By Everett Kimball - 11/18/09 12:25 AM EST
In his short time in the District, President Barack Obama has visited several area restaurants, bringing many instant publicity. Here are two of those local eateries happy to receive the executive attention.
1400 Irving St. NW
A relative newcomer to the Columbia Heights area, Pete’s Apizza recently received a major bump in support thanks to an endorsement from Obama.
The New Haven-style pizzeria was mentioned during a speech given Oct. 21, regarding a small business credit and SBA loans, when Obama quipped, talking about the proposed expansion of credit, “These steps will make a difference for more small businesses like Pete’s Apizza in Washington, D.C. I recommend it; everybody go out there.”
Since then, owner Joel Mehr admits the restaurant has seen a “significant” increase in revenue and an even greater interest in it as an area institution. Asked about any specific business practices that would prompt the president to endorse Pete’s, Mehr quipped, “Not really. We got lucky.”
The White House still apparently has an eye on Pete’s and has since reached out to Mehr regarding small business health insurance policy. While the president has never been to or eaten at the pizzeria, as far as anyone can confirm, Pete’s has found new customers in the Senate. The office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) organized a catered lunch by Pete’s for 20 freshman senators in the Russell Senate Office Building earlier this month.
With a wide variety of attractive menu options at a reasonable price, it’s no wonder Pete’s has become such a favorite among locals. For the weary White House or congressional staffer, Mehr recommends a pint of Bell’s Winter White Ale and “The Staven” pie, crafted with pepperoni, sausage, caramelized onion, cherry peppers and garlic. Manager Dominic Palazzolo offers the “Edge of the Woods” pie (spinach, caramelized onions, ricotta, eggplant) and a Birra Moretti lager pint. The antipasto is also a customer favorite and options rotate frequently, currently including local beets, lentils, fingerling potato confit and northern beans. Pete’s boasts a list of more than 15 bottled beers, four draft beers, and several red and white wines to pair with any menu item.
Palazzolo noted Pete’s has no plan to actively market the endorsement, and will use the recent earned media, as well as social media and word of mouth, to increase business.
1713 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
Ray’s Hell-Burger, owned by Michael Landrum, is a destination worth traveling to if you’re looking for a great burger, and on May 5, that’s exactly what Obama was seeking.
With Vice President Joe Biden in tow, Obama made an impromptu visit to the Arlington establishment for a high-profile power lunch. Despite taking the staff by surprise, Landrum attests the president is welcome back anytime. “The president’s involvement in the local business community, and specifically my own, has provided me with better means to enact ways of affording my employees a little more opportunity that they can in turn extend to their families,” says the owner.
Biden stepped up first and ordered a Swiss-cheeseburger, medium-well, with jalapeños and ketchup, with a root beer to drink. Obama followed by ordering a cheddar-cheeseburger, also medium-well, with lettuce, tomato and mustard.
During my own recent visit, which surprisingly didn’t generate nearly as much fanfare as the president’s, I had the pleasure of tasting the “Let’s Get It On” Burger, which boasted a massive and well-trimmed 10-ounce patty, with a generous helping of Swiss and white-cheddar cheese, bacon, sherry sautéed mushrooms and peppers, all on a toasted brioche bun. Cutting the burger in half is a must for handling, but expect the meal to still fall apart into a deliciously greasy mess by the end. The burger itself was cooked to my request, while the Swiss and cheddar cheese were distinctly sharp, and the subtle addition of cognac and sherry to the sautéed toppings rounded out a supremely satisfying burger. Corn on the cob and watermelon usually come as complimentary sides.
French fries were a pleasant surprise as I operated under the impression that Ray’s chose not to serve them. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, the lightly salted fries made for a delicious addition to the meal. Cheese toppings range from your basic American and Swiss to the pricier Epoisse de Bourgogne.
For those who’ve not yet had the pleasure of visiting Ray’s Hell-Burger, Landrum offers a suggestion: “The president and the vice president intuitively had it exactly right when they visited Ray’s. The simpler the better.”