A review of a new Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks by longtime Grand Forks Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty has gone viral, being written about and linked to by several prominent websites, including Reddit, The Village Voice, Gawker, HyperVocal and BoingBoing.
Hagerty's Wednesday column, "THE EATBEAT: Long-awaited Olive Garden receives warm welcome" has already doubled the traffic the entire Grand Forks Herald website usually generates on an average day. With over 6,000 shares on Twitter and 4,000 shares on Facebook by noon, the story talks glowingly and in great detail about Grand Forks' first Olive Garden restaurant.
Read her response to the buzz she's generated here in an interview with the Herald's Ryan Bakken, "Marilyn takes America by viral storm ... thanks to Eatbeat review of Olive Garden."
GRAND FORKS - A Wednesday review of the newly opened Olive Garden restaurant here made longtime Grand Forks Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty an overnight Web sensation.
The review received more than 230,000 views as of Thursday even-ing. In comparison, the Herald's second-most-read story was about the Fighting Sioux nickname, with 5,500 views.
Hagerty's column had gone viral.
"I don't get it," the 85-year-old Hagerty 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, and in such great detail. 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."
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 phone 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.
"Grand Forks is Grand Forks - it's pretty rural," Canono said. "I found the review pleasant and refreshing. It's a different tone for a 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 am I 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 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 that although chain restaurants, buffets and truck stops have been subjects of her reviews, she has eaten at the White House. Twice.
Bakken is a reporter and columnist for the Grand Forks Herald