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.
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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.
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.