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Marilyn Hagerty's Olive Garden review goes viral

March 9, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Marilyn Hagerty's review of the new Olive Garden in the Grand Forks Herald went viral this week. The incredulous reaction from some quarters on the Internet reminds me that North Dakota is still a pretty unique place.

"At length, I asked my server what she would recommend," Hagerty wrote in the column called Eatbeat published Wednesday. "She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water."

The Olive Garden is "the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks," she concluded. "It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here."

People seem surprised that Hagerty would even bother to review a chain restaurant like Olive Garden. Those that don't live in North Dakota, where the choice of places to eat out are few, may not understand the excitement. This isn't New York City or even the Twin Cities, though, and the Olive Garden is big news in the area.

They also have trouble understanding the lack of irony in Hagerty's voice. Some people who read it insisted that Hagerty must be secretly snickering about the restaurant since she wrote such a prosaic description of it. In the AP story, Hagery said she just doesn't do reviews of restaurants where she doesn't like the food and I would guess that's the plain, unvarnished truth. That's just how it is in small towns.

Some people compared Hagerty to Marge, the pregnant sheriff in the cult classic movie "Fargo," or to a character in Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone. The comparison was not always entirely flattering. It generally depends on how much the person commenting likes the Midwest. If happiness is your North Dakota hometown in your rear view mirror, you're not going to like Hagerty's column.

But though I seek out reviews on sites like Jezebel or Salon or in The New Yorker, I do find the hipster irony that some of those reviewers affect tiresome. Hagerty's review was far more useful to someone who plans to eat at Olive Garden or at any of the other local restaurants she reviews in Eatbeat. If you want to choose a place to eat, you want to hear what's on the menu and how much it costs. You're not going to be particularly interested in a review dripping with clever irony by a bored hipster called Dive Bar Girl (one of the counter examples cited on Rod Dreher's blog at The American Conservative.)

Like Hagerty, I don't see what all the fuss is about. But I guess that just makes me a North Dakotan.


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