Sky Full of Bacon


Announcing the Obama Foodie Watch

Presidents are not, generally, noted for what they eat. President Bush is, so far as I can recall, associated with exactly one pretzel, lodged in the presidential throat; President Clinton was known to have a weakness for junk food, but never from anywhere distinguished enough that he made it nationally famous; Bush senior ate pork rinds and disdained broccoli, although it later turned out he didn’t and that was just his advisers trying to make him look average-joeish (“Pork rinds, can’t get enough, ate ‘em all the time in Skull & Bones”).  Before that—hard to imagine Nixon, Eisenhower, Hoover as anything but steak and potato guys, though Taft looked like a guy who could down two dozen oysters as prelude to a rack of lamb.  And, of course, Martin Van Buren made a mean huevos rancheros.

But then there’s Barack Obama, who is rapidly becoming the Calvin Trillin of presidents, to judge by his alleged love for various local Chicago joints, often obscure. (This despite the fact that he has the physique of a tofu-eatin’ sprouts-lover.) His Hyde Park home is supposed to have a 1000-bottle wine cellar (no reports on how full it is), and his globetrotting childhood could make a Travel Channel show, since he admits in Dreams From My Father to having eaten dog, snake and grasshoppers as a boy in Indonesia. (Where was the attack ad on that one? “Barack Obama says he wants a dog for his family… but is it to play catch with, or to braise in a burgundy cream sauce?”) He can pronounce “arugula,” and “nuclear” so it doesn’t rhyme with it. Forget the race barrier… have we elected our first foodie president?

After seeing “Obama Eats Here” T-shirts on the staff at Hyde Park’s Medici Bakery, I’ve decided to keep a running tally of Obama-approved foods and food establishments, on the theory that it won’t take long for it to be longer than the LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurants award list, and to use them plus my Foodar to determine the pressing question of the day: Obama, First Foodie or Mere Expense Account Forkpusher?

Medici Bakery. T-shirts say “Obama Eats Here,” though no confirmation from press reports or the transition team.  On the foodie side, a wide array of Frenchy baked goods.  On the non-foodie side, when I pronounced “Levain” in the French manner (“leuhrrvehhnhhh”), they didn’t know what I meant until I finally gave in and said “Luh-vane,” like it was the name of the woman who does your perm.  Non-foodie.

Spiaggia. Chicago’s priciest Italian restaurant is, at least lately, Obama’s favorite for date night with the future first lady; they’ve been there at least three times this year, for Valentine’s Day, back in June, and in early November. Sure, it’s a great restaurant, but liking Italian isn’t exactly staking out a bold new position away from the other candidates.  If he was eating offal at Riccardo Trattoria or Mado, that’d be another matter, but lots of high-priced Loop attorneys eat at Spiaggia.  Non-foodie.

Topolobampo. Alleged to be another longtime favorite, though there are no press reports of them actually going there lately. Okay, so that makes two restaurants where they choose the more expensive half of a two-part restaurant. Did I mention that both Obamas have been high-priced Loop attorneys?  Still, admiring Bayless’s nuevo Mex is a cut above liking Italian food.  Foodie.

Sepia. The same article says Michelle likes Sepia these days.  Lots of people do.  Not foodie.

Italian Fiesta Pizzeria. Kenwood area pizza joint is apparently the Obama’s go-to delivery pizza place. Like good Chicagoans, they know that the okay delivery pizza that’s five minutes away is better than the great delivery pizza that’s twenty minutes away.  Foodie, because true foodies know when not to insist on foodieism.

Kua ‘Aina. Hawaiian burger joint where Pico Iyer of Time (who didn’t name it, but Serious Eats figured out what it had to be) had lunch with Obama… and they ate avocado burgers. (“Barack Obama says he can relate to the problems of ordinary Americans. But when he eats a hamburger, he puts an avocado on it. We can’t afford a president who puts something where you can’t even tell if it’s a fruit or a vegetable on his hamburger…”) Desecrating an American classic is very non-foodie, except when it works.  I can’t see this working if you’re not already lulled into a persistent vegetative state by being in the tropics.  In the cold gray of a Chicago winter, this would look ridiculous.  Non-foodie.

Manny’s. You’re not going to get very far in Chicago politics not eating at Manny’s Coffee Shop aka deli; I’ve never gone there and not seen either a pol I recognized, or someone I recognized had to be a pol (you can tell, believe me). Obama’s recent appearance was quite an event. This is the kind of place that brings out the inner foodie in non-foodies, so foodie.

Macarthur’s. Soul food cafeteria on the west side is talked about in The Audacity of Hope. So, Mr. President-Elect, you live near Army & Lou’s and Cafe Valois, yet you trek all the way over to the west side for your collard greens and smothered pork chops? That’s so totally foodie.

No doubt about it.  Dude’s a foodie.  We will follow this story as it develops.

UPDATE: Welcome, Huffington Post readers and other link-followers. Check out the main purpose of Sky Full of Bacon by clicking on “Video Podcasts” in the “Categories” menu at right.

So lots of updates from readers (hey, I didn’t miss Italian Fiesta, and note the reference to Cafe Valois as well).  Here’s what more we know:

Harold’s Chicken Shack (as pointed out by its primary chronicler).  A very Trillinesque choice.  Totally foodie.

Roy’s. I suppose it’s inevitable that someone born in Hawaii (and yes, my comment about eligibility is a joke, as is my dogmatic anti-avocado stand, though I still wouldn’t put one of them things on mah burger) would go for the only upscale Hawaiian in the universe.  Not foodie.

12 Bones, Asheville, NC.:

At 12 Bones, he greeted diners and took ribs, brisket, pulled pork, corn pudding and sweet tea back to his motorcade.

“That’s a lot of food. That’s not all for me,” he told staff.

Oh sure. Not all for me. Buddy, I been there, don’t kid a kidder. Foodie!

Bentoh’s. Having recently been to Springfield, I wondered if he’d have a favorite spot. I don’t know Bentoh’s, though. Judgement pending.

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54 Responses to “Announcing the Obama Foodie Watch”

  1. Jon in Albany Says:

    Interesting train of thought. We’ll have to check the menus of a few state dinners to see what Obama serves his guests.

    Is there room in the rose garden for a BBQ pit? I think that would by my first addition the the White House.

  2. Jenna Says:

    “President Clinton was known to have a weakness for junk food, but never from anywhere distinguished enough that he made it nationally famous”

    I immediately thought of Krispy Cream Donuts. I wasn’t living in the continental US at the time, so maybe I perceived this wrong, but I thought he had a lot to do with making them famous.

    And for a press reference RE: Topolobampo, the Chicago Times wrote a article about his motorcade taking a trip there recently, so it’s confirmed that he’s still a fan.

    Since we are both from Hawaii, I always wonder what Obama’s take on Spam is. I’ve always loved it.

  3. Michael Gebert Says:

    That’s right, there was even a scene set at a Krispy Kreme in Primary Colors, back when that would have been a touch of Southern exotica. (Now it’d have to be a Krystal’s, I guess.)

  4. Mike Sula Says:

    He name dropped Harold’s Chicken Shack in the 60 Minutes interview.

  5. Michael Gebert Says:

    And just imagine the outcry if Sarah Palin name dropped a place whose neon sign shows a man chasing a chicken with an ax! But Obama gets a free pass for this heartless display of bloodlust and cruelty. Liberal media bias!

  6. Neil Parker Says:

    Not sure if you know this, but he and his family love Roy’s on the coener of State and Superior. He has been going there for years, not sure if he has been back since he’s been elected, but I know as a senator and up to his election they dinned there.

  7. Jeff Says:

    Not about Topolobampo but Frontera Grill … 6th paragraph … http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/autocorner/chi-getting-around-01-dec01,0,1508757.column
    SSDD

  8. William Says:

    Obama was at Topolobampo on Saturday evening with with another couple. Leave ‘em alone! I think it’s overpriced compared to Frontera but you get privacy!

  9. Marc Says:

    Dude needs to plant a victory garden for his daughters and the nation. Grow organic, sustainable food and flowers just like John Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt and others. Hire a new chef who cooks like Alice Waters or her brood of young, creative offspring who showcase American bounty and new thinking about our respect for the land, sea and air. Set an example for slow food for everybody – tasty, nutritious, healthy and chemical-free. Yes, we can!

  10. Emily Booth Says:

    I remember reading Nixon put ketchup on his eggs. Eyes rolling.

  11. Heather Says:

    Totally picked best the best BBQ in Asheville, NC: 12 Bones. Totally foodie in a foodie town. We went crazy went he spent a weekend here during the election. Bama Watch. Small enough town that everyone has a good story. Big enough to win NC for him

    Foodie=NC mountain votes

  12. Sean Says:

    Bentoh’s in Springfield Illinois. The wall’s got a picture of Obama signed by the man himself with the words “I miss Bentoh’s”
    The blackened Salmon at Bentoh’s is phenomenal…

  13. Jessi Says:

    You missed Italian Fiesta Pizzeria and Valois Cafeteria in ye olde HP. It’s okay, though, who HASN’T reported on those two in the last month…

  14. Laurene Says:

    May I second that suggestion, Marc! Obama definitely needs to put in a victory garden to set a good example for the nation. Michael Pollan suggested the same thing last Sunday on Bill Moyer’s program.

  15. tinat Says:

    Hey, we put Avacado on our burgers all the time here in the west…but then we can get them year round.
    I make turkey burgers with cheddar cheese, avacado and a touch of ranch dressing. The kids love them, they are easy to fix, and they think they are getting junk food!

  16. Lady Rose Says:

    fun info! I admit I’m a huge Obama fan so this kind of post is right up my alley.

    I’d love more info. on Obama family recipes, (so far I found two – his tuna fish salad and chili recipes).

    Can’t wait to find out who the White House chef will be and what kind of foods are served.

    (I’m an avid Huffington Post reader, glad I followed the link here)

  17. Bree Says:

    Avocado is an essential and delicious on/with just about everything.
    Most especially burgers and pizza.

  18. Elliot Says:

    Hey genius, Obama is Hawaiian. So he ate at an Hawaiian burger joint where they put avocado on a burger. That’s called keeping it real and if you call yourself a food lover at all there is no way you can say that avocado on a burger sounds bad at all. Sounds delicious. It’s not like when Kerry went to Philly and asked for Bleu Cheese on his cheesesteak, that was just embarrassing.

  19. Michael Gebert Says:

    “Hey genius, Obama is Hawaiian.”

    Then how can he be eligible for the presidency?

  20. Very Proud Black Woman Says:

    Mr. Gerbert:

    Why don’t you get over it – Barack is the President-Elect born in Hawaii which in fact your white ancestors accepted to become a United State – so why don’t you just get over it “Soar Loser” what is wrong with you people – He’s here to stay and guess what?? He’s your Creole President. How you like them apples “You mad azz heck” HaHaHa & he aint leaving the White House partner! (LOL) Your probably beet red in the face right now & I’m ROTFLMAO – How about that!!!

  21. Marianne Mueller Says:

    When Obama plants a vegetable kitchen garden at the White House (heirlooms all: chard, spring mix, pacific stir fry mix (greens for you non veg growers), garlic, onion greens, purple potatoes, zebra tomatoes, scarlet red corn, mache (another greens), bok choi, napa cabbage, easter egg radish (many colors), etc etc – note that heirloom applies to any seed and just means groovy seed passed down from person to person that grows into varieties not found in stores) – well then he’s a foodie!

  22. No Says:

    Not just watermelon and fried chicken? Think he can get some grape drank widdat?

  23. Matth Says:

    What happened with comment #20?

  24. Haupia Says:

    #19, Hawaii is a part of the U.S.

    Gads, you must be joking to not know that.

  25. Very Proud Black Woman Says:

    Comment #20 – Nothing particularly happened, I
    read something that Gerbert-comment#19 wrote and it hit a nerve. Why are we questioning this brilliant man and the fact that he genuinely is intelligent and wants to repair our country from the ruins that our past presidents have done(OMG especially George Foolio Bush – who didn’t and will never have a clue to what he actually did) Please all know that I’m not in the business of attacks, but the facts are just that – Obama won – that’s it and that’s all – He represents a United America, not the divided one that we as a nation have been accustomed to all these years. CHANGE has happened – Please stay Tuned, because it’s my belief that this is going to be the President that finally gets it all right – he’s not opposed to having Republicans on his team – the only criteria is that they posses some smarts. The Division must stop America “Wake Up” Our enemies are reloading.

  26. Earl D Says:

    Harold” Chicken Shack has the best fried seasoned Chicken in Chicago, IL. Tourist come from out of town and risk thier lives in some of the worse places to get some fried chicken. A must have. For best BBQ. Lems on 75th, It’s in one of the worst place but the meat falls off the bones. Another must have..

  27. Lola Planner Says:

    You’ve obviously never had a burger from Kua Aina…we kamaaina know there is no burger better, and they are truly gourmet! They use real slabs of cheddar cheese on their cheese burgers, not that processed stuff. Kua Aina is no ka oi!

  28. Michael Gebert Says:

    Okay, let’s not get into an Obama vs, Bush debate or anything else actually political (my Palin comment at #5, as well as my various gibes at the avocado-eating state of Hawaii, are firmly tongue in cheek). There are, I am given to understand, one or two places where politics is discussed on the web, so do that there and let’s keep this to Obama, Foodie or Not?

  29. Tricia Reynolds Says:

    “President Clinton was known to have a weakness for junk food, but never from anywhere distinguished enough that he made it nationally famous; ”

    In 1994 then Pres. Clinton and the future Secretary of State attended the first G8 Conference in Naples, Italy (previous conferences did not include Russia). On an impromptu walk through the historic center, he stopped at a well-known Pizzeria where they wanted to please him by adding his “favorite food” to the pizza. To this day, Italian kids in Naples just love pizza with (French) fried potatoes on top. OyVey! A valid American contribution to Italian food was the tomato…but please, not this! I doubt if Pres. Obama will put avocado on pizzas around the world, but he’s sure to add a welcome international flavor to American food…..rather than the other way around!

    Tricia, Naples, Italy

  30. Very Proud Black Woman Says:

    FYI: I tend to get testy when I witness the constant attack of President Barack Obama, and the blatant disrespect of an intelligent man. In addition, I love the Huffingtonpost and I don’t have time for the blogs nor do I need you directing me somewhere – but I did feel the need to comment when I read the remarks you were making about Mr. President Barack Obama.

  31. karela Says:

    Roy’s, if it’s the same Roy’s I’m thinking of, is also a very popular Hawaiian restaurant. I don’t imagine that there are all that many Hawaiian restaurants available and he must get hungry for something from home. Roy’s has a varied gourmet menu, but many items have an island influence. Once you’ve lived in Hawaii, you never really get over it. You miss the music, the flowers, the gentleness and politeness of the people and most especially the blue light and ocean sight and sounds with the mist on your face. And of course, the food. I’m so hungry for a real Kaluha pig plate lunch!

  32. Michael Gebert Says:

    VPBW,

    I’ll be hanged if I know what “blatant disrespect” here you’re talking about.

    Sincerely,

    Mike “only one R” Gebert

  33. Berkeley Bear in Illinois Says:

    Having moved to Springfield in May, I don’t know much of what Obama’s been to lately. However, I do know that Bentoh’s is the go to place for folks looking for a lighter lunch downtown, like the salmon ceasar or sushi, and Obama is well known as a fan. It is tiny, which is one reason the owner of Bentoh’s has a new eponymous place, Jimmy Oh’s, on the west side of town with a broader upscale menu. Not offal/bone marrow level chic, but the double cut pork chop I had there was out of this world. If Jimmy wasn’t just lying through his teeth to a table next to mine when he first opened, he hosted a dinner there for Obama sometime during the campaign.

    Because of how business is done in the statehouse, I suspect he’s dined at Augie’s Front Burner (American Contemporary, nicest restaurant in downtown that I’ve found) Bella Milano (Italian on the west side, but more No. Italian than red sauce and noodles), the Sammy’s Sports Bar downtown (name says it all) and both of the soup and sandwich places in the downtown square area. If he’s really a foodie, he will have hit Cafe Brio for Sunday morning eats (housemade salsa and other SW touches on a fairly eclectic menu, about the only decent Sunday option), Ross Isaac (high end prep in an ugly building mid-town but with a range of American comfort favorites with high end twists), Catie Girl’s (only place in town putting together a decent cheese plate that I’ve found) and Indigo (more pretentious than it should be). Springfield has more good food than you’d expect for a town of 100k because of all the pols, but its a steep drop from there to chain restaurants.

    Oh, and if you don’t think Bubba Bill was a foodie, you’ve never heard Alice Waters wax rhapsodic about his visit to Chez Panisse. She spent no less than 10 minutes talking about the way he attacked an apple in giving the commencement address at Mills College in 1994 (my wife and I suffered through it on empty stomachs and (for her) a champagne headache on a hot May day).

  34. Michael Gebert Says:

    Thanks for the Springfield intel… yeah, I know Bill is fond of his food as he is of many appetites, but there wasn’t this level of obsessive, restaurant by restaurant coverage in his term; I guess the point really is, have we ever paid this much attention to a president’s food choices before, or is it just because 1) food is the new sex/Hollywood/whatever, and 2) Obama & the missus are the new Jack and Jackie?

  35. MAG Says:

    The wine cellar wasn’t particularly full when they first hit the trail in 07. Who knows how full it is after a long campaign.

  36. A Pitch to Obama on Food and Farming at B12 Solipsism Says:

    […] Obamas do seem to enjoy quality eating, so maybe there is still a glimmer of hope for us who are fans of natural foods, local grown […]

  37. Sunday Barack Obama trivia | England for Obama Says:

    […] In fact, yup, he’s definitely a foodie (strangely, no mention of pies in this article, […]

  38. Poliscibabe Says:

    Had MacArthur’s smothered pork chops this week – definitely a foodie vibe!

  39. Out in California Says:

    The Obamas ate at Blackbird on Valentine’s Day. Foodie? Hell, yes.

  40. Matth Says:

    I have it on good word (their waiter) that the Obamas ate at Spiaggia on Valentine’s Day.

  41. Former Chi-ster Says:

    That’s what I miss SO MUCH about Chicago: They take three things totally seriously:
    First is FOOD.
    Second is POLITICS.
    Third is ARCHITECTURE.

    SPORTS is in there somewhere. Maybe above architecture, but Chicago’s the only city (and I’ve lived in lots) where everybody’s got an opinion about the various kinds of architecture and architects working or having worked throughout the city.

    I’m lobbying hard to return to Chi-Town when we retire, and the only thing going against me is the weather (God knows those condo prices are working for me! Jeeze I wish we were able to buy now!!). My entrenched position is that I’d rather bundle up and live in Chicago than feel warm but live in the foodie/cultural paucity that is, well, I won’t name names.

    Chicago, you’re my kind of town. I’ve already made it know I want my ashes scattered in the lake between Oak St. Beach and Navy Pier! =)

  42. Kev Says:

    Valois (maybe the official name is “cafe Valois” but I never heard anyone call it that)is a straight-up cafeteria, not a soul food joint. They might have greens on the menu occasionally, but it does not sell soul food by any stretch of the imagination!

  43. zindc Says:

    Malia and Sasha will be going to a school which serves food in its lunch rooms that is all organic and locally grown-as-much-as-is-possible. Additionally, the Sidwell Friends Middle School has a rooftop organic garden where the students grow herbs and some vegetables that are used by the dining service. Obviously, issues of climate during the school year limit the actual amount of food that they can grow for their own use, but ecology, sustainability and food quality are issues of concern for everyone at the school. Two years ago, a new food service director took over and instituted a lot of new policies and practices that resulted in a complete change of attitude among the students regarding the food. Now they love it–what a concept–healthy food that the kids actually like to eat. Salad bar, sandwich bar, homemade soup, ethnic foods, vegetarian options.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Obamas brought a similar consciousness about food into the White House.

  44. Martha Miller Says:

    I’m really glad to read something important being discussed. We’ve got enough issues right now, and we can keep the discussion light without lossing sight of the road ahead. FOODIES UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR FROWN!

  45. Shannon Says:

    Cafe Valois – if he’s a true Hyde Parker it should be “See Your Food” and Kev is right – it’s a greek owned cafeteria whose regulars include older men, police officers and U. of Chicago students on a budget.

  46. Lauren Says:

    I am 100% behind Barack Obama and have visited around 1/2 of the aforementioned restaurants because I live in Chicago. One thing I find interesting though is that Obama has probably never eaten Black American soul food, being that he is from Hawaii, and his mother is white and from Kansas and his father is from Kenya. Obama probably enjoys spam more than anything else. I hope the only reason he visits Macarthur’s is for the food and not to make a statement.

  47. PAUL Says:

    SNEAKYPETE’s in Birmingham, AL.

    It is a MUST and Obama visited the establishment.

    If u visit Bham make sure u go to 3rd ave sneaky pete’s

  48. Gordon Says:

    Not only is Roy’s not “the only upscale Hawaiian in the universe,” it’s not even the best. For my money, that would be Alan Wong’s in Honolulu, where, according to this Chowhound posting, Obama has been spotted:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/549608

    As a Chicagoan, I’ve head numerous reports of the PEOTUS dining at Frontera and Topo, and he’s also been seen at another (less upscale, but Baylislike) Mexican restaurant in the northside Lincoln Square neighborhood, Dorado:

    http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=13289&p=215099&hilit=dorado+obama#p215099

  49. kimchi08 Says:

    about the organic sustainable garden: i wonder if could it be planted on top of the white house?

    about harold’s chicken shack: omg…it’s the BEST dang fried chicken in the history of ever! harold used to fry-to-order, but these days, with a ton of fans, chicken is pre-cooked just enough so that when i call-in an order, it’s finished in the fryer and ready for pick-up in 10 minutes, hot and juicy and smothered in hot sauce with a slice of white bread underneath to soak-up all the goodness.

    about chicago foodie-ism vs. non-foodie-ism: if you live here, you’re almost guaranteed to be a foodie. you may not know it, but it sort of seeps into your system like a good virus. in the last couple of weeks, i went to chickpea (palestinian home-cooking), lula (contemporary american deliciousness), super star thai (thai like my mom would make if mom was thai), and lalo’s (mexican fast ‘n good). i’ve been to tru and spiaggia and blackbird and topolo, all incredible upscale eateries in their own ways. tonight, because after this chit chat i won’t be able to help myself, it’ll be harold’s, chicken-chaser and all.

  50. alana Says:

    Love the man, but,the first foodie president? two words. Thomas Jefferson.

  51. Marcelo Says:

    First foodie president of Chicago? Then he better know all the stores on the Chicago food tours from Chicago Food Planet. These are the real nooks of Chicago where anti-Roy’s go. Quiz him or your Chicago self at http://www.chicagofoodplanet.com

  52. Susan Says:

    Michael–I just got here from Huffington Post…love your blog. I have to say after reading through all the “evidence” presented by you and other readers, O is on the fence when it comes to being a foodie. He could go either way– and I definitely agree that this is an opportunity for the White House to bring food sustainability awareness issues to the forefront. With its own garden, of course. We need to show folks that it’s possible to be a frugal foodie.

    BTW….you and I share the same last name. I’m from the Chicago area and my folks came over from Germany in the fifties. You’re the first person I’ve run across with my last name who isn’t immediate family. Tschuss!

  53. SickupandFed Says:

    There are so many great eateries in Chi-town. I love Army & Lou’s.

  54. Emily Litvack Says:

    Now if only he could publish a book or somehthing… “Obama’s Eats: Memoirs of a Presidential Foodie” (: