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Sparkling Olive Garden review turns elderly columnist into overnight celebrity

Marilyn Hagerty's review of the chain restaurant is like the Double Rainbows of food criticism. 


Fernando Alfonso III


Posted on Mar 9, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 8:17 pm CDT

Anyone who has eaten at one of Olive Garden’s 730 different restaurants around the world knows that the chain is not much to write home about.

Unless you’re 85-year-old columnist Marilyn Hagerty, whose sparkling review of the restaurant has turned her into an overnight celebrity.

In her column for the Grand Forks Herald on Wednesday, Hagerty called the new Olive Garden in North Dakota the “largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating.”

She added:

“As I ate, I noticed the vases and planters with permanent flower displays on the ledges. There are several dining areas with arched doorways. And there is a fireplace that adds warmth to the decor.”

The column has since collected more than 270,000 hits, been lampooned on sites like Gawker, and has forced the Herald to write a follow-up story.

“I don’t get it,” Hagerty told the newspaper Thursday. “I’ve been doing this for 30 to 40 years. Why all of a sudden now?”

The column even inspired MSNBC writer Julieanne Smolinski to come to Hagerty’s defense.

“It’s not some kind of huge joke on Marilyn because nobody likes the Olive Garden: Millions of people like the Olive Garden! The First Lady eats there!” Smolinski wrote. “Chains don’t get to be ubiquitous because people run from them in droves. And let’s be real: It’s not going to win any James Beard Awards, but it isn’t a quonset hut full of raccoon meat either.”

Photo by ScottSchrantz

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*First Published: Mar 9, 2012, 2:45 pm CST