In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser says “Whatever replaces the fast food industry should be regional, diverse, authentic, unpredictable, sustainable, profitable — and humble. It should know its limits. People can be fed without being fattened or deceived. This new century may bring an impatience with conformity, a refusal to be kept in the dark, less greed, more compassion, less speed, more common sense, a sense of humor about brand essences and loyalties, a view of food as more than just fuel. Things don’t have to be the way they are. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I remain optimistic. ”
With a newfound health awareness and craze sweeping the nation, a cultural hub like New York City is bound to be caught up in the outcry for greener options and healthy eats without sacrificing the taste and visual aesthetic one has come to expect in dining out in the city. Not many of us have the time to be mindful of what we stuff into our mouths during lunchtime before hurrying back to work. However, when we do finally have a chance to slow things down and examine our diets, it’s safe to assume that a vast majority of people would gladly accept a healthy alternative to fast food or whatever is hastily packed into our lunch boxes.
Picture a sunny afternoon in Greenwich Village. You’re strolling along Downing Street in West Village, admiring the tree-lined sidewalks and gazing up at the brownstones when suddenly, it hits you. That familiar feeling of hunger that demands attention and immediate satisfaction. Now, you could make the short trip over to 6th Avenue and Bleecker Street, which is positively teeming with multitudinous venues for the intricate demands of your palate. However, shedding your stored up winter weight has been that one thought looming over you since the weather has started to turn favorable. Extra bloat and added calories are furthest from your mind as they can be. As luck would have it, a lean and green option is not as far-fetched as you may think. Nestled just stone’s-throw from Winston Churchill Square and Minetta Triangle and betwixt the historic scenery is Cafe Clover, owned by a triad of successful restaurateurs; David Rabin, Kyle Hotchkiss Carone, and Jeff Kadish.
We had the distinct pleasure of speaking with one of the partners of Cafe Clover, Kyle Hotchkiss Carone (seen here wearing the Triple F.A.T. Goose Grinnell Bomber), who takes pride in providing patrons with not only a sophisticated night on the town, but also with delicious food without the bloat we’re all too familiar with. Kyle is a creative director specializing in the hotel and food and beverage industries who has worked with industry veterans including Andre Balazs and Sean MacPherson. We asked him a myriad of questions, with topics leading back to the focal point of our interests; Cafe Clover and Clover Grocery as an expanding healthy alternative industry.
“The idea for the business was to fill a niche in the market for people who wanted to go to a beautiful, elevated restaurant with great service but not have to compromise on the health of their food.” Kyle says, as we asked what his philosophies getting started were. He continues by saying that sitting down and collaborating with the other partners on how to proceed “was kind of twofold – how can we create a cool and fun downtown restaurant that serves the kind of food that people want to eat every day?” Thus the beginnings of Cafe Clover were formulated.
Cafe Clover, as well as Clover Grocery right down on 6th Avenue, have begun the process of incorporating mindful eating and healthy shopping into the hustle and bustle of everyday New York City life, providing a welcoming atmosphere and that distinctive Village charm. “ One of the problems we tried to solve with Café Clover was the belief that eating out had to be a gluttonous affair.” Kyle confesses. “Restaurant kitchens to me represented butter and oil and cream and sugar. Like Eric Schlosser says, “People can be fed without being fattened or deceived.” The same applies to restaurants like Café Clover. We want people to not only be fed but to enjoy a night out in New York and go home at the end not feeling like the kitchen was putting out food that tasted great but wasn’t great for their health.” It’s refreshing to hear that some restaurants are not only concerned with providing their patrons with a delectable meal, but also keeping their waistlines in mind!
With scintillating specials and uniquely decadent menu options, the Cafe offers imaginative and unexpected dishes using simple, organic, and locally sourced ingredients. “The quality is much higher than what you are getting at a fast casual restaurant pumping out hundreds of meals a day.” Kyle tells us. As Cafe Clover’s motto says, “Good cooking is when things taste of what they are”. Ensuring that every component of the dish can be tasted is no easy feat. It requires culinary skill and some degree of refinement. To be able to develop flavor and introduce it to the public in the form of a healthy alternative denotes no degree of artisanism, which Cafe Clover’s Executive Chef David Strandridge delivers with every dish that passes through his kitchen.
Unlike most chain restaurants, or your run-of-the-mill eateries, Cafe Clover boasts an ever fluctuating menu that offers not just house specialities, but tantalizing seasonal options for healthy eating. Kyle explains this a bit more for us. “Our menu changes both seasonally and on our whims. We are always trying to incorporate interesting, nutritional, and seasonal ingredients. When we devised the chickpea pizzas it was because I had just returned from the South of France where “socca” is everywhere. So sometimes we’ll create based off experience, and other times my chef will just be tinkering in the kitchen trying to come up with new and different offerings.”
Knowing where your food is coming from is also a tidbit to keep in mind whilst out on the town for a meal. Cafe Clover is a staunch supporter of locally and organically sourced ingredients, and when we asked Kyle to elaborate, he was more than happy to explain. “ We source our ingredients, whenever possible, from local and organic sources.”
Well what about the winter months, and other such points in the year when certain ingredients are scarce or simply not to be found? “We don’t commit to 100% of either because there are times when the organic source isn’t local,” Kyle informed us, “but it’s the best or the local source isn’t organic because they haven’t been certified. So again, we just work off a promise that we have done the work to find the best of everything!”
Now wait a minute! Just how we can tell if the food being served is authentically organic and locally sourced. “You don’t.” Kyle admits. “And there’s no way for a restaurant to prove it. I always say we make a promise to our customers that we are making choices for you in the kitchen that you should be making for yourself at home. We also eschew nutritional facts because we aren’t a “diet” restaurant, and calories are not how we measure the nutritional basis of a meal.
When asked what kinds of unique techniques and menu options are available to the patrons of Cafe Clover, Kyle shares one of his new favorites, called “‘Socca’, which is a chickpea flour pizza. We incorporate everything from bee pollen to CBD oil to coconut yogurt and more on to our menu. And we are always looking for new and interesting ingredients.”
Also, for those of you that favor a bottomless bread basket as a precursor to your meal, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Cafe Clover has substituted that traditional restaurant cliche over a lighter option. Kyle tells us that he doesn’t “think consuming a basket of bread before a meal makes much sense at a restaurant like ours. Our customers aren’t looking to fill up on bread before their meal because they want to fill up on salads and vegetable sides and all of the other offerings available to them.”
Now, all this talk about nutrition and healthy eating seems intriguing and almost beguiling at first, however, these notions bring to mind the question as to what constitutes “healthy eating”? It’s not just a matter of throwing together a few green veggies, tossing in some nuts or protein, and finishing with a drizzle of dressing. Nor is it the prospect of bulking up on a huge meal then hitting the gym for an hour. Being healthy is a lifestyle, and Cafe Clover’s mission is to provide their patrons with the means to not only maintain a balance in diet, but life as well. After all, a healthier you is a happier you. “I think between Café Clover and Clover Grocery we offer a nice balance.” Kyle tells us. “If you want to grab something quick we have to-go options at the Grocery that were prepared at the restaurant.”
It’s easy to lose track of maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle when there’s too much going on to sit down and reflect on things like diet and exercise. Watching healthy restaurants and cafes pop up is a refreshing alternative and an optimistic portent to mindfulness seeping into our daily routines and habits. When we asked Kyle to share some of his thoughts on incorporating mindfulness into our lives, he smiled and said, “I think it's important that in a quest for more mindfulness we consider eating as an opportunity to take a break from the day. I’ve never pursued anything in the fast casual space because it's not how I eat. I take time out for my day for meals.” Occasionally stopping into nutritionally conscious places like Cafe Clover could be just the ticket for those seeking change and yearning for the alternative to the mundane and unhealthy in our constantly changing and fast-paced world.