Where Campaigns Chow Down

Presidential hopefuls are raising lots of money—and throwing lots of it around Washington to entertain staff and donors. Which restaurants are cashing in?

Acadiana in DC—where executive chef Jeff Tunks stirs up rich Louisiana-style cooking—has taken in $28,000 in campaign dollars, more than any other area restaurant, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group. That was the tab that John McCain’s campaign paid to reserve Acadiana for a cocktail fundraiser featuring small meat pies, mini crab cakes, and oysters wrapped in bacon.

During the event, chef de cuisine Chris Clime talked to McCain about a personal connection: Before the Vietnam War, McCain had taught Clime’s father how to fly jets at Navy flight-training school in Pensacola, Florida. “It was a small-world moment,” Tunks says.

The local Rocklands chain, which prides itself on authentic wood-fired barbecue, took in the second-largest amount. Hillary Rodham Clinton has spent nearly $20,000 for campaign fundraisers and staff events on Rocklands’ pork ribs, Texas corn pudding, red beans and rice, and other picnic fare.

At her husband’s first White House state dinner in 1993, Clinton included Rocklands’ jumbo shrimp with horseradish mango chutney—a deliberate departure from the European and French cuisine favored by her predecessors, according to Rocklands owner John Snedden.

McCain’s campaign seems to prefer Red Hot & Blue, the Memphis-style barbecue chain. It’s spent $3,235 at Red Hot & Blue but just $433 at Rocklands.

Though based in Chicago, Barack Obama’s campaign has paid more than $12,000 to Capitol Hill’s Johnny’s Half Shell, which serves up Ann Cashion’s menu of seafood with a Southern accent. The McCain campaign has spent a little more than $2,000 there.

Obama’s campaign also has called on the Cosmos Club (where he’s spent $1,800); Oya ($9,000), a sleek French-Asian sushi bar and lounge in Penn Quarter; and H2O ($6,600), the hip restaurant and club on DC’s Southwest waterfront.

The Arlington-based McCain campaign has taken a liking to Cantina Marina, a Southwest DC hangout with beach fare and a frat-boy atmosphere, where it’s spent nearly $2,000.

Clinton’s campaign, also based in Arlington, likes Maggiano’s, a national family-style Italian eatery that’s heavy on pasta, red sauce, and garlic; P.F. Chang’s, a chain of Chinese restaurants; and Murphy’s, an Irish pub in DC’s Woodley Park.

For pizza and coffee—two staples on the campaign trail—Papa John’s and Starbucks are the choice for McCain’s crew. Clinton’s team orders from the usual suspects—Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Domino’s—but it also ran up a $66 tab at Mom’s Pizza House, an Arlington neighborhood restaurant.

This article appears in the June 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.

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