. The shakes themselves are just soft serve ice cream with toppings and a few moments in a blender. I'd use an arctic-themed reference, but Dairy Queen and McDonalds grabbed trademark on the words, and their lawyers are better than mine...but you get the idea. Quality-wise, it's just soft serve ice cream. What Cook Out specializes at is the clever combination of flavors. Most, you can get pretty easily. Cookies and cream, Snickers, mint--all obvious mix-ins. But shakes like the cobblers use canned fruit and vanilla wafers, and the cheesecake shakes use fruit and some cheesecake. So there's a little creativity. Seasonal shakes (watermelon and egg nog) are cute on a menuboard, but didn't translate well when I've tried them over the years.

Cheeseburger dissection
When I was a little boy, I had a relative, Uncle Gene. Gene wasn't really an uncle as much as one of my paternal grandmother's in-laws for whom there may not have been a family he just got "uncle" by default. Nice guy, as I remember, but he always had these little, red mini-bibles that he carried with him. At every family gathering, Uncle Gene was handing out the little, red mini-bibles to the kids present. I just came to expect it. When I think about Cook Out, I think about Uncle Gene--nice guy, but a little unwarrantedly preachy. Likewise, with Cook Out, the religulousness is just to be expected. The burgers are excellent, the fries pass muster, and the shakes are disguised soft serve, but the overall meal (or at least its price) makes enduring the "'Murrica!" and bible verses (I guess I should give them credit for avoiding the John 3:16 cliche) tolerable. Like Uncle Gene's little red bibles, I endure it and focus on the real reason I'm there--hardening my arteries and bringing me one step closer to that massive coronary that's looming in my future.

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