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Key Snack Locations, Clover HSQ, and Free Cider Donuts

October 7th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Restaurants

I’ve been concentrating these last few weeks on moving in and getting myself situated. This mostly means that I’ve been taking long walks while procrastinating on real work, and identifying my “key snack locations“. Key snack locations are the places I go back to again and again, can have a drink or a very small meal, sit down with a book, or treat myself after suitable exercise. Usually they are noted in miles or minutes from my house, a particular small bite of food that is satisfying, and by appropriate mood. In San Francisco I had several of these: Peasant Pies, (1 mile, Basque Beef hand-pie, standing room for when you just want to grab and go), Samovar (1.5, Masala Chai and Egg Bowl, to stay the afternoon cozily with a book), Tartine (1.5 miles, Almond Rocher and coffee, people watching) or Hapa Ramen (4.5 miles, Fried Chicken Bowl, there is never a bad time for this stuff and you walked far you damn well deserve it).

In addition to the pursuit of gastronomic pleasure, the other reason to identify these places is to give myself somewhere to go when I’m feeling tired or sullen or lonely – which can happen when you don’t work daily in a traditional office. Finding these new places gives me a kick out the door, a good reason to get out of bed in the morning, and a purpose.

So here I am now living in Newton – the ‘burbs of Boston. After staking out the local Starbucks (.3 miles, very large iced tea, reading/re-charging), I’ve been going progressively farther in my exploits, and have even managed to walk to Cambridge and back. I’ve re-visited a few favorites: Sevan Bakery (2.3 miles, cold sour cherry juice and stuffed grape leaves, when in need for Middle Eastern groceries), Formaggio Kitchen (4 miles, cheese samples, good house coffee + poverty inducing groceries, suitable for all moods), L.A. Burdicks (5 miles, single origin hot chocolate, when I’m feeling nostalgic).

And I’ve found a new one: Clover HSQ (5.5, breakfast sandwich, meeting with friends/getting work done). I’m going to tell you about it, because I’ve gone twice in the past week.

Clover Food Lab is one of those entrepreneurship success stories that made me happy before I even got a chance to try the food. The owner, Ayr Muir, did a great job of documenting the growth of his idea from concept to reality, and I’ve been reading it for a while now. He’s been blogging since the idea was just a seed, and there are hundreds of posts about his successes and failures: branding, licensing, developing each menu item, building the trucks, hiring (and firing) staff, developing a corporate culture, you name it.

What started out as a humble food truck, has since scaled up to several mobile locations and a brick and mortar restaurant. The food is vegetarian (but not boring!), local, and organic when possible. There is a focus on sustainability (everything is compostable), and they care about coffee. I finally made my way out there last week with my good friend Amanda – we were swayed by Clover’s promise of free cider donuts.

“HSQ” as they call the Harvard location is a nice place to sit and stay a while, one of my strongest criteria for a key snack location. The space is bright and airy, and the architecture admirable. In my two trips, I’ve noticed that folks at HSQ are generally in a good mood. When you walk in, things are a little overwhelming, but not uncomfortably so. The open kitchen is on your left, and you see people making real food.

The menu is on your right, on these neat dynamic LCD boards that they custom built, with the menu and approx. time it will take for each item to be made. You order directly from the folks at the front door on their iPhone.

Let’s talk about their coffee, shall we? It’s another one of those important things in my life. I typically only drink a cup a day, so it has to be a good one. At Clover, you get your choice of ordering from one of the different local roasters they have on rotation (I went on a Speedwell day), or a well-regarded national brand that Caf-icionados (did I really just use that word?) will appreciate. This week was Stumptown, but since I’ve had my share of Stumptown already, I opted for the local brew. I got the Guatemalan ($2). My partner-in-crime Amanda got herself the Kenyan* ($2).

After ordering, we grabbed our free donuts, and headed over to the coffee bar to wait for Lucia to make our pour-overs. It’s been hard for me to get used to non-SF-style coffee pouring, but Clover actually makes a good case for not weighing/no bloom/no spiral pouring on their blog. Despite having read this short manifesto in advance, I had to ward off the anxiety that comes from shattering my San Francisco-coffee-indoctrination ideals. The fellow standing next Lucia (and grinding the beans to order) was actually from the local roaster and calmed me with his coffee knowledge, and despite desperately missing the calming concentric spiral pouring I’m used to – the coffee was fantastic. You can’t argue with good tasting results.

{*A brief note about this Kenyan. Maybe it was some sort of interaction with the cider donut, but I swear smelled and tasted like weed. Yes, a cup of coffee with the aroma of marijuana. It might have been some crazy olfactory thing going on and was truly bizarre.}

We headed upstairs to sit in their little alcove area and people watch. It’s a little unusual for me to be in an establishment like this without my laptop, but I’ve been learning to wean myself off of it and actually meet up with people again. Upstairs, they grow fresh herbs in a planter that they built themselves.

We inhaled the free donuts (more about that in a second), and after my sweet fix, I started craving real breakfast. The curse of treating yourself to wholesome morning food on a regular basis?

As we were there before 10:30 am, it was too early for the chickpea fritter (their version of falafel) and the barbecue seitan – although they make their seitan themselves, from scratch. I may have offended one of the staff by saying that the marinating seitan looked an awful lot like tripe. But they were totally nice about it.

I opted for the breakfast sandwich ($3). Soft whole wheat pita, a slice of ripe tomato which they season, cheddar cheese, and a soft cooked egg. I’ve been burned lately on one two many spongy egg breakfast sandwiches, but in this sandwich I found the antidote. The way this egg was cooked and the yoke oozed into the pita made me swoon. This egg was the key snack location clincher.

But back to the donuts. These aren’t every day fare at Clover, they are treats, and that’s part of the deal – they don’t have daily desserts because you shouldn’t be eating the sweet stuff at every meal. Instead, on certain occasions like this one, they have special things – free cupcakes for a staff member’s birthday, or Whoopie Fridays. (Apparently, customers have complained, but I think the idea awesome.)

Cider donuts are a New England staple, and I grew up inhaling the ones from Applecrest farm. These, I’m a little ashamed to admit, were better than Applecrest. {May the hometown gods not smite me.}

The batter was not too sweet, a little spicy, and the donuts had a generously sugared exterior. The texture was soft but cake-like on the inside, and a little crispy on the outside. The best part of these donuts? Salt. Enough to cut through the sugar and make for a really well balanced and satisfying bite. I went back for another one before heading out the door, because there were no guilt-trip signs telling me to limit my consumption to one.

And three days later? I was back for the Chickpea Fritter ($5).

When I see things like this on a menu, I don’t expect much – as a Jewish and Middle Eastern girl I’ve had my share of superior falafel, and have impossibly high standards. But my friend Amanda recommended it, and I trust her judgment. And after sinking my teeth into it? It’s good. Really good. More of the soft pita, fried chickpea balls that taste like chickpeas and aren’t oily have a crunchy exterior and a soft center, and plenty of pickled onions, shredded carrots and cabbage, cucumber and tomato salad, all topped with a good dousing of both hummus and tahine. Oo! And some cucumber pickles too – a nice touch.

Plus, the thing is less than 500 calories (they post nutritionals every so often on the site), and enough food to keep you full for a good long time.

In short? This place is definitely going to go into heavy rotation.

What about you? What are your Key Snack Locations? Snack Criteria? And Boston Folks, where should I go next?

Clover
7 Holyoke St
Cambridge, MA
02138

See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu

Clover on Urbanspoon

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