3 Little Figs
278 Highland Ave., Somerville 617-623-3447
Credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped
Free Wi-Fi available on weekdays
Two bites into the apple cider doughnut muffin at 3 Little Figs — a love child of a pastry, if there ever was one — it became apparent that serious thanks were due to Yia Yia, the late grandmother of owner Katie Rooney and the real inspiration behind this friendly bakery café in Somerville.
After all, if Yia Yia hadn't shared her love of baking and Greek recipes with Rooney, if Yia Yia's passing hadn't inspired Rooney to quit an advertising gig and launch her own food business, the apple cider doughnut muffin and all the other terrific offerings at 3 Little Figs would be nothing but, well, a fairytale.
Rooney's story reads like a how-to manual for food entrepreneurs: She started out by selling baked goods at farmers markets in the Boston area, transitioned to wholesale and delivery for places like Jamaica Plain's City Feed and Supply, and ultimately opened 3 Little Figs as her own bricks-and-mortar operation in October 2011.
Rooney keeps family close at the Highland Avenue café: Mom and sister help in the kitchen; husband Andy oversees all things caffeinated.
The menu is a happy array of breakfast offerings, outstanding baked goods, creative sandwiches, and a few Greek dishes.
True to Rooney's Mediterranean roots, such ingredients as feta, honey, tomatoes, and olives occupy prime place. But Rooney sources mainly from Massachusetts, featuring produce from Stillman's Farm and Jones Farm, apples from Carlson Orchards, and milk from the Jersey cows at High Lawn Farm in Lee. Menu items change seasonally.
3 Little Figs gets its java fix from Gimme! Coffee of Ithaca, N.Y., as well as a rotating selection of fair trade or organic farms, mostly based in Africa and South America. Cheerful baristas lovingly craft cappuccinos ($3.50), lattes ($4), and espressos ($2.50) on a whiz-bang La Marzocco Strada, which Rooney says is one of just a few in Greater Boston.
Breakfast fans will find a good array of choices at 3 Little Figs, ranging from the healthy to the almost sinful. Exhibit A: the cavity-inducing, diet-ruining, oh-so-delicious apple cider doughnut muffin, stuffed with apples, spiced with nutmeg, and topped with cinnamon sugar ($2.50).
The homemade Fig N Spice granola should please even the most discerning granola guru. It's available with milk ($3.50) or Greek yogurt and honey ($4.50).
The egg and feta ($5.50) sandwich is a grown-up twist on the old breakfast sandwich, with airy brioche from Iggy's Bakery, cage-free eggs, arugula, tomatoes, and a sprinkle of feta and Greek herbs. It's a light sandwich, a far cry from the usual hangover cure — but you can add bacon or prosciutto ($1) if you're in need of a little grease. A bit more feta and another pinch of salt would have sharpened this otherwise terrific choice.
And then there are the pastries. A dirty chai muffin ($3) is — let's call a spade a spade — essentially a nutmeg- and cinnamon-infused cupcake topped with espresso-chai glaze.
The earthy cornmeal avocado muffin ($3.25) allows you to at least pretend you got a vegetable for breakfast — it is slightly green, after all. Don't miss the lavender biscuit with toasted almonds ($3) or the vegan ginger bomb cookies ($5 for a bag).
For lunch, look for an array of creative sandwiches, salads, and a few Greek dishes to boot. The Village sandwich ($5 for half, $8 for a whole) features thick slices of perfectly roasted sweet potatoes atop a bed of arugula, sun-dried tomato, and goat cheese spread.
The traditional BLT ($7) is nicely dressed up with caramelized bacon, a light yogurt spread, and spicy Dijon mustard. I also enjoyed the Market ($5/$8), a sweet-and-salty combo of prosciutto, fig jam, goat cheese, honey, and peppery arugula.
Rooney's roots shine through in the Greek cheese pie ($6), which seems to sell out quickly, and the spinach pie ($6). The latter was a hit with loads of fresh spinach and leeks, tart sheep's milk feta, and a super flaky crust, although it wasn't served quite warm enough.
The vibe at 3 Little Figs reflects the fact that it's a small, family shop: cheerful, laid back, and welcoming.
The service is friendly and responsive, though we had to contend with crumb-topped tables on a couple of visits.
A Greek ambience is evoked with azure paint accents, mismatched blue-and-white plates, and a few photos of the famed Greek coast.
The Mediterranean magic seems to be working, drawing customers in droves. And this leads to the only real complaint about an otherwise gem of a café: With just a handful of tables, seats can be devilishly hard to come by, especially during the breakfast and lunch rush.
But enough huffing and puffing. What else can you expect when a place is turning out dishes delightful enough to appease even the biggest, baddest wolf?
Emily T. Simon