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.

Asian Pears

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Chris went to Russo’s yesterday desperately searching for seasonal fruit to replace the peaches that are going out of season.

Lookout Farm, where we were getting our peaches, has Asian Pears coming into season. Asian Pear is a variety of pear native to China and Japan, but that also grows beautifully here in Massachusetts.

These are crisp. Enzo noticed they taste like Concord grapes, and I agree. They’ve got a really winey, beautiful aftertaste. We’ll be cutting them fresh to put on your Yogurt and Granola, your Oatmeal, and blending them into Pear Lemonade at lunch. Come try Asian Pears!

Say farewell to peaches with Peach Donuts at CloverKND on Friday

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Remember those late snowstorms we had in April? They affected the stone fruit harvest by freezing the buds that had already formed on the peach trees. Only a few farms were able to get peaches. One of those was Lookout Farm in Natick. We waited to serve them until they were coming to us really ripe and beautiful. You might have tried them on our Oatmeal or Yogurt and Granola. Now the peach season is coming to an end.

Enzo’s going to be making buttermilk donuts with local peach glaze on Friday at Clover Kendall in honor of our Coffee event with Derek Anderson of Speedwell Roasters.

Come to the event and you’ll get 2 donuts with your coffee. You can also Pre-order a box of donuts here. Limited number!

 

You’ve been eating local…

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That’s Danya and Matt of Queen’s Greens Farm in North Amherst. They’re the ones responsible for the beautiful red leaf lettuce you might have had this summer, and for the beets we’re featuring now in the Hungarian beet sandwich. It’s been our best summer yet in terms of percentage of the menu that’s sourced from this region.

We’ll do another one of these in the height of autumn, and I think it will be similarly interesting. Great job Chris and the kitchen for securing these amazing relationships!

LOCAL AUDIT: EARLY SEPTEMBER 2014

Cheddar Cheese (breakfast sandwich, popover breakfast sandwich, Tomato Sandwich, BBQ Seitan, Brussel Sandwich at MIT)
Grafton Village Cheese, Vermont

Eggs (Breakfast Sandwich, Popovers, Egg and Eggplant)
Chip-In Farm, Bedford, Mass (occasionally will substitute other local farms)

Milk (Popovers, Milk for your coffee)
Mapleline Farm, Hadley, Mass

Yogurt (Yogurt w/Granola and Fruit)
Sidehill Farm, Hawley, Mass

Potatoes (French Fries w/Rosemary)
Swazlawski Farm, Hatfield, MA

Peaches (Oatmeal, Granola, Agua Fresca, Lemonade, Soda, leaving this week)
Lookout Farm, Natick, Mass

Asian Pears (Oatmeal, Granola, Lemonade, Soda, launching this week)
Lookout Farm, Natick, Mass

Eggplant (Egg + Eggplant Sandwich and Platter)
Next Barn Over, Hadley, Mass  (will begin to substitute with CA eggplant this week when local supplies end)

Red Peppers (Pepper Relish Sandwich)
Next Barn Over, Hadley, Mass 

Cucumbers (Chickpea Fritter, Egg and Eggplant)
Next Barn Over, Hadley, Mass (will begin to substitute with CA cucumbers this week when local supplies end)

Summer Squash (Pepper Relish Sandwich)
Next Barn Over, Hadley, Mass 

Beets (Beet Mint Feta Salad, Beet Sandwich, launching this week)
Queen’s Greens, Amherst, Mass

Lettuce (BBQ, BLT, Heirloom Tomato Sandwich)
Queen’s Greens, Amherst, Mass

Tomatoes (Tomato Sandwich, Gazpacho Soup, Chickpea Fritter, Egg and Eggplant, Breakfast Sandwich, BBQ, BLT)
Queen’s Greens, Amherst, Mass
Lindentree Farm, Lincoln, Mass (will switch to Backyard Farms tomatoes from Maine when local field tomatoes end this week)

Seaweed (seaweed salads)
Ironbound Island Seaweed, Schoodic Peninsula, Maine

Apple Cider Vinegar (dressing for salads)
Dwight Miller Orchards, Dummerston, VT

Kochere coffee (from Ethiopia)
Roasted by Barismo, Somerville, Mass

La Trinidad coffee (from Costa Rica)
Roasted by Speedwell, Plymouth, Mass

Beer
Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, Westport/Somerville, Mass
Berkshire Brewing Co., South Deerfield, Mass
Mystic Brewing Co., Chelsea, Mass
Notch Brewing Co., Ipswich, Mass

Hungarian Beet Sandwich launches, with late summer beets

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Danya from Queen’s Greens called to say she had a bumper crop of local beets. We said we’d buy them all.

We’re going to run the Hungarian Beet Sandwich. It’s launching tomorrow. We ran this back in February with Michael Docter’s Winter Moon Roots beets, and we had a lot of customers hoping it would return.

A little history. Megan (HR Director) came up with this sandwich based on a suggestion from an MIT customer from Hungary. Megan researched Hungarian food and came up with a recipe we all loved. Try it, even if you think you hate beets. I know how you feel. I used to hate them too.

The Hungarian beet sandwich has:
-cream cheese dill spread
-twice cooked beets (roasted, then fried, not oily at all), tossed with caraway right out of the fryer
-toasted chopped walnuts
-fresh cabbage slaw with thinly sliced white onion and paprika

Click here to watch the training video.

Join us for St. Botolph’s Launch at CloverKND

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These two are the reason we have beer at Clover. We started talking to Dann and Martha back in 2009 about making beer to sell to Clover. They started talking to us about all the problems the beer industry was having with sourcing locally. They introduced us to Andrea at Valley Malt, and to a bunch of the other amazing brewers in New England.

Join us Thursday 9/25, 6pm at Clover Kendall Square for the launch of Pretty Things St. Botolph’s Town Beer. They made this beer as an homage to the Northern England region of Yorkshire. Did you know St. Botolph is the name for the original Boston in England? 

First 24 folks in the door will get Pretty Things pint glasses!

September is hot pepper season in Massachusetts

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September means fresh peppers in Massachusetts, which means our Hot Sauce 101 class is back. You’ll learn how to make Clover’s hot sauce featuring local hot peppers, coriander, garlic, and vinegar – and if there’s time – some other versions of hot sauce too. You’ll leave with a jar of fresh hot sauce to take home.

This class came about three years ago when Danna and Chris, two customers at the MIT truck, who were addicted to our hot sauce, begged us to teach them how to make it. Enzo’s teaching, which means it will be a good time.

Wednesday, September 17, 4pm-5pm

Clover Kendall Square, 5 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA
$35 for general public. Free if you’re a CSA member who picks up your share at Clover.
Click the lefthand tab of the website to sign up.

Tasting coffee with the wizard

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George Howell reminds me of a wizard. He has bright blue eyes and white hair, and he has a magical understanding of the atoms and aromas and textures that go into coffee.

Ayr and I went to George Howell’s roastery last week with the goal of tearing apart our coffee methods (hot and iced) and seeing if we can make them better. We want to apply science to the things we’ve already been learning by direct observation of customers. Specifically we’re looking at the effect of various factors (grind size, water temperature, volume of coffee) on taste, body, mouthfeel.

It was a surprise to all of us that a lot of this stuff has never been studied in serious ways. So we’re embarking on a bit of an adventure, and we’re really excited to have George and his team at the helm. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be posting on our findings, and testing some of them on you at the restaurants. First up: is cold brew coffee evil?

Tomato Sandwich only here for another week

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Manlio runs our Dewey Square truck. He’s a sailor, an MIT trained engineer, and usually he’s a pretty quiet guy. But every year around this time, Manlio cannot stop talking about tomatoes. He talks about them to his staff. He talks about them to customers. He talks about them to anyone who will listen, even if it’s 5am and he’s loading his truck over at the HUB, or if it’s midnight and he’s unloading after movie night and spies the crates of tomatoes waiting in the kitchen.

This year’s tomatoes are some of the best we’ve ever had. They’re from Next Barn Over Farm in Hadley. And because we’re getting perfect tomatoes, we’re able to run a sandwich we haven’t been able to do in years past: the Heirloom Tomato Sandwich.

If you want to make the sandwich at home, here’s our training video. Start by buying the best heirloom tomato you can find. Let it ripen for a day on your counter. Don’t refrigerate it!!! Core your tomato, then slice it into a huge, fat slice. Cover the slice with salt and pepper on both sides. Spread a thick layer of mayo on your bread, add slice of cheddar (we use Grafton 1-year aged), your tomato slice, and a little bit of lettuce. It’s really all about the tomato.

We will have this sandwich at Clover for one more week while we can still get MA tomatoes…

Blueberry buttermilk donuts

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Enzo wanted to celebrate the Barismo folks being in the house on Friday. He made our buttermilk donuts and made a blueberry glaze with the blueberries we’re getting from Hadley right now.

Chris and Pete of Barismo Roasters were by to talk about the Barismo coffee we’re serving right now from the Kochere region of Ethiopia.

If you joined at the coffee tasting, you got a pair of these donuts with your coffee. We’re going to be doing another coffee and donuts event with Barismo at Harvard Square on Friday morning. There are a few tickets still left, sign up here.

Coffee and donuts this month with Barismo roasters

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We’re going to be hosting Barismo at CloverHSQ and CloverKND for a series of coffee tastings to celebrate an amazing new batch of Kochere from Ethiopia.  I heard Tracy and Enzo are making donuts for everyone who comes.

KND, Friday 8/22, 9:30am

HSQ, Friday, 8/29, 8am

That picture is of Clover staff touring Barismo’s new roasters. Barismo recently moved from a tiny facility in Arlington to a new space within Aeronaut Brewing in Somerville. It used to be an envelope factory back in the mid part of this century, and it’s huge. On one side of the room there were tons of bags of coffee, representing countless hours of sourcing, tasting at origin, dealing with customs agents. On one side was a beautiful refurbished coffee roaster. Pete was really excited about the fact that the gas line at this new facility is much stronger than at their old facility, and he can actually taste the difference in the final coffees.

Join us, tickets are going fast!