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 of 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.

Pimento Cheese Sandwich launching today

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Like many Southern housewives of the 1950’s, my grandmother Jane had a pimento cheese recipe. After she died our other relatives kept up the tradition. I specifically remember writing in my diary after a visit from our Houston cousins: “Today we went to the Austin Kite Festival and afterwards we ate pimento cheese sandwiches.”

Pimento cheese is a spread made with cheese, mayo, pimento peppers (the sweet red peppers you get in olives.)

I forgot about pimento cheese until senior year of high school. I was worried about all my friends leaving for college, and felt a real need to cook and care for them. So I would have everyone over, and I would make cookies from Martha Stewart, and pimento cheese spread. Back in 2010 when I was a team member on the MIT truck, I told Ayr about pimento cheese. We ran it through the Clover food development machine. We used Grafton cheddar, mayo, house-roasted peppers. Rolando added pickled celery and cucumber planks tossed with Aleppo pepper. And we ended up with the sandwich you can eat today. Let me know what you think of it if you try it.

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April fools at Clover

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Today for a good part of lunch at Kendall and Newbury, the only sandwich available was the BLT. At Brookline Village, Shane started making breakfast so he’d have something to feed customers. Sorry all, this was not an April Fool’s joke. We really didn’t mean to run out of so many items today.

We had a series of issues that led to a bunch of you not getting to eat our food. It started yesterday. We’ve been seeing tiny rocks in our dry chickpeas. So we had to lay every dry chickpea out and sort through it before making hummus to make sure there were no rocks. Then we had a couple late produce deliveries which meant we couldn’t make salad. Add a late resupply van and you had a perfect storm.

If any of you were impacted by this, even a little bit, please reach out and we will make you whole. We’ll have most of the issues sorted out by tomorrow, and everything fully back to normal by Sunday.

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Meet a wild yeast hunter. Mystic Beer Launch 4/7, 6pm-8pm, CloverHUB

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When Ayr visited Mystic Brewery in 2012, he saw test tubes, beakers, and petri dishes. Things usually seen in a lab, not a brewery. Bryan Greenhagen, PhD in fermentation and Mystic brewer, has been hunting for wild yeast in New England and recreating beer styles of the Belgian countryside in a warehouse in Chelsea, MA since 2011. We’ve been serving his beer since he first got started.

We’re launching Mystic’s Saison Renaud on April 7th at CloverHUB from 8pm on. Saison Renaud is brewed with Mystic’s longest continuously cultured strain of yeast. The yeast keeps the beer dry with complex grassy, herbal characters.

At our first beer launch with Mystic at HSQ in 2012, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. Sign up here to make sure we have a beer for you. If you’re one of the first 20 guests to register in advance, you’ll get a little gift from the brewers.

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Turmeric, basil, shiitake, buttermilk, cheddar, fresh basil. Meet the Shiitake Mushroom Sandwich.

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Remember I promised a brand new mushroom sandwich was coming to replace the Sunchoke?

I asked Chris how he came up with this one. Like all of Chris’s genius items, this one seemed to come out of nowhere. But then he told me that he was thinking about a hoisin glaze for meat in Chinese cooking.

We are dredging Rhode Island Mushroom shiitakes in buttermilk, frying them, then dipping them in a honey vinegar glaze made with rice wine vinegar, honey, miso, ginger, garlic, Aleppo pepper, and sesame oil. We add a slice of Grafton cheddar. Then we make a salad in small batches throughout the day using red cabbage and two of our winter storage crops from Michael Docter: daikon radish and carrot. The really special thing about this sandwich is the dressing we use for the salad. It has buttermilk, garlic, miso, sour cream, mayo, turmeric and chopped basil leaves.

The Shiitake Musrhoom should be hitting most locations today, if not tomorrow. Check here before coming out if you’re curious.

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Spring Dug Parsnip Sandwich: finally here

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Hey all, sorry we got you excited about this a little too soon. The Parsnip Sandwich should be live everywhere now.

The sandwich has a chow-chow relish made with spring onions, mayo, Grafton cheddar from Vermont, roasted spring-dug parsnips from Winter Moon Roots in Hadley, and young spinach.

If you try it, let us know your thoughts here.

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Goodbye dulse

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We’re saying goodbye to our Maine Winter Tomato Sandwich. This was many of your first time trying dulse, but a lot of you were going crazy for it. Dulse is a red wild seaweed that is native to Maine, Spain, Ireland, England, and Novia Scotia. It was so popular in England and Scotland in the 1800’s that Charles Dickens wrote about it as a delicacy, saying people would choose dulse over fruit. There were Dulse Wives who would sell it on the shoreline in Aberdeen, Scotland. When folks immigrated to the US they found dulse and continued to eat it in parts of Maine and Canada.

My friend Matt started Ironbound Island Seaweed 10 years or so ago. Now Andrea dives for seaweed or collects it on the rocky shorelines, dries it, and sends it to us. We fry it and serve it as a crispy salty deep element for an otherwise very simple sandwich (just Sriracha mayo and a thick slice of winter tomato). It isn’t just a garnish though. Dulse has a lot of potassium and a fair amount of protein, and the protein content is actually higher in the winter than in the summer.

We are bidding goodbye to the Maine Winter Tomato to make room for Michael Docter’s spring dug parsnip sandwich which launches today. We’ll have the sandwich again next winter. If you fell in love with dulse while we ran this sandwich, we are selling a few bags of it at CloverHFI, or you can order it online from Ironbound Island.

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Clover is a sugar house for one day: 4/9, 10am-2pm

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Maple syrup is flowing in Western Mass and we’re going to bring back an old Clover tradition. Pancakes, pickles, corn fritters, and the best maple syrup in the world. Outdoor tables. Fresh squeezed OJ. Fresh coffee and cider. Enzo has upgraded the Clover recipe (tested over years of pancake breakfasts) – now we’re using all local grain from Main Grains.

We’re going to set up at CloverNEW, our brand new truck parked at Newbury Street and Mass Ave on April 9 from 10am-2pm.

$12 will get you:

– Maine Grain Pancakes
– Pickles
– Corn Fritters
– Local Maple Syrup
– Choose 1: Just-squeezed OJ, Hot Cider, Coffee
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What is your favorite way to eat mushrooms?

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If you’ve been following the blog this year, you may have read about our relationship with Rhode Island Mushroom Company. It started a year ago with a CSA for a few dozen customers after an intern of mine had the idea to do a mushroom CSA. At that point RI Mushroom Co was mostly selling to high-end chefs and Whole Foods. Now they are cultivating (notice I said “cultivating,” – mushroom people don’t like the term “growing”) over 800 pounds of mushrooms each week for Clover.

I used to hate mushrooms. I would peel back some saran wrap and there would be mushrooms with little droplets of water clinging to them in a little styrofoam container. I started getting interested in mushrooms after a friend of mine gave me some mushrooms he had foraged.

Now I see cardboard boxes of mushrooms with vents arriving every day from Rhode Island, and watch our employees cutting and cooking them to order many times per day, and I realize how important freshness is for this kind of a product. A fresh mushroom isn’t slimy, it isn’t limp. It’s firm and tastes clean. And there are so many varieties, and each has an incredible range of flavors and textures.

We started with Blue Oysters. You may have had these if you’ve eaten at fine dining restaurants or if you’re buying it in a store for $15 per pound. They’re really special. We worked with Creminis for the Sunchoke Mushroom Sandwich because they hold up well to roasting. Then Chris started playing around with Shiitakes, which reminded him of Chinese American food, and hoisin-dip. We tasted this Shiitake Mushroom Sandwich 2 weeks ago at the Food Dev Meeting. It has fried shiitakes, cheddar, a turmeric-basil dressing, and shredded daikon and carrot from Michael Docter. We’re launching it everywhere this week. Keep an eye on the Live Menu to see when it hits a Clover near you and tell us what you think of it if you try it.

If people continue to love these mushroom experiments, we may consider having a different mushroom sandwich permanently on the menu. So tell us: what is your favorite way to eat mushrooms?

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21,780

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That’s the number, in square feet, of the land that Michael Docter grew parsnips for Clover on. He just wrote to me with the exact number. It’s a little over half an acre. Or half a football field. Any way you measure it, it’s a lot of parsnips. Michael has been growing for Clover for years, but this is the first year that we are selling so much food that Chris needed to tell him how many fields to grow for us back in September when he was planning for the following spring.

We’ll be launching the Spring-Dug Parsnip Sandwich on Monday. It has a spring onion relish (a condiment called chow-chow, I think Rolando learned about it from Emeril when he worked for him in New Orleans), Grafton cheddar, mayo, parsnips that we roast in the oven and heat up at locations, and young spinach.

Spring parsnips are the first thing to come out of the ground in New England. They are sweeter than fall parsnips because cold weather makes vegetables turn starch into sugar as a survival instinct (because sugar molecules interfere with the freezing process). Michael knows about this nifty fact, and takes advantage of it to produce the best-tasting parsnips in all of New England. They’re like candy.

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Jerusalem Artichoke Experiment

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At this point you’ve probably tried the new mushroom sandwich, the one we’re calling Sunchoke Mushroom. You might not know that it’s a bold experiment.

Did you know that Sunchokes are the same thing as Jerusalem Artichokes? They first appear in the written record around 1605 when Samuel de Champlain saw them in a Native American garden on Cape Cod. Yeah, that’s right, they were “discovered” here in MA.

Later they were avoided because people thought they caused leprosy (they don’t but they’re all nubby and strange looking).

Last little factoid, Sunchokes have nothing to do with Jerusalem. They are native to North America. The East coast in particular. It’s not exactly known how they got their name, but folks suspect it was a corruption of the Italian “girasole.”

We launched this sandwich a little more than a week ago, and since then it’s been our best selling sandwich (by dollars). It has a slight advantage there, in that it’s the only sandwich we’ve ever featured that has its own price. It’s also easily the most expensive sandwich we’ve ever sold. The Sunchoke Mushroom Continue Reading →

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