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Longtime Grand Forks Herald columnist goes viral with Olive Garden review

Marilyn Hagerty

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty has gone viral. To be more specific, her Wednesday restaurant review of Olive Garden has gone viral.

Since it was posted early Wednesday, her review received more than 230, 000 views as of Thursday evening. In comparison, the Herald's second mostread story was about the Fighting Sioux nickname, with 5,500 views.

"I don't get it," the 85-yearold 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.

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." Defenders

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'sa different tone fora review and I love it."

Several people online wondered if the review was a product of "The Onion," a satiric newspaper.

Twitter postings included:

"For those who loved Grand Forks Olive Garden review, here's Marilyn Hagerty's equally spectacular Pizza Ranch review."

"MARILYN HAGERTY: Dippin' Dots, Crazy Bread await fans at UND hockey games."

"BREAKING NEWS: Marilyn Hagerty also reviewed Taco Bell."

"How amI supposed to work when there is an entire archive of Marilyn Hagerty articles to read?"

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."

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 then-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. Twice.

Hagerty, was a guest this morning on "CBS This Morning Saturday."

Hagerty writes five columns weekly for the Herald and Grand, admitted to the CBS morning show's hosts that she was not familiar with the term "viral" until this week.

"Somebody told me I'd gone viral, and I had to ask, 'What's that?'...I've been a lot of other things, but not viral," Hagerty said wryly, prompted chuckles from the show's hosts.

Hagerty stressed that she reviewed Grand Forks' Olive Garden about six weeks after it opened, and that she was not critiquing the food but trying to describe the restaurant experience, since its opening was so eagerly awaited by many area residents.

When told about one high compliment paid to her online, Hagerty replied, matter-of-factly, "Somebody else called me pathetic" The hosts assured her she was not, saying, "They are wrong."

Hagerty did the interview via satellite from a Fargo studio. One of the hosts mistakenly referred to her as a Fargo columnist during a promo for the segment, but co-host James Brown correctly called Hagerty a Grand Forks columnist at the opening of the interview.

RYAN BAKKEN is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald. The Bemidji Pioneer and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers