First Look: Cook Out, East Atlanta

The Cook Out chain originated in the late ’80s in Greensboro, North Carolina, as a burger and shake concept with double drive-through windows. Since then, it’s grown to multiple locations in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia, while enjoying a cult following and several fan sites dedicated to its brand of bargain-priced fast food. The first Atlanta location, which opened in late April on Moreland Avenue near I-20, has been crowded with cars and customers at all hours.

The look: Each Cook Out is a bit different, but the East Atlanta store, once a Mrs. Winner’s, features the familiar rustic stone facade, red and white neon signs, and drive-through lanes. Inside, an order counter and compact dining room are appointed with more stone and neon.

The scene: At lunchtime one recent afternoon, the energy was kinetic, as employees in orange vests and red T-shirts directed traffic, handed out menus, and dodged between long lines of traffic. In the restaurant, the lines weren’t as long, but the tables were filled with people who seemed happy to find a place to sit.

The food: Like similar chains, Cook Out trades on a formula that mixes nostalgia, fun and low prices. Its “fresh never frozen” beef burgers ($1.39-$3.39) are “cooked outdoors style” with a noticeable char and come wrapped in foil. Order small, regular or huge sizes or the Big Double with two 2-ounce patties in combos like “steak style” with mayo, A-1 sauce, tomato, lettuce and grilled onions. Or build your own with a variety of toppings. Cook Out shows its North Carolina roots with Lexington-style barbecue pork sandwiches ($2.99) and plates ($3.99). Other offerings include chargrilled hot dogs and chicken sandwiches.

Drinks: Besides burgers, the main attraction is ultra-thick “premium milkshakes” ($2.79) served in 40 flavors, from Hershey’s chocolate to fruit punch and cheesecake. Other drinks include Coca-Cola fountain products, iced tea and Coke or Cheerwine floats ($1.79).

The extras: The Cook Out Tray offers the ultimate in grubbing on the cheap and is likely a late-night big seller. For $4.99, you get a quarter-pound burger or other sandwich, two sides and a soft drink or iced tea.

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