Restaurant Review: Clover Food Lab

6:39 PM

Dining out with kids is always an experiment. So we thought it was appropriate to take our pickiest eater to Clover Food Lab.

Clover Food Lab is Food-Truck-Turned-Restaurant located in Harvard Square. Labeled "food lab" for its constantly evolving menu, Clover is known for its fresh, high-quality, vegetarian breakfast and lunch options. I had been hearing about their “amazing veggie sandwiches” for some time. I was excited to check it out and hopefully get some veggies in my two year old with the "white-carbs-only" diet. So we headed over to 7 Holyoke Street on a Wednesday just before noon.

Entrance to the "food lab"

In true Harvard/MIT fashion, you are greeted at the door by "new-school-meets-old-school" -- Clover staff equipped with an iPod Touch, takes your order, emails it to the kitchen, and makes change using a good old apron/change counter.

Order-taker taking orders via iPod Touch and credit card machines tucked behind sandwich boards

The menu changes daily, which is smartly captured with these electronic sandwich boards. Besides just looking cool, want to know what the best thing is about these sandwich boards? The wait-time for each item is listed next to the menu item and gets updated in real-time based on how busy the kitchen becomes. How long will it take to get the BBQ seitan sandwich? 2.8 minutes. When you have hungry kids pulling on your clothes asking when the food will be ready, this is huge.

Electronic sandwich board with up-to-the-minute menu items

Clover has an open, cavernous kitchen manned by hipsters-turned-food-scientists crafting sandwiches, sides and the most delicious iced coffee I have ever had. 

Open kitchen kinda looks like a lab

Coffee by Melittas

The dining area is simple, bordering on sparse, keeping to the laboratory theme. Stark white walls are interrupted by price list for merchandise or signs for plates/placemats/canvas and crayons. Clover is all about sustainability, which is reflected in pretty much everything you see, including their packaging (compostable) and their food trucks are fueled by recycled cooking oil.

No plates, just paper.

The restaurant seats 80, anchored by gorgeous wood tables with rosemary plants for centerpieces. We grabbed a table in the back and spread out a blank canvas for our little devil Picasso as we waited for our name to be called.

Fresh rosemary on communal tables

We were warned when we placed our order that our food would arrive at various times as soon as it comes off the line. Yet I still found myself surprised with the workout I got running up to the counter multiple times. First I heard my name called when the chickpea fritter sandwich was ready for pick-up. Then the other two sandwiches, followed by coffee and then fries. I can appreciate wanting to get you food piping hot, but this could be inconvenient if you are dining with a young child or on the upper dining area. Another annoyance if you are placing a large order – they don’t have trays. I was able to convince them to spare a combo-platter to-go container so I could carry our food in fewer trips – but only after getting the stink eye.

Egg and eggplant pita sandwich

The food: it met our expectations (thankfully) – which were high to begin with. Everything was fresh and flavorful. And a great value. Where else can you get a pita pocket overflowing with awesomeness for only $5? My only two complaints on the food are: 1) our eggplant sandwich assembly was a little lackluster – instead of an even distribution of ingredients, all the egg was placed on top so the flavors didn’t come together as I think it was originally designed.

The other complaint is on the tomato cheddar sandwich on the kids menu. Cheese was not in the slightest melted (huh?). If I knew this would be nothing like a grilled cheese, I would have tried the peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich (wait-time: 0.0 minutes!). My picky eater wanted nothing to do with it and instead feasted on the rosemary fries, which were really good – just the right amount of crisp with rosemary and salt.

Oh yeah, the chickpea fritter sandwich (which by the way can we all agree it’s a falafel sandwich?) – really, really good. It *almost* convinced us we could be vegetarians fulltime if every meal tasted like this. 

Falafel - I mean Chickpea Fritter Pita Sandwich

Clover must be doing something right. The place was packed only moments after we found a table. And now with five food trucks scattered around Boston, this food experiment seems to be a success. As for our dining experiement with our picky eater – we will need to rethink our hypothesis and try again.

Clover on Urbanspoon

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