Cheap is good, but free is better. I mention this particularly in light of what's happened to happy hour (and I frequently mention this under the dim lights of a happy hour).
These days, the half-priced appetizer plate is a staple for most places gracious enough to enable us to cheer up the apparently otherwise dejected hours of 4 to 7 p.m. But there was a time - oh those halcyon days of yore! - when restaurant/bars (Restaurbars? Barstaurants?) used to supply food for (warning: f-word alert) free! Now that's a price I can get behind.
Happily - make that extra happily - there are a few righteous establishments I know of willing to go retro on our pocketbooks by offering gratis grub - thereby leaving more cash for cocktails. Here are three of them.
280 N. High St., Downtown
You might not expect a high-end steakhouse to appear in an article about cheap eats. You'd be wrong. So park your prime-beef-munching butt in Morton's posh, old-timey bar (between 5 and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday) and amidst the impressively polished wood, clubby green carpet and art-deco-y accents, you can gobble from (literally) a silver tray filled with absolutely delicious, absolutely free mini-steak sandwiches.
The can't-be-beat, crusted yet tremendously tender, juicy beef comes on soft, sweet, sesame-seeded buns with a smidgeon of mayo and mustard. (Hint: If one of Morton's premium martinis is too rich for your blood, order a beer - they're relatively cheap.)
5545 N. High St., North Side
It's like Oktoberfest during the Monday through Friday happy hours (from 4 to 7 p.m.) at this Land of Giant Beers. That's because then you can buy a liter - which is a vast 33.8 ounces, lushheads - of Hoster's Gold Top for a stunning $3. The delectable brew comes in laughably huge frosted mugs that momentarily might convince you you're a shrunken Alice in Wonderland.
To eat, this salt-of-the-earth place lays out accomplished Buffalo wings, high-quality pizzas, slices of subs and so forth - on the house. Hint: arrive early and be patient, because with this quality and price, you can expect some competition for bar seats, etc.
564 S. High St., German Village
On Monday evenings, this no-nonsense German Village stalwart offers Monday Night Football on a giant projection-screen TV along with pool, Ping-Pong, foosball, blue-collary classic rock ... and a continuous stream of free pizzas! Maybe they're not gourmet, but they're certainly more than OK. Plus, they come out like Columbus weather - if you're not a big fan of what's out now, wait a few minutes and it'll change.
Styles range from barbecue with smoked beef brisket to veggie Greek salad to a super-spicy taco to, hell, who knows? To continue your savings, wash down your free piles of pizza with $6.50 pitchers of domestic beer.
Morton's Steakhouse280 N. High St., Downtown 614-464-4442 Web: mortons.com
Villa Nova5545 N. High St., North Side 614-846-5777 Web: villanovacolumbus.com
High Beck564 S. High St., German Village 614-224-0886