“I gotta go, Frank, the Secret Service is here and they’re frisking everybody.”
That’s how Midwood Smokehouse’s Frank Scibelli found out President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were stopping at his place in Plaza Midwood for takeout.
“Then it kind of got surreal,” says Scibelli, who was on the phone with a restaurant manager a little after 4 on Tuesday when the agents showed up.
Yes, he headed over immediately. “Absolutely.” And yes, he asked how they decided on Midwood.
“That’s the best part of this,” he says.
He had figured it was because the place was featured in a best-of barbecue list in the last two weeks. But when he asked the agents accompanying the president, “they said, ‘Oh, no. We came here the last two days and we liked it so much, we wanted to invite the president.’
“So we earned it.”
Scibelli says they’ve fed both President Bush and Vice President Biden in the past, but never met them. This time, the staff met both Obama and Clinton, though she’d headed out already by the time Scibelli got there.
Obama and Clinton put in their order – there’s been some inaccuracies in reporting, he says; “they ordered everything!” and Scibelli was told with a smile “your staff was trying to upsell us.” Obama asked specifically about the brisket; Clinton added the bacon-wrapped jalapenos to the order after a Midwood staffer recommended them.
Then the pair “worked the crowd a little bit.” The restaurant was moderately busy when the group came in, he says – 30 or 40 people – but packed by the time they’d all left, about 5:30 p.m.
Everything was wrapped up for takeout. Extra meat on the president’s order? “Good question,” says Scibelli. “I don’t know. I just said, ‘Make sure it’s great.’ ... We did cut a new brisket, because it’s never as good as when you first cut it.”
The staff got a group photo with the president, some of the staff got individual pictures (Scibelli notes one longtime staffer was “giddy, like he’d just opened a Christmas present”) and Scibelli got to chat with him for a few minutes.
And who picked up the tab? Not the restaurant, says Scibelli: “We pay a lot of taxes!” Obama handed over a credit card: “We had the credit card with ‘Barack Obama’ on it” – then the Clinton people stepped in and paid. (He thinks Obama may have paid for one of the orders; there were several.)
“He was very cordial and very nice,” says Scibelli. He asked Scibelli if this was his first restaurant, and acknowledged “that ‘the restaurant business is a tough business. Being president is tough, too.’ I said, ‘You’re right. I wouldn’t want your job.’ ... He was very charming.
“He said we had a great bourbon list, and said ‘Next time I come here, I’m having a drink.’”
Asked where this ranked on Scibelli’s list of meeting the famous – he has, after all, worked with some legendary pitmasters – he says, “This was probably a bigger deal.”