Elise Stefanik is many things. The youngest woman ever elected to Congress, extremely humble with a great sense of humor, an outdoor enthusiast, someone passionate about her family and her district, and a total foodie. No, seriously. She not only loves to cook and entertain, but she also knows some awesome places around her district (that’s New York’s 21st Congressional District by the way) that foodies should check out. Not to mention she dished on all her favorites spots and family recipes with us. So next time you’re in an elevator in Cannon with her, or you see her at a Town Hall, forget fiscal policy– talk about pasta! (Note to self: pasta policy should totally be a regular lunch thing in DC.)
As with any busy job, finding time to do the things you enjoy is difficult. Being a Member of Congress doesn’t make that any easier. “With our voting schedule, it’s been pretty hard to find time to cook here [in DC] because we often have votes late into the evening,” she says when I ask if she cooks a lot here in DC. “But that means I crave time to cook on the weekends” she replies noting that on Sunday’s she tries to make time to cook one of her favorite foods – soup.
“Of course I can’t quite make it as good as my mom does,” she’s quick to say. In fact, she likes soup so much that when she was younger, instead of cereal in the mornings, her mother would serve her soup! Actually, that sounds amazing. Cereal is overrated anyway right?
“WITH OUR VOTING SCHEDULE, IT’S BEEN PRETTY HARD TO FIND TIME TO COOK HERE [IN DC] BECAUSE WE OFTEN HAVE VOTES LATE INTO THE EVENING,” SHE SAYS WHEN I ASK IF SHE COOKS A LOT HERE IN DC. “BUT THAT MEANS I CRAVE TIME TO COOK ON THE WEEKENDS.”
What’s in her bowl? “Chicken noodle, French onion that I learned from my mom, tomato and rice,” just to name a few of her favorites.
Since cooking is reserved for the weekends when Congress is in session, and she admits “nothing beats homemade soup,” she has had Ted’s Bulletin’s grilled cheese and tomato soup which she calls “a classic.” She also enjoys Beuchert’s Saloon which she says “just has really good food.” We agree. (Archives: Feasting Famously with Ted’s Bulletin & Beuchert’s)
What’s great about DC is that regardless of what area you are originally from you can always find different types of food and cuisine that you haven’t had before, or wasn’t readily available. I ask Elise if there’s anything she’s really grown to like here in DC since she’s been working here.
Her mom’s side of the family is Italian, so she’s got the “Sunday sauce with sausage,” as she says, covered. Her dad’s side is Czech, “and a lot of that has to do with my Christmas holiday traditions,” she says – more on that to come. “One food I was not really exposed to is Cajun cooking,” she says with an excitement in her voice that indicates there are some fond personal memories associated with her being exposed to this.
“There are some members from the Louisiana delegation who share the best of Cajun cooking and that’s lead me to Acadiana here in DC that I have really enjoyed.” She says she likes the homemade aspect of it and in a sense reminds her of Italian cooking. Slow cooking gumbo is really about the same as slow cooking red gravy all day now that I think about it. It’s typically a community event bringing together friends and family to enjoy a good meal. (Another note to self: the Cajun-Italian Cooking Caucus has a nice ring to it).
I know what you’re thinking…and yes, she has eaten crawfish and she likes them, although she admits “I’m a typical Yankee New Yorker who isn’t used to that type of food.” All the more reason it’s awesome she enjoys them!
WHAT’S IN HER BOWL? “CHICKEN NOODLE, FRENCH ONION THAT I LEARNED FROM MY MOM, TOMATO AND RICE,” JUST TO NAME A FEW OF HER FAVORITES.
Since it’s the holidays, I wanted to know what her traditions are. “We have a tradition from my dad’s side of the family. Every Christmas Eve, my mom will make pierogis – one stuffed with Sauerkraut and the other stuffed with cheese. That is our Christmas Eve tradition. I’m not sure I liked it as much as a young kid, but I really enjoy it today.”
The fun continues. “Christmas Day we always have a Christmas brunch. It’s very small with just my immediate family members. Omelets with red and green peppers, bagels with homemade olive cream cheese, we’ll have a local sausage maker – Oscar’s from the District makes great sausages that we use.”
But, the Stefaniks are not done yet: “Christmas Dinner for us is homemade raviolis and my mom still has the old Italian pasta roller that you clip onto the counter. There’s nothing like homemade raviolis,” followed again quickly with “again, she always makes them better than I do, but I am continuing to learn her technique.”
Okay, so it’s agreed we are all going to spend next Christmas with her family right?!?
We go on to talk about how Crogan bologna is a “thing” (which I recently discovered from traveling through her District) and that most of the Philadelphia Cream Cheese found in supermarkets was actually made and distributed from her District. #TheMoreYouKnow
Seeing as how we all now want to move in with the Stefanik family because this all sounds awesome, we can keep dreaming and lobby Elise with a cheeseburger her way. “Everyone likes a burger,” she says, “I like mine medium-rare with pepper jack cheese, banana peppers, and spicy red peppers, with ketchup, mustard and relish.”
But that’s only one version of her dream burger. “The other version is with provolone, grilled mushrooms and Russian dressing. “Oh, with toasted buns on both,” she adds. I think Chef Andrew over at Beuchert’s just might need to create a NY-21 burger themed after these because they sound amazing!
Elise isn’t all talk; she puts her money where her mouth is. Here are six foodie suggestions she loves in her District, straight from her!
6 FOODIE MUST-EATS IN NY-21
- Ausable Brewing (Keeseville) – This craft brewery has completely changed the food scene in Essex County. Head there on a Thursday summer evening to have some tacos from the local taco truck.
- 1844 House (Potsdam) – This is a great restaurant in a historic home that is perfect for a special event! Exceptional food and service.
- Adirondack Coast Wine Trail (throughout Clinton County) – My favorite is Vesco Ridge Vineyards (in West Chazy) — beautiful tasting room and outdoor space, excellent wine and gracious owners.
- Essex Inn (Essex) – This light-yellow historic inn has always been one of my favorite buildings in the district. I love visiting the restaurant for a quiet night with exceptional food.
- Pearl Street Pub, aka the Mayor’s Bar (Watertown) – The proud owner is also Watertown’s former mayor. Jeff Graham is a die-hard politico and radio host with one of the best political blogs in New York State. Stop by there for a drink; you’re bound to run into the mayor! Tell him Elise sent you.
- Blue Moon Cafe (Saranac Lake) – Best Reuben hands down!
It’s always refreshing to speak with anyone who is so passionate about their family and the people they associate with good times. Elise is an extremely busy person and as much as she enjoyed talking to us about food, her District, and her family traditions, the pleasure was all ours.
So follow her on the Twitter machine and check out what she’s eating on Instagram. Just leave the politics at the door, there are much more important things to talk to her about (like what time Christmas brunch starts and when can we get some of those raviolis!).