Cook Out • 116 S. University Blvd., Mobile, AL 36608 • 251-340-7458
I knew it wouldn’t take long for me to be put in a position where I had to break my diet. If you’re going to fall off the wagon, fall off hard, right? That’s what I did, but I did it for a good reason. Mobile anticipated Cook Out — a hot spot for college kids and fans of cheap food, located a spitting distance from the USA campus in the former PDQ — so heavily I felt ashamed to have left it alone for so long.
The place has sort of a cult following from the sorority girl and church youth group crowd. It’s fast paced and noisy, a young man’s game, if you will, with the most random menu from which I’ve ever ordered. Barbecue, burgers and shakes are the quick description, but a list of disjointed sides makes for an interesting read. For example, why would a place that doesn’t sell seafood have hush puppies? It’s weird enough to just work.
We had a full house that night, so I had to pick up takeout. I basically went across the menu looking to hit the high notes. If you go, prepare yourself. Know what you want beforehand. The line moves almost as fast as the employees talk, so don’t look like the geezer who can’t get with the program. You can order a la carte or by the tray (combo meal), which comes with two sides.
My family had researched online, tasking me with the dirty work of driving to University Boulevard, fighting the crowd and, most importantly, paying for it. Katie got first crack at the menu and went pretty Plain Jane with the regular Chicken Tray ($3.40) original style, meaning lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and honey mustard. Her first response was that it was a real piece of chicken on a sweeter bun. The onion rings that came with it were a hit as we shared it all family style, but the cheddar bites were really the rage. A small portion of fried cheese curd can win the hearts of this family quickly.
Lucas was in a double dog daring mood. His Two Hot Dog Tray ($3.40) was, of course, a pair of chili dogs with cheese, cooked to the point of crispy ends, to his delight. To confuse his taste buds further, he opted for the cheese quesadilla, one that was lightly browned with jack cheese that Graham pursued more than his older brother. His second side was a corn dog. I’m not making this up — a sweet, brown corn dog like you may have had in elementary school.
I was eager to try a Burger Tray ($3.40) Cook Out Style ($0.95) with homemade chili, slaw, mustard and onion. I could see what Katie meant by saying the bun was sweet. The burger was just a normal, good cheeseburger with a little bit of chili and a disc of onion. I got the fries, which were good, and had to try the hush puppies. Oblong and uniformly pre-shaped, the simple, white-cornmeal pups were admittedly something I liked more than I thought I would.
Young Graham ordered the head scratcher. His Junior Burger Tray ($5.54) for some reason cost me more than the adult trays. Perhaps it was because his little burger was ordered with some premium sides. A small cup of chili was, of course, the hot dog variety, sans beans. The second side was favored by all of us — the bacon wrap was the best thing we’d had so far. Strips of bacon wrapped in a small tortilla with lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise (sort of a BLC) had the kids fighting to split it.
In order to gauge Cook Out’s seriousness about heat, I ordered a Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($3.69). The breaded chicken breast wasn’t much on the front end, but had a stronger finish with a hint of heat. I’d love to see someone go a little over the top with a really spicy chicken, but I understand this place is for the masses. Don’t look for Nashville Hot Chicken here, but expect a little bite.
With these meals we got a couple of unsweet teas ($1.99 each) but then found the real reason Cook Out is so popular: the Fancy Shakes ($2.99 each) are solid gold. If this place has something to really brag about, the shakes are it. Chocolate Chip Mint tasted like Girl Scout cookies in a cup. I am a sucker for peach, and the Peach Cobbler shake was incredible.
This review may seem a bit ambiguous in places, so let me get down to the nuts and bolts of it all. I’d say the burgers, sandwiches and dogs are not quite as good as Whataburger or even Sonic, but we knew all along we were in this for a double dose of trashy food. That in mind, there are so many options, albeit rather strange ones, that you could have fun with here. It’s cheap and easy, fast and furious. The portions aren’t over the top, and I appreciate that. The milkshake menu is where their strength lies, and having a corn dog as a side item cracks me up. That’s a lot of food (and humor) for $33.28.
Don’t expect a single healthy thing here. You shouldn’t trust fast food restaurants with a salad, anyway. If you have a diet to break, I say give Cook Out a chance.
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