Heard on the Hill

Thom Tillis Is Putting On the Grits

North Carolina Republican says his pre-work breakfast reminds him of home

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., adds a little hot sauce to his eggs and sausage at Market Lunch in Eastern Market recently. (Thomas McKinless/ CQ Roll Call)

The teenage short-order cook in Sen. Thom Tillis would much rather be making meals himself than eating event food around D.C.

“I love to cook. That’s one of the worst parts about being in the Senate. You really don’t have a lot of time to cook a quality meal when you get home,” the North Carolina Republican said.

Aside from his job working behind the griddle in high school, he also cooked meals for his five siblings and two working parents. 

A memorable part of growing up in his big family was breakfast.

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“It was always eggs sunny side up, side of grits,” he said. “Had a lot of oatmeal. My dad used to make oatmeal. We had six kids, so it was like a cafeteria. My dad, because he got up so early, would always cook breakfast. [With oatmeal] we’d have cocktail sauce, pineapple. He was ahead of his time in terms of mixing fruit with oatmeal back in the ’60s.”

Tillis has tried to maintain a healthy lifestyle since then.

“Burning calories on one side, eating pure on the other, it’s worked forever — long before all these diet fads,” he said.

The senator’s D.C. home is near Capitol Hill, and we caught him at breakfast recently at Market Lunch, a counter service restaurant in Eastern Market.

He ordered three eggs sunny side up, two sausage patties and a large coffee.

Market Lunch also has grits from eastern North Carolina.

“I love grits. I actually love them covered in hot sauce, mixed up in sunny side eggs,” Tillis, 57, said.

That’s not necessarily a North Carolina way to eat them, he said: “In the South, grits are grits.”

Tillis had sunny side up eggs for breakfast growing up with his six siblings. (Thomas McKinless/ CQ Roll Call)
Tillis had “eggs sunny side up, side of grits” for breakfast growing up with his five siblings. (Thomas McKinless/ CQ Roll Call)

A downside of the event food in D.C. is you don’t know what it’s made of.

“You don’t know what you’re eating,” he said. “It could look like it’s healthy, and it’s basically a gut bomb.”

When he can cook, his meals are briskets and pork shoulders made on his Big Green Egg, a charcoal barbecue cooker and smoker. He also cooks side dishes on a cast iron skillet — he’s owned his favorite one for 30 years — and bakes pies for dessert.

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His family gets to enjoy his cooking.

“I’m a pretty private person. When I get home I don’t want to be social. Got all the social [in D.C.], right?” Tillis said. “I wear my social out during the week.”

Before sitting down for the pre-work breakfast, the senator was spotted running by the entrance to Market Lunch.

“This morning I got up and I decided to take a different route. I was about two and a half miles on a run and I looked around and go, ‘Where in the heck am I?’ I had to stop, look around and run another mile home,” Tillis said, laughing about the detour.

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He runs every other morning, he said. When he came to the Senate in 2015, he found himself gaining weight.

“The only way you keep [the weight] off is don’t drink beer and work out,” he said.

Tillis said he was up to about 220 pounds in June 2016 and has since shed 40 of them.

“The freshman 15 is a real thing even in the Senate. Everybody’s gaining weight. You can tell where their belt loop used to be and where it is now. I decided to take mine in the other direction,” he said.

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