Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, flush from a silk-stocking fundraiser the night before that ended with a $28,500-a-plate dinner of beef medallions, stopped off for a meet-and-greet at a St. Paul cafe on Thursday that ended with a $3 order of pancakes to go.
Obama signed menus and greeted patrons at the Copper Dome restaurant in St. Paul near the corner of Hamline and Randolph avenues for more than 30 minutes early Thursday before leaving town.
A server came up to him and asked if he wanted to order anything. The candidate said he had to take his order to go and asked a couple he was talking to about what he should order. They suggested pancakes and the server reeled off a long list of different kinds available, but Obama said "I'm kind of a traditionalist" and said he would just have buttermilk pancakes.
Another couple were baseball fans and asked him if was for the Twins or the White Sox. "If you think I'm going to throw my White Sox under the bus because I'm here in Minnesota, that's not going to happen," Obama said.
Managers of the longtime St. Paul landmark said they were told only minutes before that Obama and his entourage would be arriving. But they said it worked out for the best as Obama moved, jacketless and with shirtsleeves rolled up, through the dozen or so customers.
"It's probably better that way. They were a very nice group. Everyone was very polite. We didn't have any problems with any of them," said manager Linda Weiss. Exchanging pleasantries, Obama acknowledged to Weiss that his order was probably cold by the time he left the restaurant.
"When I gave them to you they were hot," she said she assured him. He nodded.
Gayle Christensen, of New Brighton, was in the restaurant when Obama arrived and was able to get him to sign a menu. She is an unabashed Obama supporter and believes he is the candidate to address critical issues such as health care and Social Security.
"I believe in him, and I believe the country believes in the change that Barack can bring to us," she said, standing outside the restaurant after he left. Almost breathless, she added: "My pancakes are still in there, but I don't care."
Following his visit at the Copper Dome, Obama shook hands and spoke briefly with passers-by outside the restaurant, chatting with a woman about her pregnancy and with a group of schoolchildren about upcoming track practice. He playfully gave several children his now-famous fist bump.
Debbie Ethen and several other teachers at the nearby Children's House Montessori, hearing from a parent that Obama was in the restaurant, gathered several of the children and brought them down to stand outside. The center has children from 3 years old to pre-kindergarten and many of them are aware of both Obama and Republican candidate John McCain, Ethen said.
"It's a very important time in our country and to be able to see someone running for president that may change the focus of our country is very important," said Ethen, who said she is supporting Obama. "We don't tell the children who we're voting for. But I'm sure we'll be talking about this when we get back."
A spokesman for McCain said afterward that the home-spun flavor of the Copper Dome visit should not overshadow the real reason for Obama's Minnesota trip -- a high bucks fundraiser -- and that Obama's recent decision to decline to abide by campaign public financing restrictions was an indication of the kind of politician the Illinois senator has become.
"He's here showing the world that he's more of a typical politician than he claims to be," said Tom Steward, McCain's Minnesota campaign spokesman. "This stopover on the way to the airport to meet and mingle with a few folks, commendable, but more for a photo op than anything else that shouldn't distract from the fact that he was here to raise millions of dollars."
Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636