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Because I know this has been keeping you up at night — at least last night — Y&H has been tirelessly digging to find out what exactly French president Nicolas Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni ate during their visit yesterday to Ben’s Chili Bowl. The accounts yesterday conflicted wildly.
I have twice tried to talk to someone in the French embassy’s press office, which is conveniently open from 9 a.m. to noon. (Motto: “You’re an insignificant piece of carpet lint! Go away!”) No help there.
I also called co-owner Nizam Ali, who graciously took my call while he was on vacation in Puerto Rico. “I missed the second president to visit Ben’s Chili Bowl,” says Ali, who was taking his child to a fire station when Barack Obama visited last year. Ali, however, directed me to the coolest manager on U Street, Maurice Harcum.
Maurice knew the score.
Sarkozy, Harcum told me, ordered a chili burger, while his wife, former supermodel Bruni, requested a basic hot dog with mustard, relish, and pickles. The president’s two boys from a previous marriage had a half-smoke and a cheeseburger (which they liked so much they ordered seconds).
But as Sarkozy and Bruni dined in the back room, watching a short film about the history of Ben’s, the couple learned about the shop’s famous half-smoke. Intrigued by the spicy link, they decided to split one.
Except they ordered it plain, without a bun even. When told that its accompanying chili was spicy, the couple asked for it on the side. Harcum isn’t sure Bruni ever sampled the chili. But he says the couple ate everything else.
“They were very happy when they left,” Harcum says.