Chocolate-covered dates embellished with 24-karat gold; fluffy honey-soaked buns with orange, cranberry, and coconut; delicate confections made of pine nuts or pistachio; a refreshing citrus drink with mint leaves and ginger — visitors to Somerville’s new Yafa Bakery & Cafe will find these items and plenty more flavors of the Mediterranean, all meant to adhere to the slogan “artfully delicious.”
Owner Abdulla Awad is a serial entrepreneur with his hands in a variety of industries, but above all, he’s creative, hinted at by the aforementioned slogan and by his own elegant artwork on the walls of the cafe, including, for example, Arabic calligraphy drawn in the shape of a horse. Speaking about his new business, Awad stresses beauty (“yafa” means beautiful in Hebrew and Aramaic) and originality, and the scratch-made treats are as eye-catching as the art.
Awad, who originally hails from Jerusalem but has spent many years in and around Somerville, is serving a large variety of savory and sweet breads and other treats inspired by his hometown and beyond. In particular, outside of Jerusalem, the Yafa Bakery & Cafe menu plays with ingredients and ideas from Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, France, and Italy, says Awad. “The entire theme is very much Mediterranean, but those specific places,” he says. “You can get a sense of the similarities in terms of the ingredients — but with a twist that makes it more unique.”
While the new bakery is already offering a fairly substantial spread of items — just take one look at the case of confections and see many chocolate-covered dates stuffed with a variety of fillings, for example — Awad says that he and his team are still ramping up to the full menu, which will likely debut around early July.
Still to come: more breads, including a dark chocolate and cinnamon bread Awad expects will be a bestseller; light vegetarian sandwiches; more sweets, including a surprise that Awad promises will be very “authentic,” something not really seen in the Greater Boston area but found in Jerusalem and Turkey; chai karak with saffron and cardamom; and gluten-free breads. (The layout of the facility doesn’t allow for a dedicated gluten-free prep space, he notes, so these items would be geared toward those limiting gluten but not those who need to strictly avoid cross-contamination.)
The forthcoming sandwiches aren’t meant to be heavy, says Awad — just medium-sized, enough to “get you going to have space for something sweet as well.” There will be about a dozen available, featuring fillings like labneh and za’atar or cucumber, mint, and hummus. A sandwich made with the cheese haloumi, he notes, will be served in a shape sort of like an ice cream cone. “Whatever we will be producing would suit our cause of ‘artfully delicious,’” he says. “It has to be unique and artistic, yet definitely tasty.”
There will also be a few retail items available in the near future. Awad is already stocking some jars of honey from the Do’an Valley in Yemen — “the most famous country in the world to produce honey,” he says — and will later add jars of za’atar and various pickles, both made in-house.
Even with so much more to come, Yafa Bakery & Cafe already has a lot to offer, whether a customer wants to grab a quick espresso and pastry for their morning commute (the 83 and 87 bus routes stop right outside the door) or settle in at one of the three tables for a hot tea with mint and a ring of sesame-topped Jerusalem bread fresh from the oven, its light sweetness complemented by the herby zip of a side of za’atar. Get anything that just came out of the oven, in fact, especially if it’s the Morocco-inspired butter bread — a flatbread packed with buttery layers and best eaten with honey, cream cheese, or both.
Located in the former Finesse Pastries space at 594 Somerville Avenue, Yafa Bakery & Cafe is right at the crossroads of several major Somerville and Cambridge neighborhoods, and that’s just the way Awad likes it. “It’s a diverse community,” he says. “That, to me, is very crucial.”
It’s not a huge space, but the team makes everything from scratch onsite in what Awad has dubbed “the culinary art lab,” going back to Yafa’s slogan. “Made with love, for sure,” says Awad.
Yafa Bakery & Cafe is located at 594 Somerville Avenue, Somerville, between Porter and Union squares. It’s currently open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (5 p.m. on Sundays). Its website isn’t up and running yet, but follow on Instagram for updates.