What do Michelle Obama, Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke have in common? This bistro

|    Juliet Eilperin    |

WASHINGTON (The Washington Post) – First lady Michelle Obama feted a friend’s birthday here.

Ryan Zinke brought his dog here.

And Scott Pruitt came here so often they knew his favourite brew: Americano.

Radici, an Italian bottega at Eastern Market, is a signature non-partisan eatery on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The bistro near the congressional office buildings is also close to the homes of multiple Cabinet members, which is why many high-profile politicians have dined there since it opened four years ago.

Pruitt, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, lived in a condominium across the street from Radici until he moved out in the fall. A barista told me she called him “Edward” after she read his full name – Edward Scott Pruitt – on his credit card.

“It became the code name we used for him,” said 21-year old Mariah Fraker, adding that she would call out as he entered the place, “Edward, Buongiorno!”

Bridget Sasso, the restaurant’s owner, said the former administrator frequented Radici while he was serving at the EPA as well as after he resigned in July. He routinely sat at a two-top table tucked away in a corner, between the main door and the bathroom.

“He preferred that table. He liked the privacy,” she said. “We always found him very pleasant.”

After serving in Trump’s Cabinet, Scott Pruitt found a landing spot at this eatery.

The coffee shop Radici on Capitol Hill frequented by Scott Pruitt. – THE WASHINGTON POST

As a place that features gourmet Italian fare and wines, Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail fit right in since the lead agent, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, is the child of Italian immigrants. Perrotta would occasionally call up his parents and put Sasso on the phone to speak Italian with them, she recalled.

“I have obviously a very liberal staff,” Sasso said, but she added that both her left-leaning and more conservative employees got along with Pruitt.

Outgoing Interior Secretary Zinke and his wife, Lola, who live in Lincoln Park, also swung by from time to time with their Havanese dog, Ragnar. (Due to DC health codes that prohibit pets indoors, Lola Zinke often ended up eating on the patio rather than leaving Ragnar by himself.)

Plenty of Democrats stop in as well. In April 2016, Sasso received a call asking whether she could accommodate a VIP lunch on a Sunday. After some back-and-forth, she agreed to close for the day, only to learn that Michelle Obama would be showing up to fete the birthday of one of her closest friends from Chicago, Kelly King Dibble.

For eight years, Michelle Obama watched every word. She’s done with that.

Sasso got up at 6am to wash and iron linen for the event, as she fretted over whether it would be cancelled at the last minute. At around 10.30am, her husband showed up with two Secret Service agents – and she knew it was on. A couple of hours later, the then-first lady arrived along with Dibble and a handful of high-profile Obama administration staffers, including Michelle Obama’s chief of staff Tina Tchen and the president’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

“Hello, I’m Michelle,” Obama told Sasso, as she came in and took her place at the restaurant’s single large table.

Radici’s diverse clientele sparked some intense political debates, its owner said, but the people behind the counter always managed to reach a civil conclusion. “If we can get them to have intelligent conversations,” Sasso said, “it’s totally possible for others to do it.”

Still, the fact that both Pruitt and Zinke have stepped down within the last six months has made some baristas wonder if there’s a connection between Trump Cabinet members’ coffee habits and their career dives.

“I’m beginning to think we’re cursed,” said 25-year old Elisabeth Coates cheerily, as she took my order for a latte.