In Praise of Cookout

Living in Atlanta, chances are that everyone reading this has eaten a quesadilla. Mmmm, delicious quesadillas. The cheese oozing out of the sides, fresh salsa and sour cream in little plastic cups nearby, maybe some chicken or pork with spices, perhaps even a smattering of black beans…wow. Just wow. I love a good quesadilla. Generally speaking, I had thought of quesadillas as a meal unto themselves, that require little more than a soda and a sampling of tortilla chips to fill up even the hungriest of stomachs. This was back when I was a child, and you might as well be an infant if you still believe that a quesadilla’s proper place is the dominant force of the meal. No no, my dear reader. You’re mistaken. A quesadilla functions best as a side dish. Yes, all that cheesy and tortilla-y goodness is best presented as a sideshow host to something else; perhaps a cheeseburger or a hot dog. The temple of reason that taught me this was the fast food chain Cookout. If you’re retching a little, you’ve come to the right place. New school year, new me! It’s Cookout Time.

The Cookout experience begins with the warm hospitality of the drive-through. Other than the one time a woman slammed the little window in my face as I was trying to give her my card, and the other time the person on the other end of the speaker vanished in the middle of the order, the hours I’ve spent waiting for a parade of battered Hondas to amble through the drive-through process are the best hours of my young life. Something about the smell of weird meats and boiling oil puts me in a philosophical mood. What is the meaning of life? I ponder from my driver’s perch, shoving the garbage from my last Cookout run underneath the passenger seat. On top of that, it can take anywhere from under 30 seconds to over an hour just to get some white cheddar nuggets and a Dr. Pepper, spicing up my days and nights with the unpredictability of pre-COVID nightlife. Hastily strapping my mask on before I interact with the cashier, I catch a glimpse of who I was before the pandemic began, and I smile. Beneath the mask, of course.

Ordering food from Cookout is like picking a Bible passage for your senior quote; you can’t go wrong, but you can only occasionally go right. I’ve taken the liberty of throwing together a few meal combinations for you below.

  • “Beginner’s Luck”: Cheeseburger with a side of a cheese quesadilla and a chocolate milkshake
  • “American Beauty”: Cheeseburger quesadilla with a side of white cheddar nuggets and a Coke (or Diet Coke if you’re dieting)
  • “Knuckleball Surprise”: Two hot dogs with sides of fries and onion rings and a Cheerwine float
  • “Hurricane Katrina”: Cajun chicken sandwich with a side of a corn dog and a “HUGE TEA” (menu’s words, not mine)
  • “Mason-Dixon”: A full Cookout BBQ Plate with a cheesecake and a large bottled water
  • “The Heartbreaker”: Club Style chicken breast with a side of hushpuppies, a Banana Fudge milkshake, a Peach Cobbler milkshake, a Walnut milkshake, AND SOME CHILI CHEESE FRIES

As you can see, Cookout is an awe-inspiring place. Just transcribing the possible meals from this monument to American bloat brings a tear to my eye. If you’re feeling afraid, that’s a natural first-time response. If you’re feeling slightly nauseous, you better strengthen your stomach quickly, because if my talks with Ms. Trask go smoothly, we’ll be having Cookout for lunch once a week. Cookout lives and dies by its food, and you will too!

There really isn’t much to say about Cookout other than that it exists and that it should impact every decision you make. It’s like an old friend that always supports you, albeit from afar. Talking about its strengths and weaknesses feels almost wrong to me. Don’t mistake this for a review, this is preaching the gospel. Cookout has changed my life, maybe even for the better, and I want to take this opportunity in my first column of the new school year to shout out the little things that make a big difference. Like a Cajun chicken strips meal with a bacon wrap for a side and a large caramel shake to slurp up alongside it.