Philosophy

Our food philosophy is driven by simplicity. I’d rather have you shocked by how delicious our turnip soup tastes than impress you with an exotic ingredient or fancy technique or flowery menu description.

We try to keep everything very simple, but very careful. If you eat with us for breakfast you know that we’re making the soup or salads in the morning and prepping for lunch. We don’t make ketchup. We don’t make Mayonnaise. We make just about everything else every day.

This is Fast Food. We’re obsessed with speed and constantly time ourselves. Our average serve times are around 3.5 minutes, which makes us a little slower than McDonald’s.

Many of you have been asking for more detail about the menu, so for the first time I’m gathering it all here. Enjoy!

Ayr Muir
Founder and CEO of Clover Food Lab

Banner-top

Read on to learn:
- How we think about taste
- Why you might think we’re crazy if you learn how we make food
- Why our menu is tiny, changes, and we run out
- What’s so special about our drinks
- How we source our ingredients
- Who develops our recipes
- How we think about nutrition and food
- What to eat at Clover if you have allergies or dietary restrictions

 

Taste

We taste all day long. This is one of the most important roles our managers and leaders have. We’re not working with frozen, blended, factory-made, or processed ingredients. We don’t use “flavor enhancers,” artificial or natural flavors, additives, preservatives, or anything else you’d need a chemistry degree to understand. We rely on the farmer who grew our parsnip for flavor, the soil that produced our carrot, the chicken that laid our beautiful eggs. This is core to how we make food. Sometimes our carrots are sweeter, sometimes less sweet. We taste, we balance, we taste again. I can’t promise you that anything you have from Clover will taste exactly the same one day to the next. But we all work very very hard to make sure that the quality we achieve, the depth of and cleanliness of flavors is consistently unrivaled.

The other year I noticed we talk a lot about clean flavors. We both started using those words without much discussion and didn’t even think twice about it until somebody asked us what we meant. When we talk about clean flavors we mean a whole collection of things. Food that tastes clean is food you want to hold in your mouth and savor. It’s not food you want to scarf down without thought. It’s food that has subtle aftertaste you enjoy. It feels great in your mouth. It smells beautiful.

We’re talking about food that hasn’t been overcooked. Clean flavors come from the first run, not from food that has been reheated or “flashed” right before service. We’re talking about food that hasn’t oxidized (common to food that is aging, think about how an apple slice turns brown). We’re talking about the lack of “off” compounds that come from sloppy cooking methods. Think about a bright yellow yolk that comes from shocking the egg in ice after boiling it for the exact right amount of time, not the grayish yolk and off flavors that come from overcooking and/or slow cooling. We’re talking about the lack of contamination of flavors (our onion cutting boards are never used for anything else). Clean flavors are identifiable. They are complex because the ingredients themselves have wonderful complexity, not because a lot of other ingredients are added on. When we talk about clean flavors we’re talking about flavors absent of chemical or natural additives. One of the reasons we make everything from scratch is that we want to leave out common additives like citric acid, fats we don’t like, and other additives that are in processed food. Not because citric acid is somehow bad, it just doesn’t taste clean. We don’t necessarily have anything against dirty food, but it’s not what we’re working hard every day to make.

Banner-How-we-work

If you work at Chipotle, or Panera, or McDonald’s you might think we’re crazy

At Clover we do a lot of things unlike other fast food companies. Why? For taste of course.

It’s hard to overstate how radically different we operate vs. our competitors. The way we operate is unheard of in our industry. I mean unheard of to the point that others don’t believe me until I show them around. No, really, there is no back-of-house, everything we do is visible to our customers. At Clover we:

- Have no freezers. In the entire company. Not one.
- Change our menu day-to-day to stay in sync with the best tasting seasonal ingredients.
- Cut food as close as we can to when you’re going to eat (e.g., tomatoes are cut when you order)
- Keep your money in your region. (40-85% of our ingredients are from the Northeast)
- Use an unheard of amount of organic ingredients (typically 30-60% depending on time of year)
- Don’t EVER use any preservatives, “natural flavors,” “flavor enhancers,” “artificial flavors”*
- Make food that will improve your health (no need to tell the kids, but that food is good for them)
- Allow you to see us making your food. We have no “back of house” anywhere in our company.
- 100% of what we hand you is compostable. OK, nothing to do with taste. But it’s the right thing to do.

*This statement does not apply to the mayonnaise, and the Ketchup, which as I mentioned earlier, we don’t make.

 

Recipes

Everything we are today, every single recipe, everything we do, has been developed with help from our customers. We invite you to join those who are helping us improve every day.

Clover’s menu is in constant development. We make mistakes all the time. We work hard to make sure those mistakes are cheap, and that we learn from them. We’d rather share a rough recipe with you and ask you what you think than drive an item to final and tell you how great it is. This core philosophy explains why we got started with a truck in the first place.

To be clear, we never make food we think tastes bad. There are important internal controls. The most senior folks in the company meet weekly to discuss food. We taste, we talk about ideas, and we plan. But just because Chris, or Enzo, or Michael, or I loves the way something tastes isn’t enough. We set our ego aside and find out what you think.

If you have any comments, ideas, etc. the best way to share those with us is through our order takers. They collect all of the feedback they hear in a day and share it up. If you’re not near a location, or not the talking type, you can use Twitter, or comment here on the website.

If you would like to submit a recipe idea to Clover, use this form. We like recipes that come from real places and that have real stories tied to them. Our chickpea fritter was inspired by a falafel Ayr ate in Paris. Our cinnamon lemonade came from an employee who thought it might be a good idea. The Enzo came from a salad Vincenzo’s Calabrian family makes.

 

Always changing menu and run outs

Since we don’t have freezers we work day-to-day with ingredients that have just come out of the ground, just been laid by a chicken, or just been picked. This fact defines our menu.

We have a small menu. Because we’re making everything from scratch we have to limit how much we do.

Our menu changes day-to-day. Because what is in season changes day to day, not every 3 months or 3 years.

We run out of items. We know this can mean we disappoint, but since we’re not working with shelf-stable or frozen foods we only have 2 choices: a lot of waste because we always have an oversupply or running out because we’re keeping the food fresh. We choose to run out.

So our menu is tiny, changes day-to-day, and we run out of stuff. That’s why we write it on a whiteboard, because it changes so often. It’s also why we can experiment so much with our food.

Banner-drinks

Drinks

We’re developing a reputation for our drinks. You may have had our cinnamon lemonade, mulled cider, a blackberry switchel, maple soda, hibiscus iced tea, Barrington Coffee, or Pretty Things Jack D’Or beer. For most fast food beverages are an afterthought, a Coke or Pepsi fountain that earns high margins. We think of drinks a little differently.

Early on Rolando (who was our Chef) and I wanted to make drinks a part of our culinary conversation. So we started asking questions. Shouldn’t a great chef know as much about the coffee she’s serving as she does the sauce on the plate? Why should our sodas be made with who-knows-what? Why shouldn’t beverages be made daily? Why shouldn’t they change with the availability of ingredients? The most important question: how amazing can this drink taste?

So we started developing drink recipes right alongside our sandwich, salad, and soup recipes. We started visiting coffee roasters around the country, watching them roast, asking questions, and tasting and tasting and tasting. We started visiting New England breweries, and tasting and tasting.

I think one of the amazing things about our beverages is that while we’re not making anywhere near the beverage profit margin others expect, we’re still able to make money. We can make money selling you some the most amazing tasting liquids. It’s a beautiful thing. I don’t think I’d call it greed, but most other food operators, fast food as well as fine dining, just don’t focus on what their beverages taste like as much as they focus on what they’re making from selling those beverages.

Banner-Ingredients

Ingredients

We put a ton of energy and thought into what we source and from whom. We showcase the best items we can buy. And if something is out of season or not available at the quality we love we just don’t use it, selecting instead something that makes better sense for that time of year.

When we started we bought almost everything from Russo’s, a regional mid-sized produce distributor. I went to meet Tony Russo, told him what I was up to, and we went from there. I’d known of Tony for a long time. His produce is the best in Boston markets. He’s been around for a long time (dig up an old Julia Child book and you’ll see she thanks Russo’s for their amazing produce). Tony understood what we were up to and would call me to tell me he had amazing shitake from Williamstown, MA, or potatoes from Hadley, MA. He knows all of the commercial growers in the Northeast. He could tell us when we just couldn’t get stuff locally which was as important as knowing what we could get locally.

We still buy from Tony, and now our volumes are much larger and growing. We’ve recently started to develop some direct relationships with suppliers. We had the pleasure of serving amazing tomatoes from Lindentree farm this past season. And coming into 2013 Lindentree, one of the best organic growers in my opinion, is planting for us. This is a dream. We’d always hoped to get to this point and it’s happening sooner than we expected. We’re buying a huge amount of beautiful roots this winter from Winter Moon Roots of Hadley, VT. All of our honey is bought directly, as is our maple syrup. We expect to develop more direct relationships as we grow. I’ll admit, we’ve used items from my garden (e.g., mint for lemonade) but this isn’t common. I only harvest 3 times a year : ) Eddie who runs our kitchen has brought us some delicious things as well.

Some of our supply relationships are something of a hybrid between distributor and direct sourcing. For example, we love Chip-N-Farm eggs. We have Chip-N-Farm pack our eggs in special boxes that are labeled just for Clover. Tony picks them up in Bedford, MA 3 times a week, and delivers them to us directly. We do something like this with other high-volume critical ingredients (e.g., our potatoes, yogurt, cheese etc.).

Rolando brought an organization called Farm Fresh Rhode Island/ Market Mobile to Massachusetts. He knew of them from living down there and really wanted them to expand to Mass. They weren’t sure it would make sense. So Rolando went around to a bunch of local chefs in Boston, convinced many of them to take Farm Fresh as a distributor, and now they make the trip to Boston. Market Mobile is a Farm-To-Business delivery service. Sort of like a regional distributor, but with better technology and a more direct model, and only local. We love what they’re doing.

We buy spices from Raymond at Christina’s Spices (they also have a retail presence). There are a few  other items we buy from smaller scale regional suppliers.

We buy shelf stable organic products from UNFI. This includes flour, chickpeas, etc. UNFI is an enormous organic distributor who primarily supplies Whole Foods. We buy fry oil from large national mainline suppliers (US Foods currently).

Beer, coffee, and tea are products we sell that we have very little hand in making. So we do our best to know those who are doing the making. In the case of beer we don’t feature a brewer unless we’ve had a chance to visit the brewery, meet the brewer, and understand their philosophy. We’ve handpicked all of the beers we sell and know our brewers very well. Coffee is a similar process. We feature some of the best roasters in the world. We’ve developed relationships with any roaster we feature before brining them in to Clover. We see them roast, get to know the owner, ask questions about their approach and philosophy. I don’t believe there is anyone who has visited more brewers or roasters than those of us at Clover. It’s been a unique and really fun journey.

Similar efforts apply to our tea (herbals are grown and mixed by Mary Blue of Farmacy Herbs, green and oolong are from Asha Teas and Tea Trekker). It took me almost 3 years to find tea of the quality we wanted. We couldn’t be happier with what we’re now offering.

Nutritionals

We’re a small company but we think it’s important you know what you’re eating and part of that transparency extends to nutritional content. We’re working to create a database of the nutritional content of all of our menu items, but we’re not there yet. We have an entire page devoted to this topic.

 

Gluten-free, allergies, sensitivities, dietary restrictions, vegan, etc.

Please ask. We work hard to make sure our order takers are well armed to answer your questions. We’re honest about the fact that we may have cross-contamination in our kitchens. We do our best to provide options for a range of eating habits, preferences, and restrictions.

We hear a lot of questions about gluten-free options. Our kitchens are not gluten free. The falafel recipe does not have any wheat flour (unlike most falafel), instead we use GF corn flour. At the restaurants we have platters available without bread. At the trucks we have “boats” which is a sandwich without the bread. We are exploring a GF bread option.

We can modify most items to make them vegan upon request. This includes two of our most popular sandwiches, the Soy BLT and the BBQ Seitan.

Spring Dug 2014

IMG_0487

We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. I first learned about Spring Dug Parsnips the second year of Clover, back in 2009. They’re a little known item, farmed by only a few. Most Parsnips are harvested in the fall, and they’re parsnip-y. Like big white carrots that taste a bit like Rutabaga. Unlike their root vegetable cousins Parsnips can winter. And some farmers still do this. You leave the parsnips in the ground and pick them in the spring when the ground thaws. We’ve hooked up with Michael Docter, our favorite organic root farmer in Western Mass and we’re buying these by the pallet.

That’s right, the Spring Dug Parsnip is the first harvest of the season in New England. That thawing normally happens in March, but this year we’re a bit late. The best thing about Spring Dugs is that they’re super sweet and deep in flavor. Roasted they’re one of my favorite foods, hands down. Texture is awesome. They’re sweet, but savory. The flavor is complex and deep. This is what vegetables can be if we pay attention to them.

We just launched our Spring Dug Parsnip and Cheddar sandwich company-wide. This picture is from this past Wednesday, the second day of the sandwich. We’re pairing the parsnip with spring onions (which admittedly aren’t from New England quite yet, but will be soon), first pick spinach (which I think is from New England greenhouses, need to check with Chris on that), and sharp Cheddar cheese from our friends at Grafton in VT.

Eat the future… Clover meals

IMG_4426

I have a feeling these could be huge. Who knows, maybe they’ll eclipse everything we’ve done to date. But in a way that would be fine. We’ve been working so hard over the past few years to build a company, not a sandwich.

This is one of the fun and surprising discoveries we made last week at Brookline when testing our Clover Meal Bar for WFM. A customer asked: “Am I going to fill this, or will you have these already filled.” We honestly hadn’t considered making these up ourselves at that point. And it may seem obvious after seeing this picture. But so many discoveries are like that. They feel obvious after you’ve seen them, even if opaque prior.

So we thought we’d give this suggestion a try. And they’re beautiful. And filling. And delicious. We have a few: Clover Winter Meal, Clover Mediterranean Meal, Clover Spicy Meal, Clover Southern Meal, Clover Protein Meal (the one you see here). They’re all a combination of hearty vegetable salads, pickles, and bean dips of some sort. Think hummus, white bean dip, etc. They’re nutritionally balanced. This one packs a hefty 60% of the protein Daily Recommended Value (for a 2,000 calorie diet). We’re hawking baked pita chips on the side for those who want them.

I brought some home. My kids were nuts for them. I shared them with my parents in law, they loved them. And I don’t think they were just saying that. Customers have been coming back for them, and telling friends. It’s been really fun and delicious. They’re super packable, sharable, delicious the day after (even though we’ve only been selling them same day). They’re packed with seasonally appropriate local produce, beans, etc. It’s just awesome.

We’re going to be piloting these at Kendall Square next week. Get ready folks. These are going to be really fun.

Olive oil that tastes great

IMG_4457

Chris had a big cat grin on his face at this past food dev meeting. He finally found us some delicious olive oil.

I read this book about olive oil the other year. Most of it is phony, it contains oils that are not from olives. It’s been treated with heat, over processed, over filtered. And it’s old, oxidized. This all means it doesn’t taste as great as it could and should.

And when you’re buying large quantities it’s even harder. Restaurant olive oil is just terrible. Worse than you can imagine. We’ve tried them all and most have been terrible. We’ve used the best we could find, which wasn’t great.

Then Chris brought this box in. It’s awesome. The distributor works for the farm. It isn’t the best olive oil I’ve ever had, but compared to that stuff with the phony flags not he label, it’s just nothing the same. I mean the difference is really dramatic. This is so fantastic. Now I’ve got a dumb smile on my face.

Aleppo is not Aleppo anymore

IMG_4105

Chris brought us a challenge at our recent food dev meeting. Turns out that the Aleppo pepper we’ve been loving for years is no longer available. The conflict in Syria has destroyed the Aleppo pepper production.

Christina’s has a blend that “simulates” Aleppo. It’s not the same, not as smoky. We’re exploring alternatives, but the most likely outcome is that we stop using Aleppo pepper for now.

Kimlee’s whoopie pie development

IMG_4120

 

Kimlee runs prep at Harvard Square. She’s been doing an amazing job. I believe that food tastes great when it’s made with love. Some of you may think that sounds cheesy when you read that, but I’m dead serious. There are so many minute decisions you make when you’re working with food, tiny little decisions. And if you don’t care, if you’re not making something with love, it’s rare you’re going to find the right combination of decisions that results in something beautiful.

Think to the best meals you’ve ever had, I bet they had a huge helping of love. I know my best food memories are meals my father or grandmother cooked, or pies my mom made, a meal Brooke made for me, or snacks shared with my sister Asa and brother in law/ best friend Alex. Love.

Kim supports my theory. She cares deeply about the food she’s working, and it’s beautiful as a result. For example, she cuts your tomatoes for the cucumber tomato salad by hand everyday, because it tastes better than using the machine. We’re all really lucky to be working with Kim.

These whoopie pies were made on Tuesday, not the day we typically do whoopie pies, specifically to test a new recipe. We loved the chocolate chocolate, and you can look forward to buying boxes at Clover Harvard Square (HSQ) in the near future. Thanks Kim!

What did beer taste like in 1955? Find out at CloverKND this Thursday 3/20, 8pm

IMG_6099_2

Dann (pictured here) and Martha brew Pretty Things beer. Recently they started a project called Once Upon a Time, a brewery making historical beers with the help of beer historians. They dig up recipes from the past and strictly re-create styles that no one has drunk in decades. Dann claimed that in some of the recipes, they out-geek the beer geeks.

Join us this Thursday 3/20 at 8pm for the launch of Pretty Things 1955, a recipe dug up from the Whitbread Brewery in post-war London. Dann and Martha will be in the house. Enzo is making some London-inspired snacks (less British, more Indian, any guesses?) with help from Pushpir of Guru the Caterer. And we’ll have $5 glasses of 1955 all night. The fun starts at 8pm, and there 10 seats available for a pre-launch talk with the brewers. Sign up using this link if you want to attend the talk.

Here’s a bit of information on the beer straight from the folks at Pretty Things:

Welcome to the 1950s! Whitbread brewery in London was once the biggest brewery in the world. However by the 1950s its decline had begun. Their Double Brown is a true post-war British beer: dark, with some roasted malt character, but low body due to the use of completely fermentable brewing caramels, a practice that continues to be a hallmark of British dark ale brewing today. At 5.1% abv, the beer showed that the supply chain for raw materials in post-war Britain was easing, although rationing had only ended in 1954. (This is in reference to one of our previous recreations, a Mild ale from 1945 which was 2.8% abv largely due to barley shortages). This beer is another easy-drinking cracker, which takes you right back to 1950s London and plonks you on a wooden chair in a London pub.

BRUSSELS SANDWICH LEAVING

IMG_2293

Lucia is going to have a heart palpitation when she reads that heading. I’m not saying that in an exaggerated way meaning she is going to feel scared. I mean she’s actually going to have a physical reaction.

I’m wondering if there’s anything I’ve done at Clover that’s made people more happy than that sandwich. It was the first sandwich I’ve had a hand in designing in a very long time, and it was my answer to the endless taunts the poor Brussels Sprouts have received over the years. That’s the correct spelling by the way: “Brussels Sprout.” I know, it’s strange. But stranger still has been the derision this poor vegetable has received. I’ve always loved Brussels, since I was a little kid. I think it’s one of the most delicious vegetables in the world. So why is it always on TV, radio, etc. being made fun of as inedible? It always sort of pissed me off. Now we have a sandwich that is turning everybody from little kids, to State Troopers, to Harvard Professors to the wonders of the Brussels Sprout.

So what are we going to do with this sandwich. It was built around Autumn ingredients: Mass-grown brussels, VT Grafton smoked cheddar, garlic. And now we can’t get brussels locally anymore, we’ve depleted the supply. But the sandwich is just so ridiculously popular. It’s been outpacing the Chickpea Fritter in some locations.

Back to Lucia, Brussels biggest fan. By biggest fan I mean that she’s eaten as many as 3 in one day. Lucia has printed up our new (not so secret) menu cards with a little easter egg: Brussels Sandwich, MIT truck only. She sort of asked me about this after the fact. The proposal is that the MIT truck runs Brussels year round.

I guess the cards are already printed. And like so many of the ideas my team at Clover present to me, it’s pretty brilliant.

Don’t worry, the switch hasn’t happened yet. But prepare yourself. Tuesday is the last day for Brussels at the restaurants. From now on you’ll become a Brussels pilgrim to the MIT truck (20 Carleton St., Cambridge, MA, close to Kendall Square T stop).

Meet the Brewer: Ben Anhant with Element Plasma Sake IPA

IMG_25601-300x200-1

Element Beer is from Miller’s Falls, Massachusetts. Ben and Dan wanted to create a brewery that would fuse styles together, and create totally new styles. Last year we featured Element’s Red Giant and we’ve been dying to see what Ben and Dan have come up with next. Next Thursday, Element returns to Clover with a totally new beer.

Brewer Ben Anhant is going to be in the house at CloverHUB Thursday with a keg of ELEMENT PLASMA, an IPA brewed with sake yeast, malted buckwheat, malted millet, brown rice, and Aramis hops. 9.5% ABV. This beer was developed after years of experimentation, happens to be gluten-free, and is a cross between an IPA and a Sake.

First ten people to register will get to attend a private talk with the brewer and a snack from us. Here’s the link to get tickets. If you’re dying to try Element before Thursday, you can occasionally find bottles and Central Bottle or Formaggio Kitchen, but it’s hard to get on draft anywhere.

Join us Thursday, 3/13 at CloverHUB, 1075 Cambridge St., 8pm if you pre-register, 8:15 for general public.

Trucks are coming back!

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 7.23.39 PM

My mom has been asking me why Ayr is writing so many posts and not me. So I’m giving her a present – a post by me (and a cute picture too).

This was the scene on Dewey Square on Thursday. Backyard Farms invited us to come up with an all-tomato menu for their fundraiser for the Boston Food Bank. We premiered our new Maine Tomato Sandwich, and an awesome chipotle tomato soup, and served to long lines all lunchtime.

We were thrilled to be back on the trucks. It was still really cold, but really invigorating in only the way trucks can be. We’re rolling our trucks back on to the road for the spring, starting with the MIT truck at 20 Carleton Street (open now, lunch 11am-2pm weekdays, follow @cloverfoodtruck for updates). The next batch of trucks will open mid-March or early April. We’ve got some brand new sites in the works, so stay tuned…

3pm special: Winter Moon Roots Crudite

IMG_3786

We’re trying to make the crudite thing stick, but it’s a tougher sell than some of our other 3pm specials. We’ve been working on the art of convincing with this one.

Maybe it’s the fact that the majority of this item is not fried, or maybe it’s the foreign sounding name (WordPress keeps auto-correcting the poor name to “credit”). Some of you have tried this and become Crudite insiders, and you’re ordering it every day. Others of you are smiling and nodding when we describe it, and then asking when the apple fritters will be back. But we’re not giving up. We challenge you to come by at 3pm special and give Crudite a chance.

CLOVER WINTER MOON ROOTS CRUDITE (all vegetables from Hadley, MA)

-Pickled Winter Moon Roots beets (they taste like candy)
-Pickled Winter Moon Roots carrots
-Fresh Winter Moon Roots watermelon radishes (they are the most beautiful root on the planet: bright magenta with a light green rim)
-Clover pita chips
-Hungarian smoked cheddar dip