Cambridge, MA 02142
Parked a number of yards behind the Momogoose food truck in the Kendall/MIT area is a white truck with a single stenciled word on its side: “Clover.” But don’t let simplicity turn you away—fancy designs and gimmicky pizzazz aren’t this company’s style.
Say hello to Clover: providers of what they call “new fast food.” “New fast food” meaning “actual food,” aka “locally-sourced vegetarian-inspired goodness packed within a tiny truck,” aka “things you can ingest that will actually do your body some good.”
While visiting the Momogoose truck last week, I spotted Clover further down Carleton Street and made a note to check them out next time. During my most recent visit, I got to speak to the manager of the truck, Hasani, who gave me a little background info about Clover.
(Love vegan sandwiches? Although Clover isn’t vegan—it’s vegetarian—check out this book of recipes.)
The history of Clover
Clover has been on the culinary scene since about 2008. Hasani pointed to the truck parked before us and said, “It started with this food truck.”
In fact, the truck garnered such a crowd that the Clover Food Lab, a local restaurant chain, was developed. “And, of course,” said Hasani, “We’ve got more food trucks on the streets now. Five trucks and five restaurants.”
One of the easiest details to notice on a truck painted white is its menu, scribbled in what appears to be a marker of sorts. Why would a food truck put a menu on display that looks as temporary as whiteboard writing?
Because it is temporary! Like many eateries bent on serving the freshest meals to customers, Clover fashions its menu based on what ingredients it can get its hands on.
Maybe you’ll find turnip soup up for grabs one day. Maybe a soy BLT. Maybe the Brussels sprouts sandwich will be replaced with the super popular egg & eggplant sandwich.
Clover: Carnivores love it, too
Unfortunately, some meat-eaters are threatened by vegetarian cuisine, under the impression that they’re trying to be “saved” from their carnivorous ways. Such stigmas have made it unfairly easy for people to overlook meatless eateries.
It’s important to understand this about Clover: no one wants to convert you, and no one disapproves of your choices. This food truck wasn’t built solely for strict vegetarians. In fact, a great number of customers are proud meat-eaters and gladly stop by for an occasional meat-free lunch.
Clover has a simple outer appearance, a simple menu, and a simple mission, which is to feed people great, environmentally-friendly food.
“No soup for you!”
Be advised, warns Ayr Muir, the founder and CEO of Clover Food Lab: if you arrive late or there are simply too many customers, there may not be enough supplies in the pantry to accommodate you.
Whoa, wait, so the food runs out?! It sure does, and Clover is not afraid to say so.
That’s because Clover food trucks operate without freezers, something practically every other truck swears by. It all ties back to Clover’s commitment to providing the freshest ingredients possible, which, unfortunately, cannot survive too long on the shelf. Freezers, too, pose a problem.
Muir offers a logical defense for this on Clover’s official website:
“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.”
While other food trucks don’t mind overstocking their freezers with semi-fresh (or barely fresh) ingredients whose leftovers will eventually be disposed of, Clover would rather not waste at all, communicating a powerful message: We love our customers, but we love our planet just as much.
Does a restaurant, a food truck, get any greener than that? Bravo.
Fast food at its finest
Hasani spends a decent chunk of time on the sidewalk. This grants him quicker access to approaching customers and makes interactions more personable than looking down to them from an elevated vehicle as they shout orders. I first asked Hasani for a cup of Clover’s brown sugar lemonade to cool me off in the 80-degree sunshine.
Why does Clover consider itself a type of fast food? Because their meals are prepared impressively quick. Hasani uses an iPod to record and submit orders to a series of iPods within the truck.
Those gadgets are linked to different food stations. For example, my lemonade order was submitted to the drink iPod. With this system, orders are cleanly placed, chefs don’t accidentally double up on an item or forget to make it, and the meal is served in fast-food time.
My meal at Clover
To be clear: I eat meat. Shamelessly, joyfully, almost to the point of absurdity. If Heaven doesn’t serve bacon cheeseburgers but purgatory (or any place lower than purgatory) does, then you’ll know where to find me for the rest of eternity.
But my love for meat and scant knowledge of meatless food initially made me afraid to look at the menu scrawled on the side of the truck. Would I find anything that appeals to me?
It’s always less daunting to be able to recognize some of the ingredients going into your food, especially when you’re trying new cuisine. This is why I was pleased to make out a couple of ingredients in the options offered: Brussels sprouts, rosemary, and soy.
I ordered a chickpea fritter, which is made with falafel, pickled vegetables, hummus, cucumber and tomato salad, all wrapped cozily in a fluffy pita pocket and topped with tahini.
Are these like falafel sandwiches? The things my Arab father has been trying to get me to eat my whole life?
They are, though Muir cleverly avoids calling them that so as not to alienate customers unfamiliar with falafel. “Chickpea fritters,” he believes, is a name pretty much everyone can gravitate to.
And because I always take advantage of fries on a fast food menu, I requested a batch seasoned with rosemary. Hasani sent the orders to the kitchen via iPod sorcery and deposited my $12 into a bag around his waist. “I’m also a walking, talking cash register,” he said with a smile.
Lunch came in no time. I sat on a bench in the shade and bit into my chickpea fritter, which I’ll also be counting as my first falafel sandwich. It was phenomenal. The vegetable salad inside the pita bread was very crisp—it tasted fresh. Maybe I just have a knack for ordering the most refreshing food items on scorching days.
One bite of my sandwich made me glad Clover prefers to use up all of its ingredients rather than store them in a freezer; I would hate to imagine leftovers of this stuff being tossed at the end of the day.
The fries were deep-fried, thinly sliced, and sprinkled with rosemary. I am in love with sea salt, and these fries were definitely coated in tiny sea salt crystals.
The rosemary was evenly distributed throughout the tray, so every bite was flavorful.
Whether you’re a firm vegetarian or a meat-eater who simply enjoys a couple of locally-sourced veggie lunches, Clover doesn’t care.
All that matters to them is serving healthy, locally-sourced and reasonably-priced fast food. Be sure to pay them a visit!