It wasn’t as big of a deal as, say, an Air Force One fly over, but it was the talk of the town – and the rest of the universe, apparently - the other day when Barack Obama and Joe Biden ventured beyond the walls of the White House on a quest for ground red meat. And, in just about the biggest scoop since the whole Bill Clinton “boxers or briefs” inquiry, information was skillfully gleaned by the media in abundant attendance indicating that POTUS and VPOTUS fundamentally disagree on a matter of concern to all Americans.
Joe likes ketchup on his burger. Barack likes mustard. And not just plain old yellow mustard. No sir, he likes the good stuff - the brown and spicy stuff. As the president of the United States ordered his “regular” bacon cheeseburger at Ray’s Hell-Burger in an Arlington, Virginia strip-mall, he asked for it “medium well” and with mustard. In fact, he asked for Grey Poupon.
Part of the Dijon family of mustards (that’s French, for any conspiracy theorists out there), and made with a brown Canadian-born seed, with just a splash of white wine, Grey Poupon became a household name in the 1980s via the success of its television commercial. The spot featured one Rolls Royce pulling up alongside another, and then the famous question: “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon.”
The question quickly went viral across America as something of a cute, pompous, somewhat pretentious, and very snooty tag line. Now, if George W. or his Daddy had asked for it – that would have been the big story at Ray’s Hell-Burger. But alas, the idea of the two big guys hanging out with regular folks at a burger joint was too cool to complicate with anything that didn’t fit the desired picture.
And that burger “joint” – well, it’s not exactly a glorified White Castle or Steak and Shake – or even a Five Guys, it’s a spot where you can drop up to $17.50 on a burger. You can get yours with foie gras, bordalaise sauce, and even white truffle oil.
Just like Mickey D’s, right?
It turns out that maybe the cool “let’s-show-them-we-are-just-like-them” adventure was at least a little flawed, but you’d never know it by the news coverage. The New York Times featured it, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, and other usual suspects, as well. The story even got a lot of play internationally.
Richard Nixon once walked on the beach in his street shoes and was brutally lampooned by the nattering nabobs of negativism in the press, ever after. George H. W. Bush’s fascination with the cool product code reader at a super market checkout counter in 1992 was evidence that he was out of touch.
But when Mr. Obama asks for Grey Poupon while trying to act like an everyday schnook ordering an artery clogging burger, it apparently happens with media impunity.
Of course, the migratory eating patterns of presidents in and around town have always been of mild interest. Certainly our presidents are entitled to scramble out of the pocket on occasion to mingle with the masses, even in this security-hyped age. Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed Chinese take-out from Sun Chop Suey Restaurant on Columbia Road in the district long before he became our 34th president. And he hated that every employee had to undergo a rigorous FBI check before he could have his first order sent to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1953. But he and Mamie wanted Chinese food on their T.V. trays and that was that.
A lot of presidents have eaten at Billy Martin’s Tavern Restaurant in Georgetown over the years, most of them first enjoying the place as congressmen or senators. Reportedly, Jack romanced Jackie in their favorite booth, while Lyndon Johnson talked shop with Sam Rayburn over cuts of prime rib. Harry Truman liked the place, always having a glass or two or three of his favorite I. W. Harper Bourbon (he even kept a stash in his personal White House bathroom and Bess never knew) with his steak.
Speaking of drinks, Richard Nixon was known in later years to prefer Tanqueray martinis, not the scotch his character drinks in Oliver Stone’s clumsy and just-plain-hideous cinematic caricature. But he also loved the mai tai’s at his favorite Washington, D.C. eatery – Trader Vic’s. The drink was actually invented by “Trader” Vic Bergeron, though he is seldom credited with creating the concoction. Mr. Nixon took Pat there for Valentine’s Day in 1973, and he enjoyed a few of Vic’s specialties, while she stuck with Jack Daniels.
Bill Clinton had more than one favorite Washington, D. C. area restaurant. Go figure. He liked Mark Miller’s Red Sage and the Italian restaurant Galileo, on 21st St. NW. His predecessor, the first President Bush, favored a Chinese spot in Falls Church called Peking Gourmet. And I can verify that they serve the best Peking duck you’ll ever savor.
Of course, all of these guys had to eat everything put before them while on the campaign trail seeking the office. Seeing them smile in photographs over the years, munching on this colloquial delicacy or that, you can every once in awhile almost see a glimmer of the kind of face Lucy Ricardo made while taking the first few spoonfuls of vitameatavegamen.
When politicians ultimately get to the White House, their days of having to partake of things they’d rather not become more rare – at least, until time for reelection comes around. Then it’s out with the French mustard and in with the French’s.
We will all know when the moment comes – if indeed it ever does – that the media either gets bored with Barack, or in some sense turns on him. How? Well, there will be this photo-op thing, where the president drops by some really-regular-people-friendly breakfast place. And the commander-in-chief will order some eggs, bacon, and grits, with white toast.
He will then turn to the table next to him and say, loud enough for the cameras to pick up, “Would ya please pass the jelly?”
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