A confession. I don't eat political food, the kind they serve at every political breakfast, lunch and dinner in America. Most political reporters don't. It stinks. Rubber chicken doesn't exist on my campaign menu.
Good political reporters collect the names of restaurants like they collect the names of sources. You can usually tell the real pros by the eating spots they know in remote places.
Any fool can find a decent meal in New York, San Francisco or New Orleans. But how many people do you know who can take you to a first class restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, that serves after 10 p.m. (Lindey's in the Germantown section), a place with a view in Pittsburgh (Christopher's), or neighborhood joint in Queens where you might run into Geraldine Ferraro on Sunday night (Joe Abbracciamento Restaurant in Rego Park)?
The food at Abbracciamento is mediocre at best. Determined Ferraro watchers can do much better at Fontana de Roma, another neighborhood Italian cafe' on Queens Boulevard for dinner (Ferraro doesn't eat there but it's not far from her house) or Poor Nick's, another old Ferraro hangout, for lunch.
Even more than reporters, politicians like to eat and drink and they appreciate journalistic dining skills. My biggest claim to fame is I know three good eating spots in Waterloo, Iowa -- Brinkley Square, the Broom Factory and the Hickory House, where my colleague, Marty Schram, and Iowa Democrat chairman David Nagle saved the life of a waitress who suffered a heart attack one busy Friday by administering CPR to her on the floor.
The other place we political reporters eat is on airplanes. All airplane food is, by definition, bad. But the worst airline food of the '84 election was served on Windwalker, a small charter outfit from Columbus called by the traveling press "Air Edna" (for the elderly stewardess who ruled the company's charters like a Marine sergeant).
When Gary Hart abandoned a Windwalker charter after an engine blew up in flames, Edna was heard to yell, "What am I going to do with all this food?"
The best airline food of the year has come on Ozark charters, which are responsible for much of the 15 extra pounds around my belt this fall.
The eating habits of candidates are strange. Walter Mondale likes cheeseburgers; Jesse Jackson fried chicken, corn bread and greens. I once ate fried chicken 11 straight meals while covering Jackson.
Hart, by contrast, genuinely enjoys good restaurants. Unlike most candidates, he regularly ate with reporters, which allowed them to put lavish meals on their expense accounts. As far as I'm concerned, his political career peaked one night in May in Portland, Ore., at the Benson Hotel's London Grill. I can't remember a word Hart said, but, God, were the salmon and escargots great.