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Key Culinary Choice Seems to Be Relish or Mustard

Hot dogs may dominate at convention site, but delegates are more positive about their food experiences outside the event.

August 17, 2000|S Irene Virbila | Restaurant Critic

Girl reporter goes into the belly of the beast--into the Democratic convention not to report on the pressing political issues of our time but to, gulp, investigate what's going on food-wise. Would it be a gourmet event or strictly proletarian? Caviar or hot dogs?

Swathed in press passes to get me past the various levels of security, I felt a little like Joan Rivers outside the Academy Awards waylaying stars to ask them about their gowns.

Food? You want to ask me about the food? The question took delegates by surprise.

"Honey, I haven't eaten well since I got here," Ohio delegate Joyce Leeth told me. Then, chagrined that she'd been so blunt, added, "Sorry, I'm just a Southerner used to a relaxing sit-down dinner. The transportation--we're not used to it."

By the time she got to a party one night, she had just a half-hour to wolf down some food, sitting on the steps.

Walk into Staples Center and you're immediately enveloped in the smell of the hot dogs.

I found Frank Cannon, delegate from West Covina, halfway through a Downtown Dog oozing mustard and relish. "It's as good as any at an event like this," he said. "They're not going to be serving steak." I wouldn't think so.

Judy Sugnet, one of three Oregon delegates slumped over a stand-up table near the food stands, confessed, "We haven't eaten much because they won't let you take anything to your seat, which is a crock because I've seen them eating at a Lakers game. One of us chowed down a hot dog, but I think hunger had more to do with it than the taste of the dog."

I kept hearing the same refrain from most delegates. The food? I only had a hot dog. Or I ate outside before coming in. It took only one day for delegates to learn to pack snacks--apples, crackers, anything--lest they go hungry all day.

Over in Sky Box, a sit-down bar and grill on the main floor, I found plenty of empty tables and two West Virginia delegates wolfing down an impressive-looking grilled burger--the real thing, not a fast-food version--with a heap of fries tossed with garlic, parsley and Parmesan.

"I know they hold the Lakers games in there and they even have cup holders at the seats, so I don't understand why we can't take food or at least a drink in!" said Belinda Biafore. "They trust basketball fans more than they trust Democrats, I guess," Carye Blaney added.

Most delegates had more positive things to say about their experiences outside the convention. "Oh, we've been testing all the unusual cuisines, and it's very enjoyable," said Kentucky Gov. Paul E. Patton. "We ate at Stinky Onion I think it was, last night. Oh? Stinking Rose." Put burnt garlic cuisine down to one of those exotic specialties of Los Angeles then.

A delegate from the Twin Cities wearing a Viking helmet said she's thrilled with the diversity of food in Los Angeles. What does she mean? "Well, you've got a sushi bar on every other street corner, which is something you don't see at home," said Cathy Smalek, munching a bag of popcorn outside.

The Mississippi delegation finds the food different. "We haven't seen any grits yet," said Sheila Macki for one.

"I'm used to turnip greens, cabbage, sweet potatoes, pork chops, barbecue . . . peach cobbler," says state Sen. David Jordan. I can see he's making himself hungry just thinking about it.

"My wife, though, she loves the food out here. She's trying to lose a couple of pounds, but I don't care that much for losing," said the by-no-means-portly senator.


If delegates on the floor were living on hot dogs and popcorn, what were they eating up in those hospitality suites and sky boxes? Filet mignon and vintage Champagne? Foie gras and lobster?

I tried to get into one of the DNC Finance Committee's many sky boxes with no success but did glimpse an innocent fruit bowl on a coffee table. I lurked around trying to talk to party-goers, asking, "What did you eat in there?" "Oh no, is this some kind of food scare?" asked one woman, laughing. "Watermelon!" she said as she raced off.

I caught Ellen Malcolm, president and a founder of EMILY's List, emerging from the Dianne Feinstein-Barbara Boxer suite. What's to eat in there? She laughed. "Pretzels, cheese, crackers. Dull, dull, dull."

Finally, as a reporter, I couldn't help but be interested in what my brethren were eating. Would they do any better than the delegates?

Will Leubsdorf, 13, working as a messenger for the Dallas Morning News, didn't mince words. "Basically all of the food [stinks]. It's unhealthy. Most of these reporters are gaining weight at an alarming pace."

I check. Not me. Not yet.

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