Out of nowhere, it seems, a handful of bright Cook Out burger joints have popped up in Midtown.
One location of this North Carolina-based chain replaced the glitzy Zesto on Ponce de Leon Avenue. Another has popped up in West Midtown, where the low-priced burgers and shakes are best positioned to appeal to the Georgia Tech crowd. That’s the location we decide to visit on a rainy Super Bowl Sunday.
We’ve been told CookOut is “like a Southern version of In-and-Out Burger.” Right up front: this is simply not the case. That said, the concept — ordering a “tray,” featuring a sandwich (a hamburger, a BBQ, or a quesadilla), two sides, and a drink or shake — for about five bucks is intriguing.
It’s certainly intriguing to Georgia Tech students, who are piled up at virtually every table: chattering about church and throwing wadded-up burger wrappers at each other. The same pricing scheme that draws in the kids also appeals to the homeless; in more than one booth, we see pitiful figures, wrapped in coats, hunched over bright red trays of burgers and fries.
We decide to order what the menu board recommends: a sandwich (the quarter-pound burger), two sides (I get fries and onion rings, but chicken nuggets and bacon wraps are surprising options), and one of the forty-something flavors of shakes (in this case, peanut butter fudge). After five minutes, someone calls our number, and our orders come out in styrofoam boxes:
I try photographing our lunch from several angles; unfortunately, this is about as flattering as it gets — because, well, it is what it is.
Of the items on our trays, the burgers are better than expected. The patties are thicker than most fast-food burgers, and, instead of being flat little meat pancakes (I’m talking to you, Mickey D.), they’re more like beefy little hockey pucks. For a fast-food burger, the flavor is good … but nothing to write home about, unless, perhaps, you’re a Georgia Tech student who just can’t bear another trip to The Varsity.
I will say this: when the time comes to pay the tab, our two 1/4-pound burgers, four sides, and two shakes with tax comes to just over twelve bucks. At Yeah! Burger, the cheapest shake on the menu costs more than an entire tray of food at CookOut — and our order of two burgers, one side, and two shakes cost us north of thirty dollars. Yeah! Burger justifies those prices by screaming “organic!” and “local!” at every opportunity … but in my heart of hearts, I still cringe when burgers and fries I carry to my own table come with a thirty dollar price tag (and the audacity to pop a tipping line on the receipt).
CookOut won’t win any “healthy eating” awards, and the fries won’t be drizzled with locally-sourced parmesan-truffle oil. But checking out the CookOut won’t put a dent in your wallet, either, and there’s something to be said for that.