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Sun-Times political columnist Lynn Sweet offers food-tinged coverage yet again, with her story today on Chicago hot dog stand owner Mike Payne's role in getting Chicago-style hot dogs served at the White House congressional picnic Tuesday.

Sweet says Payne, owner of Byron's Hot Dogs, was enlisted by Sen. Dick Durbin, who had gotten a call from the White House asking for help.

White House chef Cristeta Comerford worked off a grocery list Payne sent her of all the required ingredients.

The story, thank goodness, isn't nearly as controversial as Sweet's last foodie go-round. But it still raises a few questions:

Items on Payne's grocery list included "yellow mustard, shredded lettuce, diced onions, sliced cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, peppers, celery salt and dill pickles." If we may: Sliced cucumbers are a stretch, but since when has shredded lettuce belonged on a Chicago-style dog?

Also, Comferford couldn't get her hands on the bright green relish, but "she found something close." And what would that be? Inquiring minds want to know!

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We know the President is a White Sox fan. And now, the First Lady reveals her loyalties: she's a Dominick's shopper.

And in other White House food-related "news": Iron Chef America used produce doubles, not fruits and vegetables actually plucked from the White House garden, on its much-touted battle starring White House chef Cris Comerford.

What will President Obama and other leaders nosh on as they discuss the world's weightiest issues at the G20 Summit, opening today in Pittsburgh?

Well, that's top secret, silly. But what we do know is that there will be plenty of locally grown produce on the menu, about 5 percent of which was plucked right from the 600-square-foot rooftop garden (part of which is pictured below) at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center -- which no doubt should please the commander-in-chief and the missus, who've made it clear that local, sustainable agriculture is a priority.

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Chicago-based Levy Restaurants handles catering at the ultra-eco-friendly, LEED-certified convention center, which the center's executive chef Dominique Metcalfe says is one of the world's largest green buildings.

Metcalfe says she got word they would be hosting the summit about three months ago. For the past week, she, chef de cuisine Robin Rosenberg (who flew into Pittsburgh Wednesday from Levy's innovations kitchen in Chicago) and about 40 other chefs have been going "nonstop" to get the grub ready. They expect to feed 4,000 over the next two days.

They have to keep mum on the menus, per White House rules, but Rosenberg says the world will be covered, culinarily speaking.

"We have about four different dietary laws we have to follow -- kosher, vegan, Hindu, Muslim," he says. "We have products from all over the world coming in just to satisfy everybody here."

For lunch, the chefs will offer oh-so-trendy bento boxes with deconstructed salads and sandwiches.

White House staff members already have toured the rooftop garden and are "just crazy about it," he says.

The Levy staff also will be sourcing from about 20 farms in the region.

On the Presidential Plate

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Mr. President, we know that something is going on at the White House that you are not telling us and the American people want some answers.

The question that is being asked, as stated last week, is, in essence, how can the president and First Lady indulge in the occassional (and very public) cheeseburger, allow their two daughters to enjoy some fun snacks from time to time yet they all remain fit and trim?

We know that Michelle Obama has a vegetable garden at the White House, but considering that "the first couple often publicly enjoy hearty servings of not-so-healthful food -- and allow their daughters to indulge, too," the two questions that loom are "What do the Obamas eat at home, and how do they stay so thin?"

Those clamoring to know what's on the presidential dining table are both ordinary Americans and folks who make their living in food and nutrition. "We have no idea what their regular breakfasts, lunches and dinners are like," American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and D.C. nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge told Politico. "Burgers, that's all I ever hear about. They go to burger joints because it shows they're just like everybody else, but everybody else is overweight."

Could be, though, that the Obamas may have achieved that elusive "balanced" lifestyle, where they balance the occasional burger or ice cream with morning workouts, playing basketball, and running after the presidential dog, Bo. Call it "White House Weight Watchers."

The Obamas love hamburgers. This past week, both the President and the First Lady made trips to hamburger restaurants in and near Washington. Everyone has heard about President Obama and Vice President Biden's lunch excursion to Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va. last week, but not as widely reported was First Lady Michelle Obama's burger jaunt.

The Washington Post reports that Mrs. Obama and her staff dined at the Good Stuff Eatery, on Pennsylvania Avenue, this past Friday.

"The outing was just one of several the first lady and her staff have made to local eateries for lunch, also visiting Five Guys Burgers and Fries and a barbecue place," the Post reported.

The restaurant assembled platters of various house specialties, so everyone in the group of around 18 could sample a variety of burgers. The burgers they got to eat included the Colletti's Smokehouse burger, free range turkey burgers, the "Prez Obama" burger, regular burgers and bacon cheeseburgers. The burgers were served with two kinds of French fries -- sea-salt dusted ones and a thyme, rosemary and cracked pepper version. "Also on offer were Cliff's Homegrown Vidalia Onion Petals, a kind of high-end blooming onion," said the Post.

Who knew the Obamas were such burger fans? Maybe next time they're back in Chicago we'll catch them at Kuma's or Hamburger Mary's.

The AP reports that President Obama and VP Biden went on a burger binge today to a small strip mall joint called Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va.

Amid a gaggle of photographers, the two paid with cash and waited for their number to be called.


Ray's Hell Burger, also called Ray's Butcher Burgers, does one thing (and well, at that, according to D.C. foodists) -- a $6.95, 10-ounce burger made from freshly ground, prime beef.

Sara Levine of the said, "Ray's creations aren't of the truffle-and-brioche gourmet variety à la Palena or Central Michel Richard; they're more like great made-at-home burgers from the backyard grill, taken up several notches thanks to the quality of Landrum's meat." Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's only quibble: the brioche bun tends to fall apart.

Ray's doesn't even sell French fries.

The foodie(s) on the White House staff know their local grub. The cheeseburger at Ray's Hell Burger is on the list of the 50 best burgers in 50 states in the June issue of Food Network Magazine. It's one list we won't quibble with, at least not where Chicago is concerned -- the Slayer burger at Kuma's Corner is the magazine's pick for Illinois.

Update: We just heard back from Ray's owner Michael Landrum, who apologized for not being able to call us that day the Prez came in. Kinda busy, we guess.

Anyway, Landrum tells us he's humbled by the impromptu visit from Obama and Biden to his 9-month-old shop. And contrary to what some were reporting Tuesday, he says Obama ordered a cheeseburger with Vermont cheddar. And Biden ... uh, Landrum doesn't remember what theVP ordered.

"The tour buses haven't started rolling up yet, but seeing your restaurant discussed on The Daily Show and Dave Letterman is kind of cool," Landrum says.

A couple of New York City restaurants have re-named themselves in honor of our 44th president, according to Gothamist. There are officially two Obama Fried Chickens and a food cart called the Meal O'Bama. This after reports that a German food company has dubbed its new frozen chicken fingers "Obama fingers" (yes, go on and cringe).

But should the name change trend catch on in Chicago (which is highly unlikely, of course; restaurants here know they don't need to prove their love to Mr. President), here's one to consider: Topolobama.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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