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Favorable review of new Olive Garden in Grand Forks, ND

Grand Forks columnist Marilyn Hagerty gives a 100% snark-free review of the new Olive Garden in Grand Forks, ND. I found it refreshing. http://www.grandforksherald.com/event... Though, if I find myself in Grand Forks, I'll be eating elsewhere.

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  1. Years ago I took some summer class at the Unversity in GF. Happy Joes Pizza and Ice Cream parlor was the favorite off-campus spot, especially their 'mexican pizza'. So I'm not surprised that OG got a good review. Note the columnist was well traveled - at least as far as Fargo. :)

    2 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      in the CP interview Graydon links to below, the columnist notes that she has just returned from a trip to florida. i like this interview a lot, the lady is apparently 86 and smart as a whip. when the interviewer tells her, in closing, that "everybody on the internet" is sharing and enjoying her review, she doesn't miss a beat: "I feel they're being rather condescending, but it's OK with me."

      i hope she keeps on being awesome.

      1. re: soupkitten

        I agree. I think she is awesome and knows exactly what her audience wants to know.

        And the C.P. editor was jerkiest of the bunch.


    2. This review has become a thing. Popular websites such as Fark, Gawker and Boingboing posted the story, setting off a barrage of comments via Twitter and Facebook. The Village Voice had a story, too, and even Sports Illustrated's website gave Marilyn's Eatbeat a mention.

      In the first 36 hours it was posted on GrandForksHerald.com, her Eatbeat review received about 107,000 views. In comparison, the GrandForksHerald.com's second most-read story was about the UND Fighting Sioux nickname, with 5,000 views.

      Interview by Kevin Hoffman of the Twin Cities City Pages:


      1 Reply
      1. re: GraydonCarter

        > This review has become a thing.

        The volume of attention drawn to this single reviewer reminds me of the Improv Everywhere pranks "Best Game Ever" and "Best Gig Ever".

        In Best Game Ever they picked a random little league game and turned it into a major league event, with a large number of "fans" in attendance, painted chests, a jumbotron featuring NBC broadcaster Jim Gray, and the Goodyear Blimp.

        In Best Gig Ever they picked a random rock band that would normally draw just girlfriends and jammed the small club with improv everywhere "groupies". The pranksters had even taken the time to memorize lyrics from the band's songs posted on MySpace.

        I suppose we could do something like this by picking at random an average local mom 'n' pop struggling to make it in this economy and do a chowdown followed by several Chowhound and Yelp reviews.

      2. I think that's kind of sweet. What else would you do in Grand Forks, anyway?

        6 Replies
        1. re: chicgail

          I hear you chicgail. NYC, Boston, Philly smirk at OG; but when I lived in Athens, OH OG would have been a godsend.

          1. re: chicgail

            Looking at my travel journal from the last time through the area (a couple of decades ago), we ate at Chi Chi's Mexican in Grand Forks, Mr & Mrs J's in Devils Lake, and Harry's Ukrainian Kitchen in Brandon, Manitoba.

            1. re: chicgail

              I think it's very sweet, too. So excited about Olive Garden coming to their town! There is a segment of the population that LOVE OG.

              1. re: jeanmarieok

                There isn't the kind of population diversity that would have supported an old school Italian-American place, much less the real-Italian that CHers favor. The pizza place that my college friends favored was better known for its 'mexican pizza' and ice cream than anything really Italian. I'm a little surprised that it was a OG that opened instead of a Buca de Bepo (which had Mpls origins).

                Besides agriculture (esp. sugar beets) the big businesses in the area are an Air Force base and a state university. It is something of a cross roads - an interstate to Winnipeg, and US2 from Duluth to Montana. There is an oil drilling boom in the western part of the state (along US2). That's bringing in money, but I doubt if it will turn ND cities into cultured cities like Houston and Dallas. :)

                1. re: jeanmarieok

                  True. So much so that they refuse to let OG even change their frosted glass salad bowls.

                2. So the San Francisco Chronicle had fun with this story today, which reminded me of a review from the 90s. Prior to taking over the Chronicle, Hearst ran the SF Examiner and their food critic once reviewed a Subway on Ellis and Powell in SF and found it to be to his liking. The rating is missing in the online version, but I seem to remember from the print edition that the critic gave it several stars. (The guy seemed liked he never had a meal in his life that he didn't like.)
                  I like the comment on the ambience: "The overall effect is pleasing but not overwhelming."

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: nocharge

                    What did Jim Wood say that was not true? Subway sold sandwiches on a large scale, and what they offered for the price was Ok with him. By the way, Jim Wood was the critic who took Julia Child to the Viet restaurant Tu Lan that became so infamous in San Francisco.

                    1. re: poser

                      yeah but ever been to Tu Lan? if it's your first time VN gateway yeah it's great. have 2 VN meals elsewhere and you quickly understand why it's always been on 6th street.

                      I like the sentiment to the OG review as posted by TDQ and others - the author was writing for her audience - not me or anybody else. heck if I ever find myself in Grand Forks I might very well eat there.

                    1. I lived in Grand Forks for many years up until 1988. I don't recall Hagerty directly, but I can say that snark doesn't play well in North Dakota.

                      At the time I lived there, the restaurant Sanders was genuinely very good "fine" dining, and I gather that the place is still open. The flood in the early '90s seems to have done away with one other really great place across the river in East Grand Forks: Whitey's, a bar and grill with onion rings that I've pined for ever since.

                      I've heard that North Dakota cities like Grand Forks and Fargo are actually getting hipper all the time, because the State is prosperous and technology developments make it more possible to do software and other enterprising there.

                      1. My Midwestern to Coastal English translator picked up on a very dry and snarky writing style and not much in the way of approval. She said her pasta-like dish was "warm and comforting" and used a few other words to say "lots of people go here." But nothing really stood out as approval.

                        In Coastal Californian: "Oh wow. Olive Garden?"
                        In American Southern: "Olive Garden? Bless their hearts."

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: arcanium

                          the reviewer who was 85 was totally serious and had no snark. It was genuine.

                          1. re: tjinsf

                            I'm aware of the age of the reviewer, and also familiar with her writing style before this review. This may help:

                            1. re: arcanium

                              arcanium: Being from the Upper Midwest, I think you and "twitlonger" may be reading too much into the review: http://www.grandforksherald.com/event...

                            2. re: tjinsf

                              I read it twice through, slowly. It struck me how little she wrote about the food in descriptively or affirmatively positive terms, other than generalized terms like "warm", "comforting" & etc - rather, the sense was conveyed to me that it was what was expected of OG. Except perhaps the olives in her salad. (I got a whiff of a suggestion that she wasn't entirely sure if they would be there until she saw them. ) It seemed very carefully written in a very neutral tone. ("If you can't say something nice about someone..." etc etc) I'm inclined to go along with what arcanium suggests. :-)

                              1. re: huiray

                                huiray: Ever seen the movie Fargo? "Minnesota Nice" doesn't stop at the border of the state with 10,000 Lakes .... I honestly think she spends time talking about the restaurant's decor due to her having dined in an older one in Fargo, ND [without the newer "Tuscan Faux" appearance].

                                1. re: huiray

                                  yes, Arcanium has a very fair point about the "if you can't say anything nice" school of regional discourse. i don't think this lady was blown away by OG, by any means! still, though, the review wasn't completely scathing-- if it were, marilyn woulda dropped the "well now, that was different"-bomb! ;-P

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    soup: Having lived in the Upper Midwest for all but 13 years of my life [out of 42], this is not a "if you cannot say anything nice," but more likely than not "always seeing the glass half fun" school of regional discourse IMHO. Although I could be wrong, this is an important [and different] distinction.

                                    1. re: hawkeyeui93

                                      true. i suppose a lot of people in the upper midwest would not recognize someone being "snarky" even if the snark walked up and bit em.

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        soup: Most Upper Midwesterners fully comprehend snarkiness (sp?), but instead rarely practice it. If someone is being snarky, we just assume they're from the East Coast. Because LOL is now looked upon poorly herein, this is my light-hearted attempt at humor (which I apologize for in advance if you find it offensive). However, what I do find interesting about her review is that the most negative thing in it concerned the voluminous menu and the proffering of "lemonade" in the Winter, yet those that think she is being snarky focus on her not talking much about the food. I think I would hear similar comments from my 89-year old grandmother.

                                        1. re: hawkeyeui93

                                          no offense taken by LOLing or anything else you are saying. once i was talking to an older lady who had just gotten back from a funeral. i asked if she had been close to the lady who'd died... she began to talk about a coffee cake that was apparently the deceased lady's specialty, in great detail. i was driving down the road before i realized she'd never answered my question. :)

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            soupk - I'd guess that was shorthand for 'I didn't know her well enough to say very much, but she was well regarded'

                                      2. re: hawkeyeui93

                                        "always seeing the glass half fun"

                                        whether that was a typo or not I like it and WILL steal it.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          Hill: I may have had a cocktail or two before posting said "glass half fun"!

                                          1. re: hawkeyeui93

                                            I still like it! but I don't wish to contemplate the corresponding "or a glass half ..."

                                      3. re: soupkitten

                                        I think the reason she did not have a negative thing to say in her review is because everything she ate, one dish, a salad, and two breadsticks were to her satisfaction. I get the sense that her reviews are simply informational when a new restaurant opens or possibly when significant menu changes occur.

                                        This lady knows exactly what she is doing and it works for her paper and her readers. I would actually like to meet her.

                                2. She never said the food tasted good. She never mentions anything about the taste at all, actually. She said the pasta was warm and comforting, and merely listed the ingredients in the salad. I think this is very telling. I agree with the posters who said it seems like she's following the "if you don't' have anything nice to say, don't' say anything at all".

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: kubasd

                                    It would hardly be "comforting" if it were gag inducing.

                                    I wish we had an Olive Garden. As it is now the only option for fine dining is the Dairy Queen.

                                    1. re: kengk

                                      I was visiting my parents and friends near Salina, KS, and it was front page news over the weekend that Olive Garden was coming to Salina. I made a joke about it to a friend as to it being "news" She was actually very excited that it was coming and looking forward to it. I felt bad for potentially yucking on someone's yum.

                                      1. re: Firegoat

                                        An Olive Garden coming to my area would ABSOLUTELY make front page news. People would line up for hours to eat there. Everytime a parcel sells along the highway, the "maybe it will be an Olive Garden!" rumors start.

                                        1. re: cleobeach

                                          It's almost as bad when Krispie Kream came to Tulsa. Despite having tons of fantastic mom and pop bakeries.... it was like the dang president was coming to town!

                                          1. re: Firegoat

                                            Krispy Kreme had the marketing down but after the hype wore off all they had was glazed doughnuts. The interesting thing about glazed doughnuts, if they're hot out of the oven, like Krispy Kreme promoted, they're all good. A 6 hour old Krispy Kreme doughnut is the same as any other 6 hour old glazed doughtnut. I suppose that's why all of the Krispy Kreme's in the Twin Cities closed several years ago.

                                            1. re: John E.

                                              Same with the Newington, CT location. People lined up around the block for the first few weeks, but repeat business never materialized.

                                              1. re: Clams047

                                                My brother and SIL used to drive about 20 miles to buy glazed doughnuts shortly after Krispy Kreme opened. A while later, after all the hoopla had died down, I was in the area and stopped in, went to the counter and said "Two, please". The gal handed over two boxes of glazed doughnuts. I had to explain that I only wanted two doughnuts, not two dozen doughnuts.

                                          2. re: cleobeach

                                            There's an Olive Garden and Red Lobster pair in a burb 15-20 min north of Seattle, and there always seems to be people camped out on the front lawn around dinner time waiting for a table. Same with the Buca di Beppo nearby. So this phenomenon is not limited to just rural America.

                                            1. re: HungWeiLo

                                              As long as there are people who follow the Kardashians & Miley Cyrus, OG and RI can survive.

                                          3. re: Firegoat

                                            Wen we lived in middle of nowhere West Tennessee, the big giant restaurant opening that caused massive traffic jams and kerfluffles was for Burger King. Olive Garden was that fancy big city place that was 45-60 minutes' drive one way to get to.

                                            (In town, the only edible non-fast food options were the slumming Iranians running a pizza & falafel shop and a small Asian restaurant that catered to the Korean & Japanese students who had ended up there because of some sort of affordable 'learn business English' program.)

                                      2. It's on news at 11 in Bawston

                                        1. She was interviewed on the TBTL (True Beautiful To Live) podcast this morning. I loved her attitude.

                                          1. Well, if your job is reviewing restaurants, and a restaurant opens in your town that you think would interest your readers, then you review that restaurant. An Olive Garden opened some years ago in Manhattan, and it's very likely that many people in Manhattan might have been unfamiliar with that chain, and thus curious about it (I did not see any reviews of said Olive Garden, however).

                                            According to the Telegraph UK, the Grand Forks Herald is sending Ms. Hagerty to New York. I look forward to learning what she thinks of our dining scene. And I hope she's treated like the celebrity she has become, 'cause that would be cool.


                                            11 Replies
                                            1. re: small h

                                              I think it would be cool if she were to go on Letterman. She could easily hold her own.

                                              1. re: small h

                                                She got a spot in the NY Times this morning, with her opinion of a hot dog from a cart. She must be having a ball!


                                                1. re: DGresh

                                                  And here's a story about her by her son, a Wall Street Journal reporter. It seems that the comments on this thread, the ones that speculate Ms. Hagerty did not actually like Olive Garden that much but refrained from criticizing it directly, were on point:


                                                  She's planning a meal at Le Bernardin and one at the Times Square Olive Garden. Maybe she'll even post on the Manhattan board! Probably not. But maybe!

                                                  1. re: small h

                                                    I love her comments when asked by her son about being "mocked" all over the Internet:

                                                    "She felt fine about it. But she didn't care to scroll through the thousands of Twitter and Facebook comments on her writing style. "I'm working on my Sunday column and I'm going to play bridge this afternoon," she explained, "so I don't have time to read all this crap."

                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                      Yes, and if I'd felt any lingering superiority toward her, that took care of it. Because I apparently DO have time to read all this crap, plus I don't have a column, nor can I play bridge.

                                                      1. re: small h

                                                        It was a brilliant flipping of the bird at everyone mocking her on the Internet, even if that wasn't her intent. Although I do believe it was. ;-)

                                                        I truly TRULY hope she writes about her experience at Le Bernardin!

                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                          Agree on both counts. And if I spend any more time parsing this woman's words and the meaning behind them, I may be able to predict when the world will end.

                                                          1. re: small h

                                                            There's no need for us to parse her words in one respect - her son did it for us. :-)
                                                            "My mom has her own style of reviewing restaurants: She doesn't like to say anything bad about the food. Her regular readers read between the lines. If she writes more about the décor than the food, you might want to eat somewhere else."

                                                            1. re: huiray

                                                              And her description of the decor wasn't 100% complementary. Loved the reference to "permanent flower displays" i.e. artificial flowers :)

                                                      2. re: LindaWhit

                                                        Linda - I love that quote - reminds of why Woody Allen never goes to the Oscars "I'm playing my clarinet that night"

                                                2. Years ago I took my aged grandmother out to lunch. She was in her 90s by then and we went to a local mom and pop Italian restaurant in a suburban shopping center. Very unremarkable food but it was close to where she lived. She spent the lunch telling me about the time her family went on an extensive tour through Europe back in the early 1920s and that one night in Rome she and her brother slipped away from the parents and the hotel and found a small trattoria and how they had had a wonderful time (this was back in the day when Anglo tourists were warned to stay away from local restaurants in Italy due to the fear of getting the "Rome belly," I kid you not).

                                                  As we finished our lunch, which was mediocre red sauce Italian-American food, I apologized for the meal and my grandmother said, "oh no, it was a lovely meal. I enjoyed it." She was sincere. This is a woman who by the standards of her day was well-travelled and had dined at many of the great restaurants of France through the 1950s and 1960s.

                                                  People from the generations of my grandmother and Mrs. Hagerty were raised to both appreciate food and also not to put too much emphasis on food at the same time. While you could praise someone's baking skills or mention looking forward to a dinner at someone's house or at a certain restaurant, the idea that you would endlessly criticise meals and restaurants and cooking skills as well as nitpick every dining option every time you went out would have been foreign and ill-mannered to people of their generation, for whom the social act of being with other people while dining out would have been more important than the food itself.

                                                  The tone of the Olive Garden review is of someone who went to the restaurant expecting a straightforward meal in a pleasant setting, and got exactly what she expected. It's a shame that we've seen the emergence of strong food elitism and snobbery that an innocent article on the Olive Garden in North Dakota has become the laughingstock among certain people from "the coasts."

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: Roland Parker

                                                    Very well put, Roland Parker! She was interviewed on several news shows, and like her, I was confused by all the hoopla. She seemed genuine, nice, and sharp, just like most of my MId-Western friends, and I mean this without any of my usual West Coast snarkiness.

                                                    1. re: Roland Parker

                                                      I'm not sure when I last heard a snarky comment about this lady, which would suggest that we cannot really say there's an elitist conspiracy against her.

                                                      As I noted above, I actually lived many years in Grand Forks and know whereof I speak. She had no intention of sending a volley in the culture wars. She just told people what the place was like. There's no stormy churn of restaurants in a town like that to make much sense of reviews telling you about "Grand Forks's hottest restaurant" (nod to Stephon in SNL!).

                                                      What I do appreciate about her, and what I recognize as a strong feature of many people in North Dakota, is her equanimity, centeredness, and lack of a manipulative agenda. She's the opposite of a Kardashian, and is probably just scratching her head at what all these coastal people are going on about.

                                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                                        The snarkiness has been on radio, television, blogs, newspapers, podcasts, you name it.

                                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                                          "probably just scratching her head at what all these coastal people are going on about"

                                                          I'd bet your right to the point I wouldn't bet against you on that. I can be the snarkiest jerk on this planet, but I'm also a (hopefully non-condescending) softie. on occasion I like to see the genuine and direct and that's what I get from this story arc. sometimes what you see is what you get (or need)

                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                          OK, this is just too fun that she's going to publish with Bourdain and teach him and Anderson Cooper bridge! :-D

                                                          And yet another virtual flipping the bird with this paragraph:

                                                          "Those bloggers who made light of my Eatbeats certainly did me a favor. They opened the floodgates for kind people who do not like to see critics make hash out of somebody in the Midwest. Especially someone who is as old as the Queen of England! It isn’t all bad to go viral — no matter what the reason."

                                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                                            love that attitude. rage rage against the slinging of the shite.

                                                            I like her.

                                                        2. Go Marilyn Hagerty! I'm for civility in all things.

                                                          Down with food elitism!

                                                          Team Hagerty!