Chain Reaction: Cook-Out in North Carolina
"Frankly, everything tasted like it came from a summer grilling session with the neighbors."
Ever been to a Cook-Out? Not just a backyard barbecue; a chain restaurant that's called "Cook-Out" and serves a menu just like it sounds. The Greensboro location of this North Carolina-based chain has a drive thru on both sides of the building. For those who are motor-less, they also offer a walk-up. But there's nowhere inside to go; it's called Cook-Out for a reason.
The restaurant has quite the menu—burgers, hot dogs, Carolina barbeque, shakes; the list goes on. "If I ask for a Peanut Butter Pork chop," I thought, "they might actually serve me that."
Like most fast food, their burgers aren't much to look at. However, looks belie the taste inside. My patty, about as thick as a Whopper, was juicy, full of beef flavor, and had a good crust on the outside. In some bites, I tasted charred beef, adding to the "cookout" feeling; the American cheese was perfectly melted over the burger; the buns were squishy white standards, reminding me of the 12-bun packs from Stop and Shop we used to get in college. All in all, a delicious, simple burger.
Their hot dogs are similar to the burgers in some regards; the weiner on my Bacon Cheese Dog was juicy inside, but crisp and slightly burnt on the outside—and salty as hell. They coated it with a Whiz-like substance that tasted like melted Kraft Singles (as opposed to other Whiz I've had, which doesn't taste like any kind of cheese at all). The bacon was smoky and chewy. Again, nothing unusual, but totally satisfying classic food.
Their BBQ sandwich (pictured at top) looked pretty sorry, which, I felt, was about all I could expect for $2.49. But the Carolina barbecue inside was much better than it looked, tangy and mildly spicy. The slaw had a good vinegar flavor as well, with a nice medium heat; the whole sandwich was much better than it looked. Really, of what I tried, only the onion rings were a problem: too much fry, undercooked onion, no flavor.
When it came to the Fancy Milkshake, my dining companion, a Greensboro native, warned me: "You'll have to use a spoon. Nobody can suck them up a straw." My Fresh Peanut Butter milkshake was no different. The shake had the consistency of a Frosty, but creamier. Much creamier; it was almost as thick as soft-serve ice cream. It's clear they're made-to-order with milk and ice cream and peanut butter. It wasn't prepackaged, reconstituted, or artificially flavored. This was a solid, creamy, peanut-buttery shake.
Frankly, everything tasted like it came from a summer grilling session with the neighbors. And all-in—burger, hot dog, sandwich, onion rings, shake—I paid $11. None of it is too memorable, none of it is made with top-notch ingredients, but all of it is carefully prepared; it tastes authentic and homey, which is difficult to accomplish for a drive-thru. It's simple and cheap—I was astounded by how cheap it was. But this chain is a real winner in my book.