Hagerty's review offers taste of home

Words From: Ron 
Ruggless, Southwest 
bureau chief

News about Olive Garden reviewer Marilyn Hagerty continues to simmer like a well-cooked marinara more than a month after her earnest and cordial appraisal of the just-opened Darden Restaurants Inc. concept in her Grand Forks, N.D., community turned her into a viral sensation and a national media darling.

The 85-year-old newspaper writer skyrocketed to national Internet celebrity after her Olive Garden review appeared in the Grand Forks Herald, noting among other things that, “All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.”

The ensuing widespread snark and then broad-based defense across the Web earned Hagerty a trip to New York, appearances on national television shows and, if recent rumblings from Anthony Bourdain are any indication, a lucrative book deal.

Hailing from a very rural community myself, I’ve savored every ounce of this dish. It’s nice to see the nation’s heartland get some deserved attention and give the urban ironics their comeuppance.

Olive Garden, meanwhile, has remained relatively quiet amid all the bits and bytes give-and-take.

On Twitter, Olive Garden sent out this on March 9: “Check out the @CBSNews story about an Olive Garden review for the ‘Grand Forks Herald’ to see what the buzz is about.” And March 20 the feed retweeted CNN host Anderson Cooper’s post: “85-year-old #MarilynHagerty’s rave review of an @OliveGarden went viral. Today on @Anderson, see what she says about a 5-star restaurant.”

Bourdain summed it up in a conference call with journalists April 5: “She’s been writing a food column in Grand Forks for 30 years. ... What we have is a sincere, genuine reportage of food that people don’t really see or talk about. I see her life’s work as a history of American dining.

“The reviews I read were really refreshing and heartfelt,” Bourdain said. “I think she made us all on the coasts look small and bad, and I admire her for that.”

For her part, Hagerty has calmly accepted the fame. In an open letter to her sister, Shirley, published in the Herald before Easter, Hagerty wrote: “Ever since I went viral in the middle of March, life has been crazy, wild and interesting. About the time I think things are winding down, something else shows up.”

Herald editor Mary Jo Hotzler added in a story, “People have really taken notice of what Marilyn is all about, ... something good and something real.”

Reader Troy Erickson, in a letter to the editor, said: “Marilyn Hagerty represents North Dakota with a lot of class and dignity. She charmingly embodies the spirit of North Dakota people and their values.

“Her honest-yet-kind analyses are a wonderful alternative to the pretentiousness and snobbery that is so sadly indicative of various other regions of our fair nation.”

I second that emotion.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected] [3].
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless [4].

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