Cheap Eats

A guide to grub for the skinflint gourmand

Great news for the cost-conscious college hoops fan: St. Louis is chock-a-block with cheap eats. Most of it isn't high-concept food, to be sure -- but then again, who needs food for thought when your mind's in the game? What you're looking for is hot, filling sustenance, fast and cheap, four squares a day. Yep, four: on Final Four weekend, late-night munchies count as a full-fledged meal.

We've mapped out your gastronomic game plan accordingly below. For the purposes of this guide, we put a premium on proximity to downtown. For a far more comprehensive guide to St. Louis fare, along with a rundown of the many downtown eateries worth plunking down a pretty penny -- such as Red Moon (1500 St. Charles Street; 314-436-9700), Kitchen K (1000 Washington Avenue; 314-241-9900), Mosaic (1101 Lucas Avenue; 314-621-6001) and, if you've got bucks to burn, An American Place (800 Washington Avenue in the Renaissance Grand; 314-418-5800) -- see this week's edition of Riverfront Times or look online for our dining guide at www.riverfronttimes.com.

(NOTE: Always call to double-check hours of operation.)

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BREAKFASTCummel's Café (1627 Washington Avenue; 314-231-9627) Upon entering Janese Henry's comfy little cafeteria, you'll feel as if you never left home. Cummel's dishes out down-home goodness six days a week (they're closed Sunday). Saturday's breakfast is a you-name-it omelet with sides of potatoes and toast for $4.95; weekday mornings from 7:15 to 9:15, five bucks nets you an all-you-can-eat spread (pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage -- you know, the woiks) plus a drink. Though Cummel's is a cozy way to start your day, some say the lunch fare, also around $5, is even yummier -- curried chicken salad, zucchini casserole, chicken and dumplings, barbecue.... Whenever you go, be sure to purchase a delectable dirt-cheap (under $2) dessert for the road -- a double-chocolate brownie, say, or scratch-made carrot cake.

Nadoz Café (3701 Lindell Boulevard; 314-446-6800) You'll probably need a reservation to brunch at Nadoz, they only serve it on Sundays, and it'll cost you $22 a pop. So where's the bargain? How about all-you-can-eat eggs Benedict, bacon, sausage, grilled chicken with Gorgonzola, bowtie pasta, pecan-crusted tilapia, fruit salad, green salad, fruit tarts, chocolate sour cream muffins, cream puffs, petit fours and bagels? How about made-to-order omelets and Belgian waffles? How about a bottomless cup of coffee and a bottomless flute of mimosa? You can eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack here, and if you stuff a scone into your backpack for the next day, we won't tell.

LUNCH

10th Street Italian (504 North Tenth Street; 314-241-9988) A little gem of a place, this four-month-old walk-in eatery bridges the divide between pizza joint and pricey Italian restaurant. It's a mom-and-pop shop serving pastas, sandwiches and salads. Can't remember the last time you actually ordered spaghetti and meatballs -- about five pounds of it for $6.95, no less? Stuff your face on the stuff here -- the noodles are cooked just a heartbeat past al dente, the marinara is light and well-seasoned and the soft, yielding meatballs taste even better than Mama used to make. Other great choices include the Italian tuna salad sandwich ($6.25, served with chips or pasta salad), the heavenly salsiccia sandwich ($5.95, also with a choice of side) and tiramisu in a paper cup ($3) for dessert.

DINNER

Everest Café (1916 Washington Avenue; 314-621-2021) Bet you never thought you'd come all the way to St. Louis for Nepalese food. Well, join the club -- and then join the adventurous diners who follow their thrill-seeking palates to this hole-in-the-wall eatery. If you're a fan of Chinese, Indian or good ol' American soul food, you'll like the eats at Everest: dumplings, fried cauliflower, fried okra, fritters, black-eyed peas and mmmmore. If you're unfamiliar with such foods, let owner Devi States guide you through his menu. Though there are meat dishes on the menu, many Everest offerings cater to vegetarian and vegan eaters. Not to mention cheapskates: Complete meals (which are typically too much for one person to handle) run $10.

O'Connell's Pub (4652 Shaw Avenue; 314-773-6600) Okay, it'll cost you a cab ride, but you'll be rewarded with one of the best $4.50 hamburgers you've ever had: a manly, almanac-thick slab o' beef dressed simply with a single solid slice of onion. Or one of the best $5 roast beef sandwiches, also humongo-hefty and cooked to order (ask for it rare). Either way, you can side your sandwich with some of the world's best $1.75 fries, never greasy and perfectly rendered. The ambiance is pure pub, the crowd very St. Louis.

LATE NIGHT

Maurizio's Pizza (1107 Olive Street; 314-621-1997) If you believe that the later it gets, the greasier a pizza should be, welcome to your 4 a.m. wake-up call. That's how late Maurizio's stays open on weekends (weeknights and Sundays it's 3 a.m.) and that's how good the pizzas here are. Not a fan of tomato pie? Thursday through Saturday, Maurizio's offers up a late-night all-you-can-eat buffet of not just pizza, but also wings, soda, fries and chicken strips -- you know, the five major food groups -- for $10 a head. The place also boasts the best late-night people-watching in all of downtown.

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