Update: No longer open.
Cafe Apamate is a Spanish tapas restaurant on the quieter strip of South St. just west of Broad St. This restaurant doesn't get nearly the amount of press or mention that other Philly Spanish tapas restaurants receive, but one thing Cafe Apamate has over the much hyped Garces Spanish haunts, Amanda and Tinto, and even Northern Liberties' Bar Ferdinand, is the fact that Cafe Apamate is BYOB...and you know how purchasing drinks and four to five plates per person can add up quickly.
I was smitten with Cafe Apamate even before ordering any food! I love that I had no preconceived notions -- thanks to the lack of hype -- nor did I feel like I was at the latest trendy restaurant. I also love the warm, womb-like, dark red, narrow interior (I hear there's a patio out back, too). Cafe Apamate could have packed more tables into their narrow space, but left plenty of elbow room.
As far as veggie options go on the dinner menu (there's also a weekend brunch menu), you'll need to stick to the pintxos for the most part, but an off-menu vegetarian paella can be made upon request. Also, be sure to ask what non-veggie items can be made veggie, because there are a couple.
And bring a good bottle of wine for sipping, or have them make it into sangria for you.
Complimentary bread and olive oil will arrive, and if you never touch the complimentary bread to save room for what's ahead like I do, you're gonna wanna hang on to this bread if you're only ordering the pintxos, 'cause they are small!
Cafe Apamate's menu has "small tapas" in parenthesis after pintxos, and they mean it! Some say pintxo means small tapas, while others say pintxo is just the Basque word for tapas. I don't know the truth, and I don't care...I just wish I could predict the size of every restaurants' "small plates."
We started by sharing a bowl (also came in smaller "shot" size) of gazpacho, the soup of the day, and, even though tomatoes aren't in season, they must have gotten their hands on some awesome tomatoes, because the gazpacho was so summery good, we vowed right then and there to make gazpacho this summer. Light, refreshing, and flavor packed...glad we got the bowl and not the shot.Beets three ways are beet chips topped with sherry poached beets, goat cheese and sugared Marcona almonds, and are to die for! Like a refined potato chip with tangy, vinegar-y chutney. I could have used at least one more on the plate. At $6 for the plate, that's a $3 beet chip!The creamy Capricho goat cheese topped with a blood orange slice sitting on a floraly sweet Roibos tea and honey reduction accompanied by olive oil drizzled and toasted bread was my favorite dish of the evening. This is where the complimentary bread comes in handy, because there is more cheese than bread on this dish.
I wish I could tell you what this Nevat goat cheese and membrillo empanada with passion fruit and sherry reduction tasted like, but the empanada was so hot and fresh from the kitchen, that the first bite was rolled around my tongue and promptly swallowed to avoid burning my tastebuds. All I had left after that was a bite of mostly crust...but the crust was fabulously flaky and buttery! This is where having larger "small plates" would have been awesome.
My partner skipped the pintxos and went straight to the entrees when he saw the traditional Basque black rice with shrimp and calamari, remembering eating the same dish in Costa Brava, Spain, and enjoying it immensely. He thought Cafe Apamate's version was almost as good as his dining experience in Spain, but conceded that it was probably just as good, but nothing can compare to eating a dish for the first time in it's home country. Cafe Apamate made him one happy boy!
Note that the above serving dish is huge, as are the two shrimp, so the mound of rice looks small, but is not. The boy was full after half a bowl of soup and one entree. I, on the other hand, was still hungry after half a bowl of soup and three pintxos.
Classic churros, as well as Nutella-filled or dulce de leche-filled churros, are on the dessert menu, and I jumped on the dulce de leche-filled churros. Unable to cut these large, tough churros with my knife, I resorted to picking them up with my hands. The dulce de leche, and the fact that I was still hungry, negated the toughness, and I devoured the churros.
Reading through conflicting reviews on Yelp of Cafe Apamate's churros (some give such high praise, others say tough), as well as Craig LaBan calling them "sublime," I'm thinking the classic churros must be the sublime ones, and the filled ones must be the tough ones.
The dark chocolate mousse with olive oil and salt is thick and super dense. I personally like mousse fluffier. Don't think we finished this dessert; it was simply too much.
Service was friendly and prompt, although dishes came slowly out of the kitchen, but the second they were done. I enjoyed the slower pace and not having five plates crowding a tiny table and dividing my attention, but probably would have been annoyed if I had a movie or show to catch.
With the exception of the desserts, everything we had at Cafe Apamate was fabulous, and the non-pretentious, warm atmosphere gave me such a good feeling that I'm looking forward to trying out the brunch menu. Just hope brunch is larger than pintxo-sized, and, if not, I'll know to order more plates.
Note: Cafe Apamate is Cash only.
1620 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19146
Sat., 11am-2:30pm, 5pm-10pm