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).

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.

Morton's Steakhouse

280 N. High St., Downtown

614-464-4442

Web: mortons.com

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.)

Villa Nova

5545 N. High St., North Side

614-846-5777

Web: villanovacolumbus.com

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.

High Beck

564 S. High St., German Village

614-224-0886

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.