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Feeding the Student Budget 

Cheap, substantial eats in 'No-Fill'

In the one-traffic-light town where I spent my undergraduate years, college hangouts could be numbered on one hand. Pity the poor freshman coming to college in Colorado Springs, facing some lengthy exploration and some tough choices for where to spend those post-study hours.

We've got dance clubs and brew pubs, cowboy bars and pool halls. We've got Tejon Street, the hippest stretch in town. And remember what any parent will tell you: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and you can't be spending all your time in crummy bars.

To help hapless frosh narrow the quest for affordable hangouts, let's consider some sites a bit farther north, say north of Fillmore. Let's call it No-Fill.

Our first two stops are right on the cusp of No-Fill, the north side of Fillmore Street at the corner of Institute: the Omelette Parlor and its Siamese twin (conjoined at the restrooms), O'Furry's.

For several years running, the Omelette Parlor has won accolades in readers' polls, which may say as much about the paucity of breakfast places in town as about the caliber of this one. The menu is extensive, the portions are huge, the omelets are light and fluffy, but there's a worn-out, half-hearted effort to too many things. Place settings on the table were askew, we had to wait and plead for coffee, a cardinal sin in a breakfast joint, and one item there had more shredded cheese on the plate than in the omelet, so it neither melted nor connected with the other ingredients. This was a heartbreaker, because that Cadet Omelette with fresh spinach and whole mushrooms would have otherwise been perfect.

The omelet choices are ambitious and delicious if you can get past the silly names. Broadmoor & More, flavored with oregano, has Italian sausage, tomatoes, mozzarella, sort of a pizza omelet. No Meadow Muffins Here (is there some competitive thing going on with our pals in Old Colorado City?) is filled with green chiles and cheddar cheese. Most omelet prices are under $6, a decent price for a meal that will stay with you all day. And if you can drag out of bed with the sun, omelets are half price on weekdays from 6 to 7 a.m.

As a general rule, stick with what a place does best; it's not called the Omelette Parlor for nothing. Avoid specialty items like Eggs Benedict (which should probably only be ordered in restaurants with cloth napkins). The Hollandaise sauce had the color of butterscotch and the taste of overly-floured gravy. At $6.75 (with fresh spinach added), this was one of the more expensive choices of the non-omelet dishes. Only the Cowboy Hall of Fame, a steak and eggs entre for $9.99, and the inexplicable Black Forest omelet (Canadian bacon, pineapple and Swiss cheese) for $6.99 cost more.

The kitschy interior, antique breakfronts filled with everything from silver-plated platters to plastic flowers, adds a Midwestern maidenly aunt feel to the place, complete with the need for a good cleaning -- especially for those fake plants, where the dust exceeded even my comfort level. Service was gruff and, in the busboy's case, downright dangerous. Someone needs to tell the lad to handle silverware on the handle end.

On the plus side, the French toast ($4.50) was light, sweet and plentiful, the whole wheat English muffin was toasted as dark as we requested, the potatoes were thickly sliced and fried, skins on, with a slight vinegar finish. Very tangy, very good and a surprise from a previous visit when the potatoes were more mashed than sliced.

The opposite is true on the O'Furry's side. The food will kill you, but the people who work there are awfully nice. (This would be the bartender and the fry cook, since there is no table service.) Never have four cast-iron tummies suffered so much. And so needlessly. One look at the puddles of extra grease on the deep-fried "zuchs and 'srooms," the onion rings and the curly fries should have tipped us off.

But you don't go to O'Furry's for the food; you go to hang out. To watch TV -- everywhere we looked we spotted a TV, and every TV had the Bronco game on; to shoot pool; to play volleyball on the sand court out back.

If you must eat, there are nine variations on burgers (pastrami and peanut butter are two of the more exotic), and Burger Madness days -- Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday -- when the prices ($4.49 - $5.49) are a dollar lower. Good news for college budgets.

The Hot Furry Fingers, thin pieces of boneless chicken, are the best thing on the menu. Spicier than the Chicken Fingers (and at $4.99, 10 cents more), these are more substantial than the Buffalo Wings. The advantage to the wings, however, is volume: You can order a bucket. $10.99 gets you 25 wings, $20.99 buys 50. Throw in a pitcher of one of the microbrews on tap, and you've got a party.

Chicken on our mind, we headed north on Nevada to the Squatting Chicken, the ultimate college hangout. Its only flaw is the lack of a pool table. A wide deck overlooks the horseshoe pit out back. The lawn, dotted with picnic tables, stretches down a gentle slope. Inside, nine TVs featured different sports games, stuffed chickens (toys, not taxidermy) sat on the window sills, and a friendly waitress explained how the place got its name. You'll have to get the story from her.

Perhaps in deference to its namesake, the Squatting Chicken's menu features very little fowl. It does offer all the staples of post-adolescents everywhere: chips and salsa, pizza, calzones, burgers, meatball subs, roast beef or ham and cheese sandwiches. None of the prices will break the bank. You can linger over a beer, chat with the softball teams coming in after their games (the winners will be the talkative ones), throw some darts, forget about today's classes, think about tomorrow's.

There's a timelessness to the Squatting Chicken that will put calculus or freshman English in their place. You can return when you bring your own kids to college, and it will look the same. There's something to be said for that.

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