Review: Clover HSQ
Nothing quite captures the mystical appeal of Clover Food Lab and its stranglehold on the cultural zeitgeist as much as this tweet, posted by Somerville resident @sauciedotcom:
“via @dudekicker overheard at oona's: 'I just got takeout from the apple store of lunch' @cloverHSQ”
It was then was promptly retweeted (with a combination of bemusement and pride, we presume) by @RolandoRobledo, Clover’s executive chef.
These are the times, and this is the restaurant.
The soul of Clover is both ephemeral and tightly-focused, a self-confessed experiment on the future of accessible, from-scratch, locally-sourced “fast food.” They apologize to customers in advance for any growing pains via a rough-hewn (and temporary) manifesto scrawled on the wall floor-to-second floor. The young staffers are outfitted with Clover caps and an earnest can-do spirit; these guys were posting daily specials online and stoking food truck culture back when the word “tweet” still just meant the sound a bird makes.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before brick-and-mortar sunup-to-sundown restaurant Clover HSQ opened in Harvard Square, Clover already had a richly-cultivated reputation. Their fleet of food trucks in Cambridge and Boston gradually expanded over their first two years in business. The original opened in Kendall Square, the next was on the Rose-Kennedy Greenway near Dewey Square and a third appeared at the seasonal SoWa Open Market.
Clover has always been committed to hand-delivering a story along with its plump banana-walnut muffins and foiled-wrapped BBQ seitan sandwiches. The truck staff remembers your name and asks about your mother; the most expensive thing on the menu is $5; everything is fresh, local and original.
Clover’s expansion (spiritually and physically) from a truck to an actual restaurant is akin to witnessing a local artist transferring her exhibition from a bohemian indie gallery to a show at the ICA. The work remains consistent, but the overall effect is much more grand.
And artful it is—the stripped-down interior a handsomely clean space in a minimalist palette of white, wood, steel and natural light. The kitchen is a food voyeur’s dream, its buoyant crew slicing, mixing and prepping within full view. Everyone who walks in the door is greeted warmly, one by one. A skylight in the rear falls upon a geometric frame of wires tangled in growing ivy, forming an evolving sculpture that’s a poetic nod to Clover’s academic environs. An enormous, stained-wood communal table flourished with knotty whorls forms the heart of the space. You’ll instinctually tap your toes to the piped-in ‘50s tunes. A humble potato secures a pile of compostable napkins.
Not to mention, the food is delicious. The menu is insanely snackable and vegetarian-friendly, anchored by pita sandwiches (soy BLT, chickpea fritter), soups (sweet potato, wild rice), breakfast (oatmeal with pear compote, popovers) and beverages (hibiscus soda, hot Assam tea). Selections vary with the season and the whims of the chef, broadcast daily to the Twitterverse on @CloverHSQ and recapped lovingly on the blog.
One is nourished at the church of Clover. And the people are hungry.
Drink this: A cup of freshly-ground, hand-filtered coffee is a caffeinated luxury, not to mention sips like tarragon lemonade and hot mulled cider. An alcohol license is in the works.
Eat this: The menu changes daily, but runaway favorites are the steaming popovers, egg and eggplant sandwich and the addictive and aromatic rosemary french fries. Schedule your afternoon around the “3pm special,” when seasonal surprises like apple fritters or mac n’ cheese emerge from the kitchen.
Sit here: Bellying up with friendly strangers at the wooden communal table is social sanctimony at its best. Prefer a suspended experience? Head upstairs to the open, clear-paneled balcony overlooking the kitchen and entrance, an area affectionately called “the floating bridge.”
Conversation piece: Clover is intentionally sans phone number so that staffers aren’t slowed down by calls during service hours. Online ordering is in the queue, but in the meantime, tweet them at @CloverHSQ or leave a comment on their website. They’re always listening.
7 Holyoke Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge (@cloverhsq, cloverfoodlab.com)