We’ve mentioned in the previous chapters that Marie very graciously selected the restaurants that we visited on our most recent trip to Asheville, and, even more graciously, paid for them. However, I wasn’t entirely ready to leave town without one last stop. About two hours after lunch, time spent shopping, letting my daughter have the run of things, and the uncompromisable trip to The Chocolate Fetish on Haywood for Marie to load up on dark chocolate sea salt caramels, we drove to the east side of town to show my daughter Tunnel Road, one of Asheville’s more commercial strips, full of chain restaurants and hotels. Well, there’s more than that. There is a very, very good comic shop out here called Comic Envy, a reasonably good barbecue place called Fiddlin’ Pig that I’m sure we’ll revisit, an independently-owned toy store, and a Mexican restaurant called Papas & Beer that has a heck of a lot of fans, but mostly Tunnel Road is clogged with chains.
One of these, however, is one of particular interest to me as it is the only Asheville location of Cook Out. This is a chain of several dozen fast food restaurants, not entirely unlike Checkers or Rally, that is only now expanding outside North Carolina after many years of success with stores all over the piedmont. I’ve heard reports of new stores coming up in the cities of Greenville and Clemson, but otherwise the chain seems entirely based in North Carolina. We have the restaurant’s fans to thank for even that information. For some reason, Cook Out lacks a corporate web site, although there are two fan versions that show off a menu and incomplete lists of known locations. The Asheville store opened about a year ago and, as of today, hasn’t made it to those pages.
Longtime readers have figured out that I certainly love small, regional fast food chains like this, or Zesto here in Atlanta, or Milo’s in Birmingham. So how does Cook Out stack up against the competition?
I mentioned that Cook Out, with its double drive-through and outdoor patio seating, reminds me of Checkers, but the food more closely resembles Back Yard Burgers, a very small chain that, locally, was pretty well taken out behind the woodshed and beaten by Five Guys when that chain moved into Atlanta four or so years ago. I enjoyed Back Yard Burgers a good deal, and was sad to see them go. At Cook Out, they prepare their burgers in four sizes and suggest that for an additional 65 cents or a dollar, you order it in one of four “styles” with specific extras. My “snack” was a small burger prepared “cook out style” with chili, slaw, mustard and onions, and it was quite good, albeit even more messy than I thought it could be. The photo above is surely among the worst that I’ve ever composed and presented in this blog, but I didn’t remove the burger from the foil. After unfolding it to look at it, I wrapped it back up and held the sandwich in it to avoid making a bigger mess, but I think that in the future, I should remember that I must exclude foil from photos whenever possible.
At any rate, the burger was reasonably good, and much tastier than any other fast food burger that I can think of offhand, and the fries were not bad either. My daughter had some chicken strips which were probably the same as everybody else’s chicken strips. Cook Out has a menu that is similar to most, with grilled chicken, fried fillets, hot dogs and chopped pork sandwiches, and I found myself wishing that she had not ordered something so universally identical as chicken strips so I could tell you something different about them.
All that Marie wanted was a milkshake, and we definitely came to the right place for one. At any given time, Cook Out seems to offer about three dozen flavors, with seasonal specials and various mixes available. They’re proper shakes, and not soft serve goo. Marie had a chocolate banana shake, and my daughter had one with the delightful name of orange push-up. Both were really good.
I just had a Cheerwine float. Sure, I could have concocted one at home, but not with Cheerwine from a fountain. Darn if this wasn’t the second restaurant we visited on this trip with fountain Cheerwine, which I approve. Screw homogenization; every state’s restaurants should offer their regional specialties in the drink machine, and if somebody wants to tell me some place in Birmingham or Montgomery where I can get a fountain Buffalo Rock, I’ll be back in Alabama next weekend.
I’ve found that the problem with having a small lunch and then a small snack two hours later is that whatever I intend, neither of them are really as small as they perhaps should be. This left me completely stuffed for the ride home, and I wasn’t hungry at all some six hours later, when Marie suggested cooking up some dinner, and we compromised on splitting a can of Progresso soup. The only real problem with these little weekend trips where we like to sample lots of different places is that it really wreaks havoc on the idea of having a 3-400 calorie meal every 3-4 hours. Who’s got time to worry about health when there are great little restaurants like Cook Out demanding our attention?