Presidential Dilemma: Eat In or Dine Out?

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President Obama and Vice President Biden stop by the Dupont Circle, Shake Shack. | Photo by Pete Souza. Courtesy the White House.

candidates make a big effort to eat at down-to-earth establishments, knowing that voters are not just interested in whether a presidential candidate shares the same values, is honest and trustworthy, is a strong leader and cares about people like them. They’re also curious about his or her dining habits.

Politicians know that food and restaurant choices are a great way to connect to American voters. This is known as culinary politicking. But does all that change once they secure the “Commander in Chief” title?

We asked Nycci Nellis — founder and editor of the TheListAreYouOnIt.com (the D.C. area’s top food and wine events website) — for her take on what restaurants the candidates will frequent if they make it to the White House.

“Trump and his wife Melania will no doubt favor his soon-to-open hotel restaurant BLT Prime and Cortile Bar,” said Nellis. “Republican presidents in the past have not been known as adventurous diners, frequenting the more long-established restaurants. Cruz and his wife Heidi have been seen frequently at Fiola, and I picture Kasich as a more ‘dine in’ kind of guy, with occasional outings to family-style pasta restaurants like Carmine’s. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders would favor smaller, independent mom-and-pop shops like Bad Saint, Alex McCoy’s pop-up Alfie’s or Tail Up Goat. The Hill-and-Bill Show will look for the hottest new dining spots with a healthier menu, restaurants that have a vegan option like Convivial, Kinship, Fiola Mare.”

Most of the candidates have already “taste tested” the Washington, D.C., food scene. The Four Seasons-owned restaurants have always been popular spots for boldface politicians and A-listers. According to Four Seasons p.r. director Liliana Baldassari, Trump, Clinton, Sanders and Kasich would have no problem finding their favorites on the hotel’s restaurant menu. “Trump wouldn’t be able to resist our huevos rancheros, while Hillary is healthy all the way and would most likely choose the Green Machine frittata with multigrain toast and a side of berries,” said Baldassari. “Bernie Sanders would have the Light and Easy granola parfait with berries and a toasted bagel and John Kasich would favor a big breakfast, Buckeye-style: eggs, bacon, hash browns and sausage. And we’d keep the cappuccinos coming. You need lots of caffeine when you’re on the campaign trail!”

According to Tim Seymour, general manager of the Palm Tysons Corner, his restaurant group doesn’t lean red or blue. Candidates may be battling it out during debates, but one thing they can agree on is that the Palm is an economically prudent choice. “The Palm has an SOP policy that all current and former presidents never receive a check at any of our restaurants for their meal,” said Seymour. “The POTUS and party will always dine as our guest.”

Another option for an incoming president is to follow the choices of his or her predecessors. One Washington restaurant that has historic ties to those who have ruled the White House and the Capitol over the years is Georgetown landmark Martin’s Tavern, D.C.’s oldest family-owned restaurant. According to fourth-generation owner Billy Martin, “Presidential patrons began with Harry S. Truman and his love of Martin’s roast chicken. Ike enjoyed roast beef sandwiches and beef stew. LBJ and Speaker Sam Rayburn were big on steaks and scotch. JFK always ordered the New England clam chowder — except for breakfast. And Richard Nixon favored our meatloaf.”

The fact is, as much as the new presidential family may want to experience Washington’s exploding food scene, it is often so disruptive to other diners that the best place to eat, at least initially, may be home (that is, the White House). Sam Kass, the former Obama personal chef, was known for his delicious but healthful and beautifully presented food. Nancy Reagan preferred one of the White House chefs, Frank Ruta, now executive chef at the Grill Room in Georgetown, to cook in the family quarters. LBJ brought Johnson family cook Zephyr Wright to the White House to make all the Texas food that he and his kinfolk loved. When you have a personal chef who has been recognized and heralded by the likes of Food & Wine and the James Beard Foundation, staying in is a very attractive option.

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