President Barack Obama, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias picked up breakfast at Hyde Park's Valois Cafeteria this morning. For the President of the United States just about every public act is symbolic, even his dining choices. So it is with his choice of Valois.
I know Valois from a few years back when I helped my friend, the photographer Ray Flerlage, promote his book, Chicago Blues As Seen From The Inside. Ray lived in the nearby South Shore neighborhood but didn't like to receive strangers at his home, so at his suggestion I always took him to Valois to meet with reporters.
Sorry, France, but the locals pronounce it 'va-LOY.'
Valois has been there a long time and according to Ray, it was the first Chicago restaurant to serve blacks and whites together. That is its symbolic significance, that and the fact that it is a no-frills, regular folks kind of place, just a small storefront with about 20 tables and a steam table cafeteria line at the back. The food is hearty, good and cheap. The people are friendly, although like most cafeterias they don't let you dawdle in line.
The president and I like a lot of the same Chicago restaurants. Last night he went to Topolobampo. I've only been there a couple of times but years ago a girlfriend and I used to have brunch at Rick Bayless's other place, Frontera Grill, almost every Saturday morning. I also frequent Manny's Deli, a favorite with local cops, firemen, other city workers, and pols like President Obama.
I keep waiting for him to show up at Rosa's Blues Lounge on one of these visits. He held one of his first fundraisers for his senate campaign there. Somehow I managed to miss him at all of these places back when he was just a little-known local politician, at least so far as I know, but at least I know we have similar tastes.