Food & Drink

Eating on the Campaign Trail with John Dickerson

The CBS News political director and Washington, D.C., native shares his favorite Southern eats

sunrise kitchen in Chapel Hill, NC

Photo: Biscuits from Sunrise Kitchen in Chapel Hill, NC. Lissa Gotwals

John Dickerson has been covering presidential races since Clinton/Dole in 1996, which means the CBS News political director and Washington, D.C., native has eaten a lot of fast food while traveling on the campaign trail.

Photo courtesy of CBS News

“When I was just working by myself, for Time, my go-to was McDonald’s,” he says. “I got the same thing every time: a Big Mac, fries, a six-piece McNuggets, and a Coke.” Over the years, his taste has improved. “Now, I go for Chick-fil-A,” he says. He’s also picked up a television crew and a title—host of the venerable, D.C.–based Sunday-morning news program Face the Nationwhich means he no longer has to get by on cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches. With the election drawing to a close, we asked him about a few of his favorite Southern food discoveries.

When you’re on the road, where do you start the day?

“In the South, my favorite breakfast is a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. That’s how I found the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill, North Carolina—and The Fancy Biscuit in Richmond, Virginia. Man, was that good. A lot of the time I’m looking for cafés, because I can get wifi and coffee and get work done there. There’s a place called the Magpie Café in Baton Rouge that I found when I was covering a race there. I just needed some coffee, but it was a charming little place. If all else fails, I can usually find a diner somewhere for eggs and bacon.”

sunrise kitchen in chapel hill, NC

Photo: Lissa Gotwals

Morning at Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill.

Tell me about your favorite spots for a good meal.

“When you’re on the road, it’s not so much about the food you eat as the atmosphere. My favorite place for that is the C&O in Charlottesville, Virginia. I went to college at the University of Virginia, so I’ve been eating there for twenty-some years. I get a dish they’ve been serving for twenty-five years called Steak Chinois, which is flank steak in this creamy, gingery sauce… It’s so good. The River and Rail in Roanoke was a Yelp find—and another place with great atmosphere, with great brussels sprouts and, strangely, the best coffee I’ve ever had. I had dinner with [former Mississippi governor] Haley Barbour, of all people, at Pêche in New Orleans, and we ordered the whole menu: smoked tuna, a whole fish, oysters. One more place that’s always comfortable when I’m on the road: The Obstinate Daughter, in Charleston. I love those Geechie Frites, which are deep-fried grit sticks. I also have to mention the Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop in Knoxville. Other than my mother-in-law and my sister, that place makes the best pecan pie I’ve ever had.”

Peche New Orleans

Photo: Rush Jagoe

Inside New Orleans’s Pêche.

Do you eat anything special before a big event—like, say, a presidential debate?

“I don’t really eat anything. No matter how good the food is, you’re just too wound up. They say hunger is the best spice, though. Having gotten through something like that, the food tastes incredibly good even if it’s not. A good drink, too, is very important.”

What’s your go-to libation?

“A gin martini. The way my schedule works, I can relax with a martini on Friday night—and that’s something I look forward to. Sometimes on Sunday, too. If I don’t have to work on Monday morning, maybe I can have a second one.”