Cheap Eats - The art of the matter

Vibe and visuals are chief at Apache Cafe

The loss of the Yin Yang Cafe (re-opening in September on Spring Street as Yin Yang Atlanta) at the dead-end street behind the Varsity was a blow to the city's eclectic music scene. A refuge for fans of spoken-word poetry and soul music, the space harbored a loyal group of listeners and diners within its walls.

Now the room is open once again for art shows and music. Karen Fain's Apache Cafe incorporates local artists and musicians along with a collection of wraps, burritos, quesadillas, tacos and tamales. A weekly Monday art series features artists' openings and nightly live music. The space has been cleaned up quite a bit; it's brighter, lighter and more pleasant to be in than Yin Yang.

The building is tucked behind office buildings, a pay-by-the-hour parking lot and a tunnel under I-85 connecting Georgia Tech to Midtown. Inside, the still somewhat dark yet whimsically painted room features a large bar and wrap-around counter. Diners order food — a mix of Tex-Mex creations — from a large easel menu near the door.

Burritos keep the "Apache" theme going with names like the Chief (chicken breast meat, jalapeños and sour cream for $6.50) and Geronimo (beef with mild green chilies for the same price). The quesadillas have similar fillings but more eclectic names: Brainiac (spinach, $5.25), Pioneer (chicken with chilies, $6.25) and Rebel (beef and potatoes, $6.25).

The Bell South ($7.25), probably named for the nearby office building that supplies many of the afternoon patrons, came with a choice of a flour or spinach tortilla, Monterey Jack cheese, cilantro-lime shrimp and chicken breast.

My friend opted for the Taco Man, which features three crispy or soft tacos filled with beef, chicken or shrimp. There's also a Veggie ($3.85) with black beans, pinto beans or tofu. He chose the beef ($5.50) and we sat down to wait.

And wait we did.

For some reason, the quesadilla and tacos took nearly 20 minutes to prepare. On another occasion, the same 20 minutes was needed to prepare a burrito and quesadilla. Maybe everything is prepared fresh, but I've been to many restaurants with more complicated fare with nowhere near the wait. Remember, this is a café — sit back, relax and don't get in a hurry.

It did give us time to look at the art on the walls, a collection of abstract paintings of the female form and on another occasion dark, textured oils with titles like "Lichen." The art was surprisingly good compared to what you see at some other restaurants. Piped-in jazz calmed our nerves as we grew hungrier and hungrier.

The quesadilla arrived first with a side of lettuce, tomato, sour cream and salsa fresca. The shrimp had a chemical, fishy smell. I tried it again weeks later and the same fishiness was apparent. With the amount of dairy products covering up the shrimp and chicken, it was hard to discern the actual source of the shrimp's unpleasantness.

Finally the tacos arrived and were more interesting than I expected. They were filled with shredded strips of beef that had been marinated in a tangy sauce. The soft, flour shells were warm and filled to capacity with meat. Apache is at least consistently generous with the offerings.

A Chief burrito stuffed with rice, black beans, chicken and many jalapeños also was filled with sour cream, an extra at many other burrito joints. A good substitute for the Geronimo, which was out of reach since, on one occasion, they were out of beef. For that cafe feel, lattes and desserts are offered. The mainstays, though, are the individually prepared, tortilla options.

As DJs and performers begin to circle the stage, you can feel the cafe vibe. On a weekday night a vocalist and his group took the stage, passionately displaying their musical range. Patrons wandered in, with dazed looks in their eyes, ready for the flavor of the evening. And that is mostly what Apache Cafe is about — the art, the music, the scene. The food here is more for keeping your stomach muse from grumbling than being an experience unto itself. Try the place out at night when it's filled with people listening to music, enjoying the art and not too worried about when their food will arrive.??