North Dakota Olive Garden Reviewer Reflects on Fame in Latest Column

If you say nice things about Olive Garden, nice things will happen to you.

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Marilyn Hagerty appears on Bravo's Top Chef, Jul. 5, 2012.

An 86-year-old writer had no idea a simple restaurant review of the new Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota, would put her on the map. “At length, I asked my server what she would recommend,” Marilyn Hagerty wrote in her now famous Mar. 7, 2012, column in the Eatbeat section of the Grand Forks Herald. “She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.”

The South Dakota native’s no-nonsense reporting on the ubiquitous food chain charmed web readers nationwide and racked up more than 300,000 pageviews in less than 48 hours.

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One year later, Hagerty is back on the Olive Garden beat —her latest Eatbeat column humbly reflects on her whirlwind year. “My world has not been the same,” she writes. “I went viral, and I didn’t even know what that meant.”

Since Mar. 2012, Hagerty, who writes five columns a week for the Herald, has appeared on the Today show and Bravo’s Top Chef and has won the 2012 Al Neuharth Award for excellence in journalism, whose former recipients include Walter Cronkite and Garrison Keillor. Anderson Cooper offered her a cruise, and Anthony Bourdain offered her a book deal. His Harper Collins imprint Ecco will publish Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 100 Reviews, a compilation of her best reviews — “from Red Lobster to Le Bernadin.” Due out Aug. 27, 2013, “It is, whatever you may suppose, an extraordinary and beautiful thing,” Bourdain tweeted in August.

And how is the Olive Garden in Grand Forks doing these days? “Judging from the parking lot and the large number of people usually inside, the large restaurant has settled in as one of the busiest,” she writes in a Mar. 6, 2013, update. The food is “reasonable,” and lunch is a “very good buy” with a healthy helping of minestrone soup, salad, and warm breadsticks for $5.50. For dinner, the seafood in the penne di mare, on the other hand, is there — “but a little hard to find.”

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