Cheap Eats - Smells like bean spirit

Garbanzos and other Mediterranean delights at Olive Bistro in L5P

Sweet and heady scents greet you as you enter the small space clasped to 7 Stages in Little Five Points. Baklava, pastas, salads, stuffed grape leaves and other Mediterranean dishes line the glass display case, but the enticing smell seems to be caught in the walls, much like the smell of patchouli from neighboring spaces. Sit inside or on the alley patio.

Service: Our Brit waiter added to the ambience. Maybe he wasn't tanned by coastal waters, but we got the Continental drift from his clear pronunciation of tomato (to-MAH-to). And don't we Americans just love that? Instead of tricking him into saying aluminum for our pleasure (there really is no extra "i" in there), we let him do his job. He adeptly took our orders and was quick to fill up any lowering glasses of water.

What we ate: We started with the hummus ($4.25). The texture was smooth, almost batter-like with no graininess detectable from the former garbanzos. We all liked it, though it took a sec to get used to the slightly acidic flavor from the extra lemon. On top was sprinkled paprika, a drizzle of olive oil and a few bits of parsley. The pita wedges served alongside were unremarkable but adequate.

For entrees, we went with the falafel sandwich, the lasagna, and the spinach and feta phyllo. The menu claims the falafel sandwich ($4.25) is the best in Atlanta, and I have to say, it's pretty damn good. It arrives stuffed into a split pita with plenty of tahini sauce. For an extra quarter, mine had lettuce and tomato. The falafel, crispy and nicely spiced, was plenty for a nice lunch or light dinner.

Steeped in a vinegary tomato and basil sauce, the lasagna ($4.95) mostly contains spinach and mushrooms. It'll keep any vegetarian happy, but it's liable to satisfy most meateaters as well with its generous amount of cheese. A distinctive dish with the chef's "secret" sauce.

The Mediterranean phyllo balances the light, airy dough with hearty fillings. A choice between the spinach with feta cheese ($4.50) or tomato, red pepper, mushrooms, black olives and pesto ($4.95) was available on the day we dined, but sometimes you get one or the other. The spinach and feta — a slight variation on traditional Greek spanakopita — was combined with onions and a hint of vinegar and proved quite filling.

Cheapest item:

Most expensive item: With things made from ground beans dominating the menu, the meat items seemed pricey. At $9.95, the lamb kebob (two skewers of meat) and the rosemary chicken (chicken breast marinated with rosemary, lemon, garlic and spices), both served on a bed of rice and lentils with hummus and a side salad, cost the most.

Who to take? Have the munchies before a concert at Variety or a show at 7 Stages? Instead of the same ol' quesadilla, impress someone with your European flair and fried garbanzo bean eating habits by stopping here. A date won't be worried about choosing something cheap on the menu — and they won't think you're trying to worm your way out of footing a hefty bill either.

Overall rating (out of four):