Cafe society: Every traveling foodie dreams of discovering some out-of-the-way, small-town cafe that serves incredible homemade bread or meat loaf or pie or marinara sauce made lovingly from an Old Country recipe by a ninety-year-old woman who's been doing this since she was ten.

The reality, however, is that you have to eat at hundreds of plain old lousy joints in order to find that one gem.

The meal I had at the Main Street Cafe in Parker was so awful that I should have a diamond coming (for a good restaurant in Parker, see the review on the previous page). I had a bad feeling when the Cafe's only beers on tap were Bud and Bud Light, and things went downhill from there. The French onion soup ($1.50 for a cup) was a reduction of canned beef broth--so concentrated it was almost black--containing a few limp onion slices and two squares of provolone cheese that had been tossed into the soup as the waitress was on her way out to the dining room. The New York strip steak ($9.95) came raw in the center (I had ordered it rare); when I pointed that out to the waitress, she said, "Sometimes the cook would rather underdo it to be on the safe side." Not the safe side of food poisoning, obviously, because when it came back it was still breathing. The foil-wrapped baked potato must have been sitting in the bottom drawer of an oven since eight o'clock that morning; it was so overcooked it was almost liquid inside. The accompanying "cobbette" of corn was squishy on the outside and ice cold when your teeth hit the cob itself, and the side of baked beans tasted like old shoes. Not even dessert, which the restaurant buys from an outside bakery, was any help: The frozen Oreo-cookie ice-cream pie had freezer burn.

I was dumbfounded by this horrible repast for a couple of reasons. First, this is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Parker--and meals like this one certainly don't contribute to the longevity of anyone (or anything). Second, I'd had breakfast there just a few days before, and while it hadn't been anything earth-shattering (eggs, bacon, home fries), at least it was edible. Better luck next time, I guess.

Ch-ch-changes: I've had plenty of deliciously edible meals from the kitchen of Odran Campbell, but, alas, he has left the Augusta in the Westin Hotel Tabor Center and is now serving lucky diners in Dallas. Replacing him as chef de cuisine is Roland Ulber, who's been Augusta's executive sous chef for the last two years...The disappointing China Cowboy has been sold to the group responsible for the Asia restaurant in Aspen. Rumor has it that the Cowboy's former owner, Billy Lam, is heading back to Vietnam; his Panda Cafe is reportedly still up for grabs...The Gold Lake Resort, with its charming Bearberry restaurant, also is under new ownership; the menu now emphasizes wild game such as venison. A tamer creature is on the menu for the Normandy's 35th annual goose festival, which starts December 6 and runs through New Year's Eve. The fowl comes with salad, trimmings and cranberry-walnut cobbler for $25 per person.

And finally, a trash truck recently took out the back wall of the second floor of the Billabong/Terminal Bar in lower downtown. Fortunately, the joint is still open for business--and its three happy hours each day.