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6 NYC Eateries Where Politicians Dined to Make a Statement, Before Chili's

By Nicole Levy | July 18, 2016 3:49pm | Updated on July 19, 2016 6:40pm
 Three New York City restaurants where politicians have taken meals (from upper left, clockwise): Blue Hill, Sylvia's and Mike's Deli.
Three New York City restaurants where politicians have taken meals (from upper left, clockwise): Blue Hill, Sylvia's and Mike's Deli.
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Thomas Schauer; DNAinfo/Paul Lomax; DNAinfo/Eddie Small;

Following a two-day visit to the New York City area for the official announcement that he'd be joining Donald Trump on the Republican ticket, Indiana governor and presumptive GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence took his family for a Sunday meal at a Chili's in suburban New Jersey.

It may have been the worst decision ever, inciting an avalanche of commentary from repulsed New York foodies. Or it may have been the best, telegraphing that Trump's new running mate sympathizes with Americans "trying to make a comeback from hard times."

Good or bad, Pence and his team made a calculated choice. Every politician does when they determine where they'll dine, on or off the campaign trail.

As Jonathan Prince writes in Lucky Peach, the connection between eating and voting is that politicians are always looking for ways to connect to their constituents, "and food really is the lowest common denominator."

Below, we take a look back at the eateries where presidents and presidential hopefuls have taken their meals in New York City, and parse the messages they intentionally or incidentally sent the electorate:

► George McGovern at a hot dog stand

Democratic presidential candidate McGovern lost himself the Jewish vote in the 1972 race against Richard Nixon on a trip to Queens with Councilman Matthew Tory. One of their stops included a hot dog stand, where McGovern ordered a Kosher dog — with a glass of milk. The politician from South Dakota should have read up on the laws of kosher eating before traveling east.

► Ronald Reagan at Angelo's

On his first visit to the Big Apple since taking office, Reagan lunched at Angelo's on Mulberry Street in 1981, his meal was arranged by two local politicians as a means of thanking Italian-American voters for their support. 

Reagan and his party sat down at table No. 14, where they partook in a meal of fettucine braciole, spiedini mozzarella, baked clams and shrimp sautéed in a white wine sauce. A photo of the 40th president and Sen. Alfonse D'Amato still hangs on a wall near the table.

► Jack Kemp at Sylvia's 

Running mate for Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996, Kemp held a breakfast rally at the popular Harlem soul food restaurant, long a base for black Republicans. The event, which was an appeal to black voters and their concerns, drew hundreds of onlookers and relatively few protestors. 

"Republicans and Democrats alike welcome you to Harlem, because you are an unusual kind of man," said Van DeWard Woods, son of the restaurant's founder. "You transcend labels and parties."

Regular customers, religious, political and business leaders shared grits, sausage and corn muffins with the vice presidential candidate, who delivered a speech about racial reconciliation atop a folding chair.

Barack Obama at Blue Hill

On a date night in 2009, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama ate out at the posh Greenwich Village eatery known for its locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. (Only after the Secret Service searched all the other diners, of course.)

The Obama's choice of restaurants "show[s] taste," then-chief restaurant critic Frank Bruni noted in the New York Times. "And it affirms their interest in participating in the current conversation and in the cultural moment — on the subject of food as on so much else."

But Bruni questioned whether the president had squandered the opportunity to contradict an image he'd projected on the campaign trail, as "someone almost joylessly disciplined and restrained around food."

► Sarah Palin and Donald Trump at Famous Famiglia

Of all the pizzerias in the city, Palin and then presidential flirt Donald Trump decided to lunch at the Famous Famiglia's on Broadway and 50th Street when the former governor of Alaska drove into town on her 2011 "One Nation" bus tour. They ordered a large pepperoni pie, as passersby snapped photos through the restaurant's windows.

"You can't get more New York than that, Donald Trump ordering pizza here," Famiglia owner Giorgio Kolaj told the New York Daily News at the time. Other New Yorkers were less enthusiastic, angered by the fact that the politicos used forks to eat their slices.

The meeting inspired rumors of a Palin-Trump ticket that never materialized.

► John Kasich at Mike's Deli

On the campaign trail in April, Republican presidential candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich stopped by Mike's Deli in The Bronx, an institution serving Italian cured meats, cheeses, oils, and pastas for the last 50 years. There, he heartily feasted on pasta fagioli, spaghetti bolognese, and three different sandwiches. 

Captured rather unflatteringly mid-chomp, you could either say Kasich displayed a healthy appetite for life, or a boorish manners unbefitting the leader of the free world.