Dining » Fat Mouth

A Dollar Grill

These bars serve damn near free lunch.

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The "free lunch" was created by early American saloonkeepers to lure patrons up to the bar and keep them there so they'd drink more. Lots more. In those rustic times, the food was typically salty fare (pickled eggs, dill pickles, cheese and sausages) to whet the thirst, but as competition for business increased, the barkeep's spread became more elaborate.

Restaurant historian John Mariani writes that during the height of the Gold Rush, saloons in San Francisco started adding grills to the mix. They could then serve meals -- not necessarily fancy dinners but solid food, such as steaks and chops -- to the primarily male clientele who wanted a little grub with their whiskey.

Today's bar-and-grill combinations, including the new Granfalloon, are a more motley group, ranging from the family-friendly environment of those ubiquitous Applebee's to the more raucous ambience of the venerable Fric & Frac (1700 W. 39th Street). There, in addition to getting the traditional grill fare, patrons have swamped the place for inexpensive tacos -- currently three for $1.35 -- all day Saturday for years.

There's no free lunch over at the Brooksider (6330 Brookside Plaza), but this bar and grill's hamburgers are half-price on Thursday, and a big bowl of boiled shrimp can be had for $7.95 on Friday. (The complete dinner, with salad, corn and potato, goes for two bucks more.)

Hamburgers are half-price Monday night at the Romanelli Grill (7116 Wornall Road), which has inexpensive supper specials nearly every other night too, including a fried catfish dinner for $8.45, served with salad, potato, and bread and butter.

While it's getting hard to find a bar serving lavish happy-hour fare, the upstairs bar at the Canyon Cafe (4626 Broadway) serves up a $1.99 appetizer selection -- including chicken quesadillas and Sedona spring rolls -- Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m.

For late eaters, there's a full menu of appetizers (including the popular fried artichoke fritters), sandwiches, salads and pasta at the Velvet Dog (400 E. 31st Street) until midnight (2 a.m. Friday and Saturday).

And although the neon sign in the window of the downtown fixture the Quaff (1010 Broadway) still says "Quaff Buffet," the place isn't a buffet but a good old- fashioned joint serving burgers, Italian steak sandwiches and Philly cheese steaks until 11 p.m.

As for pickled eggs, that's one delicacy that didn't seem to survive Prohibition or the long-vanished free lunch.

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