Marietta barbecue brings Capitol Hill partisans together -- for a moment, at least

Credit: Tamar Hallerman

Credit: Tamar Hallerman

WASHINGTON – In front of the C-SPAN cameras, lawmakers traded partisan barbs on the Senate floor Thursday over federal spending priorities in the behemoth annual defense policy bill.

But a lot of that bad blood seemingly dissolved – for a moment, at least -- as the scent of Georgia barbecue wafted from Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office across the street, beckoning senators, staffers, Capitol Police officers, Pentagon liaisons and the occasional hungry reporter for a bite.

The stuff of bipartisan truce (at least for the lunch hour): pulled pork, cherry-smoked beef brisket, baked beans and Georgia peach pound cake.

For the eighth year, Isakson commissioned Sam's BBQ-1 in Marietta to truck the stuff up for his annual barbecue lunch, an increasingly rare bipartisan occurrence here on Capitol Hill. Senators dined in a private dining room upstairs, while staffers and other guests lined up through several rooms of Isakson's office suite on the first floor of the Russell Senate office building.

Senators from the two parties eat lunch together separately most days on Capitol Hill, and Republicans on Thursdays take turns bringing food from their home states to share. But a bipartisan meal is rare.

Isakson said the barbecue is always popular with his colleagues.

“I don’t play the one-upsmanship, but nobody’s ever complained about ours,” said Isakson, who divulged that the brisket and the macaroni and cheese are his favorites. “Our food speaks for itself. I don’t have to brag about it.”

Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin said the barbecue lunch is something many lawmakers look forward to each year.

"It's the best. I hate to admit it, coming from a state that prides itself in its cuisine," he said. "The only problem: they should figure in a nap after we eat this."

The team from Sam’s made the more than 600-mile trek to Washington on Tuesday and camped out across the river in Arlington to smoke more than 800 pounds of carnivorous offerings overnight on Wednesday

“It’s a major production," said Sam Huff, chef and owner of Sam's BBQ-1. "We bring everything from Georgia: all of our meat, our wood, our barbecue bits, our smokers, all of our equipment. It’s all brought in.”

Huff said he's made his share of congressional fans over the years.

The senators' meal is “supposed to be a very formal, private luncheon," he said. "We go up and get introduced and then the next thing you know they’re coming up to us and talking about grilling. Two years ago I sat and talked to Marco Rubio about how to grill in his backyard."

"We’re just having a good time," Huff said.

The popularity of Thursday's lunch had David Purdue nervous. It's the freshman's turn to host the Thursday luncheon in a few weeks. On the menu, he said, is some more traditional southern fare: fried chicken, green beans, fried okra, pecan cobbler and peach ice cream.

Check out The New York Times' Facebook Live video of the event here:

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