There are no artisanal cheese boards at Trattoria Alberto, the unassuming bastion of old-school, red-checkered-tablecloth Italian food on Capitol Hill. No arcanely or locally sourced ingredients, as the fashion goes. No craft beers or small plates.
Perhaps its throwback simplicity and imperviousness to culinary trends is part of the restaurant’s appeal to the highest-ranking Republican on Capitol Hill. Trattoria Alberto is known as House Speaker John A. Boehner’s favorite restaurant, one of those facts of life that are so well known among a certain subset, they’re rarely commented on. And so it was the scene on Tuesday night of a stakeout by reporters hoping to get a word with the Ohio Republican following the surprising loss of Boehner’s second-in-command, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Of course, they’d find him there.
The media types buzzed around the wrought-iron-railed entrance on Barracks Row, a strip of 8th Street SE, often frequented by members of Congress and their aides. Inside, Boehner was dining, as he frequently does, with regular dinner companions Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Ties were loosened, and tongues, too, perhaps — Boehner is known to enjoy a glass of merlot with his Italian.
On the menu, there are dishes that would seem familiar to a middle-aged Midwesterner: lasagna, veal satimbocca, chicken marsala, tiramisu. The place has been in business for more than three decades, outliving a parade of other establishments and predating the new flurry of openings along the corridor during the last five or so years.
The service is friendly, and regulars are greeted by name. It’s never crowded, exactly, even as the city’s foodies wait hours for a seat at the white-hot Rose’s Luxury across the street.
One reason Boehner frequents the joint, legend goes, is that he can smoke in a private room upstairs. One of Trattoria Alberto’s owners tamped down that rumor, though, and we have seen the GOP leader, cigarette in hand, smoking while seated on one of the patio tables lining the street.
Boehner’s as likely to catch a quiet weeknight meal here as he is to mark big moments. According to news reports, it was where he celebrated with friends ahead of his 2010 election to speaker, and where he huddled last year with confidants to announce that he was planning to run for re-election, despite rumors of his retirement.
But one of the restaurant’s owners on Wednesday seemed eager to downplay his famous patron’s loyalty. “He comes once in a while,” said the publicity-shy co-owner, who didn’t even want to give his own name. Pressed on the Speaker’s preferences, he was as cagey as a seasoned political operative. “Eh, he orders different things on different days.”
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