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Apamate: Eat Here!

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I've now been to Apamate, on South and 16th, about four or five times, and have been consistently impressed (more on the food later). But here's my concern: the place seems to be always empty at dinnertime. So empty (at least when I've eaten there) that I'm worried they won't do enough business to keep me in lomo and churros whenever I want. And lord knows I love me my lomo and churros. So for purely selfish reasons (not out of any kind of altruism for my fellow Hounds ;) ), I suggest you all try it.

Here's the scoop: The location is a bit odd, and I think that might be what's doing it in. It's a BYO, cash only (I think), that specializes in tintxos, which are essentially mini-tapas. They've got some entrees and traditional apps as well (and a delicious brunch menu), but the magic is in the tintxos. My favorites from the menu are beets 3 ways (crisp beet chips with sort of a citrus-themed beet salsa (I forget the third kind of beet)), pickled eggplant with white anchovies, and whatever seasonal crudo they've got (I think last time it was butterfish with avocado). If they have off-menu specials (like the morcilla, which I mentioned in a previous post - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/420382), by all means get them, since they'll probably be even more delicious.

The amazing thing is that, unlike at places like Amada and Tinto, I've actually managed to get full at Apamate without blowing my budget. This is a huge surprise to me, since when they serve the tinxtos (most of which are tiny, and priced at around 3-7 dollars), you think you'll have to order a hundred to get full. But somehow, I've managed dinners of tintxos for 3 people for around $75 total. I'm usually a big eater, and while I've been tempted to get an entree, I haven't needed to.

Has anyone else eaten here? Do you guys share my high opinion? I always get a little sad when I find a nice restaurant and it doesn't survive, so this is just one little eater's attempt at preempting that. (BTW, I assume it doesn't need to be said here, but I'm not a shill.)

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  1. I've been meaning to check out the place for dinner but when I called them awhile ago, they were only open until 9:00pm. Has that changed? I usually like to eat around 8:30 ish.

    1. We thought it was very good...not quite Tinto or Amada, but quite good. When we were there, there were only 2 other couples on a Saturday night. I'm not quite sure what the problem is since graduate hospital is booming.

      1. Thanks! So, it's Spanish or Catalan cuisine?

        I appreciate the suggestion particularly since I've been on a Spanish kick lately, but Amada & Bar Ferdinand are a bit pricy. Do they have a good Spanish wine selection? Cava?

        1. Agree! I had a great briunch there. Their croquettes are the best I have ever had. While I do love Amada and Bar Ferdinand, they are too expensive and fussy for everyday. We really need a nice local reasonably priced spanish place. One of my faves, Cafe Barcelona in Chestnut Hill, just closed and they were a similar concept - laid back tapas, BYO. I hope Apamante does not suffer the same fate.

          1. ditto nns...we go there often, and have since they opened. it seems the chef is evolving and hence the food is becoming exponentially more delicate in presentation and creativity. During the weekdays seems to be slower but on the weekend we have hit a small wait (not long) for a table at peak time. It does seem that people have written them off as a casual cafe, but the food is definitely not what they were doing in the beginning (some at brunch, yes) They also won best of philly 2007! I've tried alot of the new menu: I love the seafood paella and the black rice....and the pork tenderloin!!!! Their menu is changing a bit to fall/winter stuff... can't wait.....very reasonably priced. I like it a lot more than other Spanish restaurants in town because it really reminds me of Spain...the flavors, the vibe, and the good prices. Tthey are now open T-F 5pm-10pm and they kept brunch (it is delicious! and best coffee in town for sure) sat 9-3pm and then dinner 5-10pm and sun 9-3pm I checked at www.cafeapamate.com. They have an amazing prefix for parties of 6 or more $35pp like seven courses of pintxos with dessert for $50 with adding an entree it is a steal of a deal! Go Apamate!

            1. Brunch here is good. The Tortilla Espanola is so unexpectedly light and tasty, and I'm not even a big potato fan. I've also had the pancake, which was not very traditional, but SO good - it was super-sweet so beware if you don't enjoy dessert for breakfast. I'll second the coffee as the best around town. I've also been to Apamate for lunch and can't remember what I had but wasn't impressed and neither was my friend. I'd give it another try though.

              1. Thanks for recommending Apamate. We ate there yesterday before a show at the Wilma Theater. The smoked oyster soup was delicious. The eggplant brochette from the tapas menu was probably the best thing we had, with olives, anchovies and red peppers. Mmm... very very good. The cod entree with lentils, pine nuts, and leeks was also outstanding and Paella OK. The decaf coffee was very very good as was the churro and even the rice pudding. We wouldn't have known about Apamate if I hadn't read these posts.

                1 Reply
                1. re: carl555

                  So glad you enjoyed it! It's always good to know that true Chowhounders can make a difference...

                2. I was just going to put up a post inquiring about people's go-to places for a nice meal that's not budget-breaking (in two years here I've compiled a nice list of favorite lowbrow places and a decent group of favorite high-end places but the "middle" of my roster is pretty weak). So, thanks for this post. We will definitely check out Apamate asap.

                  1. I *finally* got my ass over to Apamate last night and oh, wow, did we love it. Blame the off-track location for my previous lack of patronage. And did I mention how much we ***loved*** it?

                    For entrees, we had the ribe eye with roasted red peppers and homemade potato chips (essentially, this was Spanish steaks-frites) and the Alaskan fish - cod? I think? - with braised leeks and arugula, and lentilles de Puy. The entire fish plate was saltier than I prefer, but that was the only flaw in an otherwise fabulous meal. It was so much saltier than the rest I actually wonder if they got flustered in the kitchen and hit it twice with the salt. Weird. Anyway.

                    For pinxtos, we had:
                    the tieeny tiny ribeye bites (a goof in ordering, not that was didn't enjoy having it twice),
                    the plata de charcuterie,
                    beets three ways,
                    the leek/artichoke thing, which I think they snuck a ramp into - yum,
                    candied sausages,
                    somehow, lentils again - also studded with tiny bite of morcillo - I'm getting confused now,
                    pulpitos

                    For dessert: hot chocolate which petty much had us moaning ecstatically -- fortunately, it was loud so I don't think we embarassed ourselves or anyone else. My son, a typical sweet-seeking kid, actually said it was so good he didn't want dessert. He is four. Do you know how perfectly amazing that is for a little kid? And caramel and nutella churros. Totally drool-worthy.

                    And, as NMS said, this was a bargain - we ate heartily for $115 including tax plus tip. I imagine the shining INquirer article did them some good, because the staff told me it was crazy-busy and apologized for the wait. Whcih was actually reasonable, so if they're off their usual timing then they must usually be damn quick. The service was informal and very good, including niceties like a small glass for my son, an extra chair, sharing plates, etc.

                    1. How is Apamate for groups of 10 or so? thanks!

                      1. Planning to go again, just headed to this thread to refresh myself on the address.

                        -----
                        Cafe' Apamate
                        1620 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19146

                        1. nns--you rock. We rolled into Philly fresh from several lackluster meals in DC (with the exception of the palak chaat at Rasika). Looked around our decrepit room at Four Points by the airport and decided to go to dinner at Apamate solely based on this review. My husband, Mr. Finicky, and I LOVED this place. Everything was YUMMY, except for the morcilla "candies" which were only yummy and the chicken salad which was only ehh. Thanks for making our Philly trip.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: bj11111

                            We went last weekend for brunch and everything was great. To be honest with you, the food at Apamate was better than Amada the last time we went there. Some pinxtos were better than others (particularly the yellowfin tuna). We liked the rib eye, the octopus, and the calamari but thought the artichoke hearts were just ok. The quiche and la catlana were fantastic, as was the spanish hot chocolate and the churros. The service was fantastic and we will surely be back.

                            By the way, the Whole Foods on South Street sells the "El Rey" chocolate that Apamate uses for their drinks.

                            1. re: bj11111

                              glad to be of service! thankfully, since the good review in the paper a while ago (and thanks to all you great chowhounders), I no longer have to worry about Apamate going out of business.

                              1. re: nns

                                No kidding. It was flat-out empty when we arrived the other weekend, and we were thinking it'd be our first and last meal there. But by the time we were halfway through a very tasty dinner, the place was packed. Good work, nns.

                            2. for a visitor to philadelphia, at the end of may would everyone reccommend this place more highly than tinto?

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: tinymango

                                It completely depends on what you're after in terms of atmosphere. Honestly, I've found the food at Apamate more interesting and just as well-presented compared to Tinto (though I know some would disagree on this). The real difference is in the atmosphere. Tinto is a Restaurant with a capital R. It has wine, and rushing waiters, and well-dressed people who talk loudly because they think they're entitled to do so. Apamate is on a grungy little block of South Street next to a giant hole. The waitstaff is in no hurry. You bring your own wine. When people are talking loudly at Apamate, it's because they're having fun and enjoying the food.

                                For me, personally, it's much easier to focus on the food at a place like Apamate ... but if you prefer a more traditional restaurant experience, Tinto would be better. I guess I just sort of assume that since you're posting this question on Chowhound (rather than flipping through back issues of Luxurious Food and Wine Weekly), you're an Apamate sort of person.

                                1. re: nns

                                  Do you have something against Tinto?

                                  1. re: Buckethead

                                    Nothing against it, just giving my honest opinion. I've eaten at Tinto 3 or 4 times and have always enjoyed it - I do think the food is great (though perhaps not deserving of *quite* all the gushing accolades it's been getting of late -- c'mon, you'd think Philly had never seen a good restaurant before!). It's just that, all things being equal, I tend to prefer dining in a more low-key environment -- i.e., feeling like I'm in someone's living room, as opposed to their dining room.

                                    My remark about Chowhounders being Apamate sort of people just reflects the fact that, once upon a time (and yes, things have changed), Chowhound used to be a place to learn about undiscovered gems -- holes in the wall with shockingly good food, or underrated restaurants that deserve a second look. In my opinion, if a restaurant is in the Rittenhouse Square area, is packed every night, and has been written up in national newspapers and food magazines, it no longer counts as "chow." Fabulous food, a great restaurant, sure ... but if it doesn't have that underdog quality, it ain't chow.

                                    Sure, I love me my Lacroix like the next guy, but I'm sort of flummoxed by the fact that Chowhound has turned into a series of "Lacroix or Le Bec Fin?" posts. Know what I mean?

                                    1. re: nns

                                      *kisses NNS on both cheeks*

                                      Sorry. Culdn't help myself. :-D

                                      I heartily agree with your def of what's chow and what's not, although I think we may be the only two people left in the room who still think that. I wanna go to Tinto - a couple times a year, with my dh. For regular family dinners with my chowpup, it's alllllll about Apamate.

                                      And yes, we went again! http://www.cafeapamate.com/

                                      We decided to *try* bust out of our rut, anthough it was hard since there were so many dishes we loved before and didn't want to miss. I thought they slipped a bit on the ribeye (tapas sized, not entree). It was cooked a little more than I prefer. Before it was closer to med rare; this time it was medium. Still delish, though.

                                      We also had, and loved:
                                      anchovies
                                      shrimp tapas
                                      mushroom soup
                                      pulpitos
                                      olives
                                      artichokes
                                      charcuteria
                                      churros
                                      decaf espresso

                                      1. re: Mawrter

                                        glad to know I'm not the only one!

                              2. Just wanted to report that we finally got here to check it out - actually went for Saturday brunch. I have been wanting to go for awhile and am so happy we finally made it. All of us really enjoyed our cafe con leches, and omelets (we ordered the tortillas de cualquier tipo...you get to choose what is in it) that came with a side of salad that was yummy with strawberries and pine nuts. I totally indulged by ordering churros y chocolate after I finished my eggs also. My BF and his father had never had either so of course I insisted today was the day to try! Our service was really great, we were taken care of by one of the owners - Rebecca - and she was so sweet and attentive. Within a few minutes of eating our meals, we definitely decided we'll be back to try out dinner soon!

                                1. We ate there last night. Very good. I particularly liked the chick peas and chorizo. The 'beets three ways' was super tasty, but I'd have liked to have around 10 of them! Actually, probably the weakest was the one entree we got, all of the mini-tapas were super tasty. The entree wasn't bad, it just wasn't as tasty.
                                  Pretty empty when we got there, but it did start to fill up, probalby around 8.

                                  i wouldn't put it at the same level as amada, but it was *much* more reasonably priced.