Marilyn Hagerty’s review of the Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota is not about the restaurant’s “warm and comforting” Chicken Alfredo or the “inviting” bar area; it is the purest indicator of all that is the United States.
That’s if you believe the sarcastic legions who criticized the 85-year-old critic’s article last week and made it viral, the diners who later defended it, and the pundits who have made it a touchstone for a spirited debate on culture. from the country.
Much has been made of Hagerty’s March 7 evaluation of the restaurant chain for the Grand Forks Herald.
In it, the veteran critic describes her visit in the middle of the afternoon so that she “could be sure to enter.” She considers the place “impressive” and called it “the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.” She watches the “white-shirted waiters” and the permanent flower displays, asks for water instead of the suggested raspberry lemonade, and praises the “welcome entry.”
Quickly, the foodies took notice of Hagerty’s apparent seriousness and began to send him mocking jokes. Others, including foodie character Anthony Bourdain, supported and promoted her as an honest voice for culinary hoi polloi.
The circus continues this week, despite Hagerty’s great fatigue. She inspired an active thread on the Chowhound forum, where this week’s participants proclaimed themselves “Team Marilyn!” Her review is being used to illustrate concepts ranging from bicoastal elitism, generational appreciation of food, the role of kindness in fame, and the decline of good manners in review.
Her words (shared more than 26,000 times on Facebook) are now being scrutinized with scrutiny generally reserved for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Is her intense focus on the Olive Garden décor rather than the quality of the dishes actually a subtle knock on the chain? Is she at the forefront of a new foodie movement censoring foodie overthinking (see Mary Risley’s viral Thanksgiving video exhorting viewers to “just put the turkey [expletive] in the oven”) ?
And in a true sign of the internet times, Hagerty’s notoriety is turning into a smart, expansive multimedia package on the Herald’s website, complete with blog, Twitter feed, videos, and even an e-book and a t-shirt.
Hagerty could not immediately be reached for comment. And it’s no wonder: the sudden celebrity has been sent by her post on a whirlwind tour of New York.
She has been on the “Today Show” and “Good Morning America”. Her son James R. Hagerty, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, serenaded her in a column for the newspaper. The New York Times recounts her adventures in eating hot dogs.
She has already succumbed to a mainstay of foodies: food pornography. Her blog now includes a series of photos of the finely covered dishes she enjoyed at the Michelin-starred Dovetail NYC restaurant. Le Bernardin is next.
As for Grand Forks Olive Garden, employees say they have received a large number of questions and are keeping busy with customers. But otherwise, they said, things are more or less the same.