For the presidential candidates stumping across New York ahead of Tuesday’s primary, food is inevitable campaign trail fodder.
That’s the case in many states—candidates sampled pork chops and deep-fried Snickers bars at the Iowa State Fair last year. But New York is different, local Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said, because the variety of food is immense and New Yorkers tend to be especially critical of any eating faux pas.
“You’ve got everything here, but the problem is when you go to eat and campaign—time is equally as valuable as money as a resource—and your time is better spent eating the food that voters are interested in seeing you eat,” he said. “And that is the great skill of it.”
Sheinkopf said the options are overwhelming—candidates could eat goat curry, falafel, deli sandwiches or pizza at places throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
Republican candidate Ted Cruz made matzo at the Chabad Neshama Center’s Model Matzah Bakery in Brooklyn. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders ate a hotdog topped with mustard and sauerkraut at Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island. His opponent Hillary Clinton, had a slice of red velvet cake at the Make My Cake bakery in Harlem, sitting with New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel.
“I’m talking cheesecake,” she said at Junior’s in Brooklyn on another day, with slices of plain, strawberry and pineapple cheesecake set in front of her. “Cheesecake! Look at this fabulous cheesecake.”
But on that occasion, Clinton didn’t actually eat any of the food she was gushing over. “I learned early on not to eat in front of all of you,” she told reporters. “I’m sitting here just pining. Pining for a bite.”
Republican candidate John Kasich, meanwhile, chowed down at Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, where the menu ironically features a sandwich named “Hillary Clinton’s Favorite.” But Kasich left an impression of his own, eating a sandwich, two helpings of spaghetti and drinking wine.
“I’ve eaten my way across the entire state of New York, and I’ve had the best time,” he said during an MSNBC town hall last week.
Sheinkopf said Kasich has the right strategy: “Get on a pair of shoes and keep moving. Don’t stop, and eat everything you can—because eating is a way of communicating.”
He added that campaigning at eateries is one way of making a politician appear relatable, as they can show themselves eating alongside average people.
“Sometimes it’s believable and sometimes it’s not,” Sheinkopf said. “It’s not believable when you eat pizza with a fork.”
That was the mistake Kasich made during a stop at Gino’s Pizzeria and Restaurant in Queens, when he cut into his slice with a fork and knife and was swiftly mocked.
“Look, the pizza came scalding hot, OK? And so I use a little fork,” he later said in a Good Morning America interview. “Not only did I eat the pizza, I had the hot sausage. It was fantastic.”
On Wednesday, Stephen Colbert and Clinton—who is scheduled to be a guest on Monday’s episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert—filmed inside Manhattan’s Carnegie Deli, the kind of place that advertises old-school New York celebrity as much as classic food. Autographed photos of actors, athletes and politicians line the walls. A spinning dessert display shows off deep dish apple pie and truffle torte cheesecake, and the deli’s main attraction is a sandwich piled high with pastrami.
Would-be customers—disappointed to learn the deli was closed for a nondescript “private event” while Clinton was inside—turned around to figure out a plan B, some venturing to another diner and others postponing dinner in order to return when Carnegie reopened later.
Staci Nesci and Enrique Nieves, Syracuse visitors who planned to celebrate Enrique’s 12th birthday with a roast beef sandwich that evening, were among those willing to wait.
“Every time we come to New York, we come here,” Nesci said.
Once Clinton left the deli, a line of more than 30 people quickly formed at the door. Presidential primary or not, they had been promised pastrami and cheesecake.