These Staffers Work, Eat, Record, Blog

Posted September 18, 2009 at 4:11pm

Mike Bober and his wife, Elizabeth, have always enjoyed eating out. They take advantage of Washington’s vibrant restaurant scene by dining out two or three times a week.

Last year, the couple decided to share the wealth of their experiences with the public on a blog called Capital Spice. The Bobers post at least once a day and cover everything from restaurant reviews to cooking tips.

It’s not as if Mike Bober has endless time on his hands: He spends his days working as a coalitions director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. But he’s part of a growing club of Capitol Hill staffers who care enough about food, restaurants, recipes and flavors to blog about their passion and their research.

“All of us in Washington are that same type of person who likes to show what they know,— Bober says. Capital Spice launched in April 2008 and now averages about 800 hits a day.

Bober isn’t the only political type to take to the food blogosphere. Ashley Messick, who spends her days working in the Senate Republican Cloakroom, has been blogging about restaurants for several months. Messick has perhaps the most ambitious agenda of any of the staffers-turned-food-bloggers. Her goal is to eat at every restaurant on the Washingtonian’s Top 100 List and write about it on her blog, From Komi to Marvin.

“I was surprised this year when I figured out I had only eaten at about 30 of the Top 100 restaurants,— Messick says. “I decided I would finally set a goal and try and eat at all of them in a year. I started blogging my projects when my friends said I would never actually finish.—

On her blog, Messick reviews each restaurant and also posts what she titles the “Food Porn Pick of the Day,— which varies from a photo of the mussels at Marvin to the pita and spread at the Source.

The list of 100 restaurants includes pricey hot spots such as Citronelle and the Inn at Little Washington, but also more affordable restaurants like Four Sisters and Comet Ping Pong.

One can’t help but wonder how she will foot the bill for this endeavor. “There are actually lots of deals out there for D.C.’s top restaurants — but you really have to look for them,— Messick says. “Whether it’s extended Restaurant Week menus, bar seating specials or online coupons, there are ways to eat cheaper than menus would seem to allow.—

For example, the discounted Restaurant Week menu as well as a slow August recess schedule allowed Messick to travel to Falls Church, Va., to try 2941 Restaurant. For $20.09 she indulged in three courses.

“To call it a deal is an understatement,— Messick wrote on her blog. “And everything on the RW menu could easily be on the regular menu.—

Press secretary Dan Conston, who operates the blog Read Meat: Cooking and Eating My Way Through My 20s, says his trick to affording meals at high-end restaurants is hitting up the bar where oftentimes a similar menu is offered at a lesser price.

While Bober and Messick focus primarily on dining out, Conston’s blog is also about his trials and tribulations in the kitchen. He says his interest in cooking comes from a summer he spent in Italy.

He was “shocked by just how delicious food could be with just a few fresh and simple ingredients,— he says. Conston, who works in the office of Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), says that when he does get the chance to eat out, he often pesters the server with questions until the chef himself comes out to chat.

“You can learn a ton about food and cooking when you pay attention to menus and bombard the knowledgeable staff with questions,— he says.

Reviews of restaurants like Bourbon Steak and Teaism are sandwiched between tales of Conston’s home cooking. In July he wrote extensively about what he cooked for 50 guests at an Independence Day party. The post included a recipe for some grilled cheese and short rib sandwiches he had prepared.

“All in all, it was a success, with largely rave reviews of the food,— he wrote. “There were certainly things I’d do differently if I hosted the party tomorrow, but for the most part it was a controllable chaos.—

Unfortunately, Conston doesn’t get to cook as often as he would like. Both he and Messick agree that one of the most challenging parts of doubling as a staffer and a blogger is finding the time to do both.

“Given the Hill’s time constraints, I’ve been blogging considerably less since starting,— says Conston. “But I’m working on setting a regular schedule of reviews and recipes.—

Messick echoed this sentiment, saying, “I usually work too late to have a two- or three-course dinner during the week, so I tend to do most of my eating and writing on the weekends. The recess is also incredibly helpful. I checked a lot of the faraway restaurants off the list during August.—

Mike Bober says that one of the keys to Capital Spice’s success is time management. By committing to eating out two or three times a week, the couple can add at least one post a day to the blog.

“It’s more than a hobby, but less than a second job,— he says.

At the end of the day (literally), food blogging is a fun change of pace for these staffers. Messick enjoys it so much that she plans to continue after she finishes eating her way through the Top 100 list, though she might need to take a little time off.

“I was thinking about trying to tackle the Washingtonian Cheap Eats list,— she says. “I might need a little break. I’m starting to get full.—