In the rarefied world of restaurant reviewing, chain eateries seldom get recognition. That may be one reason that Marilyn Hagerty’s review of the new Olive Garden in Grand Forks, N.D., caught the attention of the food world. Then again, it may be the prose from the 86-year-old reviewer for the Grand Forks Herald, who has also reviewed Taco Bell in the 30-plus years she’s written the column. "At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water," Hagerty wrote.
How do reviews go viral? The Huffington Post reports that, in this case, the review was picked up by a food blog called The Denver Omelette, which is written by a North Dakota native. One of the next stops was City Pages, which called it the "greatest restaurant review ever written." From there, Gawker and others picked up the story.
The Grand Forks Herald reports that her Eatbeat review attracted more than 100,000 hits online within 36 hours of being posted. Her name became a hashtag on Twitter, where some questioned if the review was real. Boingboing.net reports that Duluth, Minn., reporter Brandon Stahl checked out Marilyn with a Grand Forks Herald editor and reported on Twitter: "Oh, that's for real. Marilyn has been reviewing restaurants for the Herald for decades. She also writes a sort of celebrity column and has a sewage lift station named for her, as does Dave Barry." Brandon also noted that the editor said Marilyn's review wasn't as positive as a casual observer might think. "By the way, her readers will recognize that as a fairly negative review since she spent a lot more time on the ambience than the food."
In an interview with the Village Voice, Marilyn noted that she had received some unpleasant emails about the column, including one she considered "snotty." Her response should be the what every journalist turns to: "Thanks for your message."
Marilyn is not deterred by negative comments. "I don’t have time to sit here and twit over whether some self-styled food expert likes, or does not like, my column. The publisher likes it," Hagerty told the Village Voice.
"If anyone’s got time to sit out there and nitpick, I kind of feel sorry for them. Get a life." Then Hagerty went back to work, polishing her Sunday column. She writes four articles weekly, in addition to the restaurant review.
Can a phone call from David Letterman or Jay Leno be in her future?