Is it just me, or is finding a good place to eat one of the hardest things to do when you are on vacation? Trying to find one that is organic or vegetarian and you can fuggetaboutit. But then, like hot sauce to a taco, every once in a while a trusted friend will make a recommendation to the most holy of holy places to eat. Then you are in trouble; you don’t live here and you are getting on a plane in a couple of hours and you don’t know when you will be able to eat here again.
► Ranking: #cleandiaper
The dream of Clover Food Lab is to help meat lovers become vegetable lovers. Like so many restaurants in the Boston area, the lab began as a food truck. When the idea was first hatched by founder Ayr Muir in 2008 only the super pretentious Harvard grads knew what a paw paw was. Now Clover Food Lab has over 12 locations between trucks and brick and mortar locations and have developed a cult like following among patrons.
The sumptuous menu changes every day depending on the season, local crops and weather; which means a hot fall will result in less brussel sprouts sandwiches. Clover Food Lab sources the majority of their food from local farms; tomatoes from Lindentree Farms; eggs from Chip-N-Farm; parsnips from Winter Moon Roots.
Also depending on the season, the weather and local crops, 40-70% of the fruits and vegetables served at Clover Food Lab is organic. That is incredible. And I get it, it’s hard to source organic 100% of the time. Buuuuuut…, it just seems a little hypocritical to call yourself an environmentalist and develop a restaurant with a mission statement to address global warming by building a better food future by reducing cow farts, yet not be committed to saving the microbiome of the very soil our food is grown in.
Eating at Clover Food Lab feels like going over to that trusted friend’s house we mentioned above, and eating a casual lunch. When the food is gone, it’s gone. There isn’t a back store, freezer, warehouse or stacks of shelves with rotting and/or canned food. Your awesome friend just made you a fantastic meal and you can only be slightly bitter that he didn’t have the foresight to make a little more for your grumbling tummy.
And why does it taste that way? Because Clover Food Lab holds food development meetings every Tuesday at 3pm. They are open to the public so that you can bring your favorite recipe to share. Can you imagine going to a restaurant just to have them serve you your favorite homemade meal from Grandma’s, yet neither you nor Grandma had to make it? That’s the dream right there.
Clover Food Lab is named after the sweetest and most delicious of all the grass in the field. The name is absolutely perfect. Clover Food Lab doesn’t utilize a single freezer. Not in any of its 12 restaurants, or food trucks. All the food is cut to order, with one cutting board reserved solely for cutting onions. Nothing is frozen, nothing is processed, nothing is factory sealed. There are no artificial flavors.
This is real food.
Now, we aren’t vegetarian. We definitely eat meat, but we also eat plants. Our problem with vegetarian meals is that they all seem to have the same exact ingredients and taste exactly the same. Clover Food Lab has managed to create not only visually beautiful food, but food that desires to be relished. Food that bursts with intense savory piquancy, and covers your palette with insane flavor profiles. The food at Clover Food Lab stirs up a zest for ingredients that you didn’t know you loved profoundly before stepping foot inside this restaurant.
And, it’s fast food.
We ordered the Japanese Sweet Potato Sandwich, Chickpea Fritter Sandwich, Banana and Peanut Butter Sandwich, Rosemary Fries, Hummus with Carrots and both a Ginger Soda and a Paw Paw Soda.
The sandwiches are the consummate heroes. The combination of flavors leaves nothing to be desired and nothing was neglected. Sweet potatoes cooked until silky, combined with a bright purple cabbage-daikon slaw, miso mayo and tempura sesame seeds will make your fingers dance until they can feed your greedy belly. The sodas are rich and satisfying with a kick that tickles your uvula. Chickpea fritters are smothered with tahini sauce and hummus then layered with shredded carrots and cabbage and mixed with cubes of tomatoes and cucumbers that create an amalgam of textures. The standalone hummus wasn’t our favorite.
► For Kids: Absolutely. The food here is impeccable, hearty and tasty. Nothing is too strong, but everything is delicious. Kids are invited to decorate the walls with hand drawn works of art and before they leave the restaurant will hang their masterpieces on the walls. Plus the Cambridge location is located right next door to MIT so you can squeeze in another college visit.
Have you eaten at Clover Food Lab? What was your favorite item on their rotating and ever changing menu? We would love to revisit during the summer when the produce is in abundance and the menu generous.