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DINING OUT

How sweet it is at Sue's

Sweet Sue's Bakery

and Café

975 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington

Monday through Wednesday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cash only

781-646-1118

sweetsuesbakery.com

If you like to bake and watch others enjoy your lovingly crafted treats, you may have fantasized about opening a little place of your own. Not a full-scale dinner restaurant, just a caf e with a sunny corner window, bright cushions, and a glass case stocked with deluxe delicacies. If so, you could pop in and talk to Sue Watts at Sweet Sue's in Arlington to see how it plays out.

A lawyer for 16 years, Watts began baking out of her home as a sideline 3 1/2 years ago, supplying restaurants and local farmers markets. Her cakes, pies, breads, and cookies were an immediate hit. Last June she took the plunge, abandoning her legal career to open a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch weekdays and brunch all day Saturday. She continues to provide custom baking orders.

Watts is, well, sweet -- in more than the gastronomic sense. Caring and conversational, she believes that everyone should have the opportunity to ``eat something yummy, talk to a friend" in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. Her food reflects her nurturing philosophy: She uses top-notch ingredients, including French and Belgian chocolates for baking. One of the cafe's most popular staples is the flavorful coffee, selected by family and friends after an exhaustive search of microroasters (bottomless cup $2.05).

Beverages reflect a homespun, old-fashioned focus: You can get a root beer float ( $3), pink lemonade ($1.65, frozen $2), chai ($2.45), frappe ($3.50), or peanut butter or berry smoothie ($3.75).

There's bound to be a chance here for everyone to experience a Proustian madeleine moment. For me it was pomegranate oolong tea and Norwegian lingonberry tea cake dusted with powdered sugar, a treasured recipe from Watts's grandmother. The tasty gourmet teas come from Harney and Son in little silk sachets.

The cafe features many of the same offerings as Starbucks, including a full range of espressos and cappuccinos and scrumptious muffins. (We sampled the lemon poppy and chocolate chip for $1.50 each .) But Sweet Sue's exudes personality, and you know the words chalked on the board, ``homemade with love from our kitchen," are not a corporate motto.

By the same token, efficiency is not a driving force here. Be forewarned that it is cash only, although brunch for four of us was well under $40, so you won't need a big bankroll.

You're likely to find all of Watts's family working here during Saturday brunch, including her two 14-year-old sons and her 12-year-old daughter. Many of the counter staff are local high school kids. As one friend remarked, ``They're at different places on the learning curve" as far as service, but they are eager and cheerful -- admirable qualities in teenagers -- and whatever is amiss or missing is readily rectified.

It's clear Watts has mastered the domains of baked goods and beverages as well as daily specialty quiches, fluffy with a crisp crust, served with a tasty side salad with poppyseed dressing. Half a dozen lunch salads ($5.75, $6.75 with roast chicken) are fresh and appealing, as are sandwiches including croque monsieur ($6.50) and ``the gobbler" ($7.50), turkey and fixings on a toasted baguette. When we visited, there were no red meat or veggie options on the menu, but the white meat chicken -- ``taken straight from the bone," Watts says -- is tasty and arrives in generous portions.

This is a kid-friendly place and even has a table with smaller rainbow-colored chairs. Watts is definitely on track in her aspiration to provide a local place where people can slow down and enjoy comfort food at its most homey and toothsome.

CATHIE DESJARDINS

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