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Watch a Young Barack Obama Review a Chicago Restaurant on TV

You wouldn’t expect to see the ruler of the free world on a local PBS food show discussing catfish and fried tomatoes, but now you can.
Photo via Flickr user Joe Crimmings Photography

You might not expect to see the ruler of the free world on a local PBS food show discussing catfish and fried tomatoes, but now you can. In an old clip from a show called Check, Please! that re-surfaced this weekend, you can see President Obama reviewing local Chicago restaurants. He says he went to one restaurant and ordered the Southern sampler, "Just because I couldn't make up my mind. I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for."

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Not something he'd likely ever say today in the viper's pit that is Washington politics.

The clip came to light once again when it was featured on the 15th season finale of the show. Check, Please! is known for having "regular people" review local restaurants, but they hit the jackpot on August 14, 2001, when they filmed a show with a little-known Illinois state senator who would later become president of the United States.

The then State Senator Obama appeared on the show along with three other locals. The panelists discussed several restaurants, including a joint called Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop, a Southern food emporium located (back then) in Hyde Park in the South Side of Chicago (it now has two new locations), and Le Bouchon, a Wicker Park bistro.

The episode was filmed in 2001 but wasn't aired until 2009. It reveals a youthful Obama, with nary a grey hair in sight. He comes off as serious, civic-minded, and as professorial as ever, but also as a young father of two, looking for an economical but filling meal for his family. "We've got a 3-year-old and a 2-month-old, so going out to a restaurant is a really big deal," Obama says.

He had other relatable problems back them: "The only thing that makes me hesitant about going to Le Bouchon is just getting a reservation." We're going to go out on a limb here and say he'll probably never again face that problem as long as he lives.

In the future, will price dictate the President's taste in restaurants? Not likely, but it did back then: "The prices are right and the portions are good," he says about one restaurant. "I'm not looking for some fancy presentation or subtle flavors—what I'm looking for is food that tastes good for a good price."

OK, so he's no gourmand, but he is ever the grass-roots politician. Obama was there to encourage civic development: "Restaurateurs that are out there, [I] just want to let you know that if you give good value, and are not too expensive, you can do some good business on the South Side of Chicago."

Still, he also wanted to give viewers a few practical tips. About Dixie Kitchen, Obama says: "Beware of the pancakes—you can fill up on those. I've learned from some past mistakes. You've got to be careful."

You've now been warned by the President of the United States—or "Barack," as everyone on the show calls him: The corn cakes at Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop? They're a little on the heavy side.