Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bargain Bites

I've been scrambling to get together my February food column. I know that most of my topics probably don't appeal to the average Hoptowner, so I was trying to feature some local eats. Cheap eats. Bargain Bites? Brilliant, I thought. Now the difficult thing is making those meals appeal to me.

Update: Here's the column:
Emily Parrino Kentucky New Era

Bargain Bites
Wednesday, February 28, 2007 12:10 PM CST
3 local meals with ethnic flair for less than $5

After living in Hopkinsville a year, I am learning there are ways to expand my palate on a shoestring lunch budget. Here are three cheap local lunches to help you escape the office in the middle of the day. I invite you to add to the Bargain Bites list on my blog:

Haut Dog: 2 Chicago-style hotdogs at Coffee And... $3.50
Pros: At $1.75, the loaded link is the thriftiest item on the menu at the Main Street café. But owner Hilarie Dawson takes the time to make her franks look presentable, if not outright artistic. The tomato, cucumber, relish, onions and mustard toppings are packed neatly into the bun in a way that is both visually appealing and easy to handle without worrying about a rogue pickle dropping into your lap.
Cons: A true Chicago dog is a Vienna, soaked for hours in the nitrite-laden pot liquor of its predecessors. This unhealthy but scrumptious effect is difficult to duplicate in Coffee And...’s microwave. Another downside of the meal is the overwhelming onion breath that will haunt you (and possibly your coworkers) for the rest of the day.
Bottom Line: You can eat a very pretty version of a Chicago classic in an attractive atmosphere without spending a pretty penny. And ... if you’ve been good all week, you’ve got the option of splurging on one of the decadent scones, brownies or dessert coffees.

Personalized Pizza: 2-topping, 7-inch pizza at Pizz-A-Roma $3.75
Pros: Pizz-A-Roma offers several affordable, large-portioned lunch specials. A black marker board near the register posts a luncheon size pizza with two toppings and a drink or 1/4 of a stromboli with chips and a drink for $3.75. A three-topping 7-inch pizza costs $4.13, and for an additional 50 cents you can sample the full range: pepperoni, sausage, beef, mushrooms, ham, onions, green peppers, anchovies, olives and bacon. Unlike chain stores which offer good deals only when toppings and sizes are set by the store’s terms, Pizz-A-Roma gives customers plenty of choices — and as it seems to be busy — plenty of time to be indecisive about those choices.
Cons: If you’re sensitive to smoke, you might find the aroma of cigarettes overpowering the savor of your meal. Those who prefer tender, yeasty dough as a base for their Italian pies might be disappointed by the crunchy, pre-formed crust.
Bottom Line: You can eat a hearty, customized meal in a classic diner setting (complete with video games and a juke box for faster eaters), but don’t expect it to stack up to your Italian grandma’s meals.

The Speedy Oven: 3 soft chicken tacos at El Bracero $3.95
Pros: The army of servers at El Bracero ensures your order will be promptly taken and served. Ironically, it’s easy to fill up on freshly fried chips and drippy salsa in that brief interval before lunch arrives. The menu includes more than a dozen meals under $5, such as three chicken tacos for $3.95 — a savory way to satiate a delicate appetite. Or three dense and saucy beef tamales for $4.80 — which can make a hungry man’s belly bulge. A side order of pico de gallo makes everything from the crumbs left in the chip basket to the tacos taste a little further south of the border.
Cons: The same dish may be vastly different in heat and doneness from one visit to another. Also, while servers do take substitutions (such as hold the sour cream) the din of the restaurant sometimes means an order gets lost in translation.
The Bottom Line: Expect to be seated and to start eating in hurry as the frenzied pace and generally zippy flavors of El Bracero allow you to do.

Emily Parrino is a New Era copy editor. She can be reached by 887-3298 or

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