For months, my husband, Sean, and I watched curiously as a long, rectangular building slowly took shape at the corner of Walton Way and Crawford. What could it be? Our guesses ranged from a bank to a title pawnshop to a drive-up restaurant such as Sonic.
I had my doubts as to how well another fast-food joint would fare on that strip of Walton Way, the center of our own local “fast-food nation” and packed with all the options: burgers, chicken, Mexican and so on. Cook Out (which is what the building turned out to be) seems to have hurdled that challenge by offering all those menu options and then some.
The Augusta restaurant is the first in Georgia for the North Carolina-based chain, which also has stops in South Carolina and Virginia. Those who love Cook Out really love it, with not just one but two fan-operated Web sites that look like the real thing, complete with menus and nutrition info.
Since Cook Out opened a few months ago, we couldn’t help but notice the line of people who seemed to be permanently affixed to the restaurant’s order windows – and the line of cars snaking around the drive-through and in the parking lot – even at 10 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. So, after spending a busy morning on the Summerville Tour of Homes, we decided to make a pit stop on the way home.
It was nearly 1 p.m. on a Saturday, and we had the misfortune of a large family trooping in line just ahead of us. But it gave us plenty of time to read the broad menu, colorfully displayed to the right of the order windows. The chain offers char-grilled burgers; chicken sandwiches, strips and wraps; pork barbecue plates; hot dogs and corn dogs; a variety of sides; Coke products; and 40 (!) varieties of milkshakes in addition to floats.
The best deal – which they advertise as “The Best Combo in Augusta” – is $4.69, with your choice of 10 mains (from burgers and hot dogs to barbecue, chicken sandwiches and a quesadilla); 10 sides (choose two or double up, from your choice of fries and slaw to smaller mains such as a wrap or corn dog); and a beverage (for an extra dollar you can upgrade your drink to one of the fancy shakes).
That’s the deal we – and most of those in line – went for. For mine, I chose the quarter-pound hamburger, which comes with mayo, mustard, ketchup, pickles, onion and lettuce, and I added tomato (for an extra 10 cents – bacon, cheese, chili and slaw are also available at varying costs).
“Do you want cheese?” Brittany asked, with the air of someone who has had plenty of folks come back with a request for cheese after the fact.
That made me smile as I declined, then chose my sides: slaw and fries.
For the shake, I was torn. How can you choose when the options vary as widely as banana berry and Heath toffee? I appealed to Brittany, “What’s the most popular? Like, the most popular chocolate shake?”
I went with Oreo based on her advice; then she asked, “Do you want to add anything else to that?”
“So I can add any ingredient?” I said, surprised. She nodded decisively. “You can add anything to the milkshake for the same price.”
I was a purist, though, sticking to Oreo only. Sean ordered a burger with cheese, then doubled up on his onion rings and – a purist also – went with a classic vanilla shake.
Then we joined the small crowd of folks to the left waiting for their orders. There was a feeling of camaraderie as we made small talk with the other customers. One had been at Cook Out on the day it opened.
“The line went down the street,” he said, gesturing widely with his arm. He grinned. “It should be called Hang Out, not Cook Out.”
Our meals were ready in about five to 10 minutes, then we were zipping back home to enjoy lunch. (On our way to the car, we passed many others happily snacking in their vehicles; it’s worthwhile to note that it can be tough to find a parking space.)
When we opened our cartons, one thing we noticed was a bit of inconsistency in the sides. My heap of fries (a single side) was about the same amount as Sean’s doubled-up order of onion rings. But neither of the fried foods was greasy; the skin-on fries were thick and soft, the way I like them, as were the onion rings, unfortunately (those I like crisp!). But overall, they were tasty, although I could detect a slight taste of the oil they were fried in.
My “healthy” side of coleslaw was simple: just well-chopped cabbage with a super light mayo dressing. I wished there was just a bit more tang, and it had also absorbed some of the heat from the warm fries and burger.
Our foil-wrapped burgers had a soft, squishy bun and crisp vegetables. The meat was slightly misshapen, just like homemade, with a great char-grilled taste. The sandwich was moist from the mayo, mustard and ketchup, but that gave the burger good flavor.
I was way too full to even attempt my milkshake, but I tasted Sean’s. It was awesome – very vanilla, and so thick it had to be eaten with a spoon. I stuck mine in the freezer, and treated myself after an afternoon of volunteering. It was the perfect snack: rich and creamy, chock full of real Oreo flavor.
I see now why Cook Out is so popular. In the realm of fast food, it’s priced right, and tops it all off with a really great shake. I try not to eat fast food too often, but with Cook Out’s wide variety of options, I’m intrigued enough to try it again.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Cook Out, 1801 Walton Way
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday
SECOND HELPING: eatcookout.com or cookoutnc.com (fan-operated sites) or find them on Facebook