Quaint Olive Garden review is a viral hitAn 85-year-old North Dakota restaurant columnist has gone viral. To be more specific, her Wednesday review of Olive Garden has gone viral.
By: Ryan Bakken , Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — An 85-year-old North Dakota restaurant columnist has gone viral. To be more specific, her Wednesday review of Olive Garden has gone viral.
Since it was posted on the Grand Forks Herald website early Wednesday, Marilyn Hagerty’s review of the chain restaurant had received more than 230,000 views as of Thursday evening. In comparison, the Herald’s second most-read story was about the Fighting Sioux nickname, with 5,500 views.
“I don’t get it,” Hagerty said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 to 40 years. Why all of a sudden now?”
Internet sharing is the reason. Popular websites such as Fark, Gawker and Boingboing posted the story, setting off a barrage of comments via Twitter and Facebook.
The website postings were because residents of more metropolitan areas found it amusing that a chain restaurant would be reviewed. In larger markets, newspaper reviews are reserved for exclusive, high-end eateries that offer fine dining.
Hagerty, a retired Herald staffer who still writes five columns a week on various topics, is more of a restaurant observer than a critic. Her Wednesday columns describe places to eat: the décor, the table setting, the menu, the prices and, yes, the food. Savvy readers know that if she writes more about the décor than the food, then the food wasn’t all that interesting.
This is all she had to say about her entrée at Olive Garden: “The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.”
The blogosphere was fascinated that an Olive Garden was newsworthy in Grand Forks. For instance, Fark’s summary of the story was this: “Residents of Grand Forks, N.D., are lining up for blocks to enjoy a one-of-a-kind European dining experience that finally puts the city on the culinary map with its unique brand of Tuscany refinery. It’s called The Olive Garden.”
But others have leaped to her defense, such as Jayvie Canono of Annapolis, Md., who wrote on his Twitter feed: “She singlehandedly makes me want to visit Grand Forks.”
“I find her tone awesome,” he said in a telephone interview. “I don’t want to use the word ‘quaint,’ but it’s very earnest.
“In the coastal United States, restaurant reviews try to be as uptight as possible. I hate it when they try to be so pretentious. You can never please food critics.”
Canono said he initially wondered if the review was sincere, but was assured by reading an earlier Hagerty review on the Italian Moon buffet.
“Grand Forks is Grand Forks — it’s pretty rural,” Canono said. “I found the review pleasant and refreshing. It’s a different tone for a review and I love it.”
Authentic or satire?
Several people online wondered if the review was a product of “The Onion,” a satiric newspaper.
Twitter postings included:
How true. On Thursday afternoon, the five top-read Herald stories online were four Eat Beat restaurant reviews and her Thursday column.
“Some people like to be mean,” Canono said. “A lot of people on the Internet love to be ironic about things.”
Not a critic
That attention resulted in Hagerty giving several interviews Thursday, including one with the Village Voice, the prominent New York City alternative newspaper.
Early in her review-writing days, readers suggested that she be more critical, Hagerty said. But Publisher Mike Maidenberg said he liked how she made the reviews more like a news story about the restaurant.
“That was good enough for me because he signed my paycheck,” she said.
Hagerty said her daughter, Gail Hagerty of Bismarck, urged her to read the Facebook comments about her review.
“I told her I’m working on my Sunday column and I’m going to play bridge this afternoon, so I don’t have time to read all this crap,” she said.
And, she noted, although chain restaurants, buffets and truck stops have been subjects of her reviews, she has eaten at the White House.