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

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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 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.

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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 breakfast sandwich was Jeremiah’s idea. Our cinnamon lemonade came from a customer who thought it might be a good idea. The Enzo Sandwich came from a salad Vincenzo’s family makes in Calabria, Italy.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

What will you find in a Winter Moon Roots farmshare?

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This picture was from the root-washing station at Michael’s farm. Some of you have been asking exactly what’s going to come in this winter CSA we’ve been talking about. This is a true deep-winter share. Every two weeks, you’ll get a bag with a total of between 10-12 pounds of certified-organic carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, parsnips, garlic, rutabaga, and potatoes grown by Michael Docter in Hadley, MA.

NEW THIS YEAR. You’ll also receive 1 package (of 12) fresh-made tortillas made from heirloom non-GMO corn harvested in Hadley and baked by Jorge at Mi Tierra Tortillas. These tortillas will be baked the morning of the share so they’ll arrive in Cambridge warm out of the oven.

Sign up for your share here. 

An artichoke grows in Massachusetts

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Ray showed us a little side project: artichokes.

He didn’t grow these for customers, but for himself, just to see if it would work.

I was still having trouble believing this. Land so good that an artichoke will grow in Massachusetts? We’re still trying to persuade Ray to grow some for Clover for a 3pm special next year. In the meantime you can support Ray and Michael by joining their Winter Farm Share.

 

Brussels sprout sandwich leaving

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One of the most magical things about our trip to see our farmers in Hadley was seeing where the fields are located. I was imagining one massive field. I was wrong.

Hadley land is gold. It’s fed by the Connecticut River Valley and it’s been farmed since Native American times. New fields are scarce. Ray and Michael’s fields are scattered throughout Hadley. We drove through someone’s driveway so Ray could show us the brussels field.

The reason brussels are so hard to find locally at volume is that they’re not a money-maker. Once the stalk is picked, it’s done. And farmers have to cut the brussels off the stalk before sending them out, which makes them a relatively low-yield crop. We’ve depleted our supply of local brussels. So with a heavy heart we must announce that we’re only going to have the Brussels Sprout Sandwich company-wide for another week (last day is Wednesday 11/26). After Thanksgiving you’ll have to become a Brussels pilgrim to the MIT truck only.

[If you want to support the amazing farmers of Hadley, sign up for a Winter Farmshare today]

This crack is the secret to Winter Moon Roots flavor

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If you’ve already signed up for your Winter CSA, read on to learn how your vegetables will be stored. If you haven’t signed up, but are interested, do so now. We started with only 200 shares and they’re going fast.

Michael Docter picks most of his roots* right before the first frost when they’re at the height of taste and flavor. He stores them in a barn during the cold months.

It’s a spotless barn. Each of these cracks in the wall is height of 1 pallet. The cracks let in outside air, and circulates it through a system of solar-powered ducts that I won’t pretend to understand. Basically Michael has figured out a way to avoid the humidity that comes with artificial refrigeration. The roots are kept cool all winter long by none other than fresh Hadley air.

*All except for the parsnips. They will stay under the snow, developing more and more sugars until they are harvested in the spring.

The sweeter sweet potato

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Remember how we were talking about those 9,000 pounds of sweet potatoes? The ones that inspired Enzo to create the Japanese Sweet Potato sandwich so many of you have been raving about? When we visited Next Barn Over the other week, Ray showed us the sweet potatoes that were headed for Clover.

He told me a crazy fact. Sweet potatoes are not sweet right out of the ground. They need to cure for a few days to develop their sugars.

Ray knew this had to happen but admitted he didn’t quite know why. I was thinking maybe it’s similar to cooking, like you’re slightly caramelizing the sweet potatoes. We are finished with those 9,000 pounds of Next Barn Over sweet potatoes (and we cleaned them out of organic red cabbage too), but we are getting a few thousand pounds of sweet potatoes from Enterprise Farm and 750 pounds of organic red cabbage from Red Fire Farm to tide us through the end of this sandwich’s run.

Winter Moon Breakfast

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It’s 9am. I’ve gone through a couple different modes of transportation. A 4:30am Uber to Harvard Square to pick up Tracy, and bring us to South Station. A 45-minute commuter rail ride from South Station to Framingham, where Chris meets us in a dark parking lot. Chris’s car (he’s taken out his son’s car-seat to make room for me, Tracy, and Paul) to Hadley, Mass.

We drive out to Western Mass, and it’s the perfect fall morning. Brown and gold leaves, a little bit of frost in the air. We’re finally going to see the place that we’ve been talking about for the past 3 years. Michael Docter is our favorite farmer, the one responsible (directly and indirectly) for most of the local produce on our menu in 2014. During our first or second year in operation, he ate at the Clover truck, and said to himself, “I want to grow food for them one day.”

Michael is making breakfast when we arrive. He’s got a griddle on, heating up tortillas made by a Mexican family using non-GMO corn grown in Hadley. Later on, we’ll see the corn growing in a field a few miles away. There are fried eggs. We’ll later visit the chickens that laid them. And Michael’s own beautiful watermelon radishes, which we’ll pick and eat straight from the ground. Obviously it’s the best breakfast ever, and a wonderful preview to what the day will hold.

If you join Michael’s Winter CSA, you too can eat delicious breakfasts like these, all winter long!

Hadley gold

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Chris, Tracy, Paul, and I just returned from a trip to Hadley to visit Winter Moon Roots Farm (which has a winter CSA share you can sign up for) and Next Barn Over (which has been supplying Clover with most produce for this summer and fall, most recently those sweet potatoes you’ve been eating in the Japanese Sweet Potato sandwich).

Since Native American times, Hadley has had soil that is the envy of the entire East Coast. Vegetables that come from Hadley look different and taste different.

We’re going to be rolling out stories about our trip over the next few days. Stay tuned.

Jack’s Abby Winter Seasonal Launch 11/6, 8pm, CloverHSQ

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Just in time for this wintery weather, we’re bringing you the very first taste of a Winter Seasonal Lager from the brotherly brewers at Jack’s Abby in Framingham. Sam, Eric, and Jack are students of Bavarian brewing and they’re racking up worldwide accolades for their lagers. This year, Ratebeer, a worldwide beer rating organization, gave out awards for Best Strong Lager in the world. Jack’s Abby won 3rd place, 4th place, 5th place, and 7th place (for some context, the 1st, 2nd, and 6th place went to brewers from Bavaria, Germany). Pretty amazing that we have these guys in our backyard.

So to celebrate our award-winning neighbors, CloverHSQ is hosting the official citywide beer release for Jack’s Abby Winter Seasonal, brewed in Framingham using local grains. Who knows, you might taste the next award-winning lager, right here in Massachusetts.

Meet the brewers this Thursday at Clover. They’ll be in the house at CloverHSQ, pouring the first round of this extra special beer.

BEER LAUNCH: JACK’S ABBY WINTER SEASONAL
CloverHSQ, 7 Holyoke Street in Harvard Square
Thursday November 6, 8pm-10pm
$5 beer. Full Clover menu. Free popcorn..

And for folks wanting a non-alcoholic winter drink: we’re launching hot local apple cider and hot cranberry punch that evening too!

RSVP to save this event on your calendar.

Squash sandwich, first pass

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Chris said his second favorite thing (after sour cream) is roasted delicata squash. At Tuesday’s Food Dev meeting, he brought in some ideas for a delicata squash sandwich. White bean garlic spread, fried delicata squash, kale salad with dried cranberries, and crumbled feta.

We loved the flavors of the sandwich, but the frying didn’t get much depth of flavor. We were worried about spending hours peeling and roasting squash, hence the frying idea. But Ayr reminded us of a trick Chris taught him for roasting the squash. We’re going to try this trick for round 2 of this sandwich.

Food Dev happens at 3pm at the HUB in Inman Square and is open to the public. If you’re a customer and would like to come, you can sign up using the left-hand sidebar of the website.