An 86-year-old wrote an upbeat review for her local paper about a new Olive Garden. She was mercilessly mocked by the Internet. Anthony Bourdain thought she had a valuable POV on small town dining. So he published a book of her reviews.

Here’s Anthony Bourdain’s Foreword to Marilyn Hagerty’s Book ‘Grand Forks’

Here is the foreword written by Anthony Bourdain for Grand Forks Herald restaurant critic Marilyn Hagerty’s new book, Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews. Hagerty became a household name in 2012 when her positive review of an Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota, became a viral internet phenomenon: Readers embraced the octogenarian’s sincerely fawning review of the chain restaurant, which she dubbed “the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.”

In the ensuing media circus, Hagerty went on a meta media tour of New York Cityappeared on the Today showguest judged on Top Chef, and landed herself a book deal on Bourdain’s imprint with Ecco. Back when the book was announced, Bourdain called Hagerty’s collective work “a history of American dining” and a “sincere, genuine reportage of food that people don’t really see or talk about.”

Published by Ecco/Anthony Bourdain Books in 2013, the book is a collection of Hagerty’s reviews and is, as Bourdain put it, “the antidote to snark” with straightforward reviews of the restaurants in and around Grand Forks, North Dakota. Hagerty is a highly controversial figure, and the publisher is allowing Eater to run Bourdain’s foreword in full.

Below, Bourdain explains why people should read the book. “Reading these reviews, we can see, we can watch over the course of time, who makes it and who doesn’t. … And you will understand why the opening of an Olive Garden might be earnestly anticipated as an exciting and much welcome event.” Her reviews, writes Bourdain, offer up “a fascinating picture of dining in America, a gradual, cumulative overview of how we got from there… to here.” Below, the foreword: Continue Reading (5 minute read)

5 thoughts on “An 86-year-old wrote an upbeat review for her local paper about a new Olive Garden. She was mercilessly mocked by the Internet. Anthony Bourdain thought she had a valuable POV on small town dining. So he published a book of her reviews.”

  1. slickguy

    Since I didn’t see anyone who posted it, here’s the damn review:

    After a lengthy wait for Olive Garden to open in Grand Forks, the lines were long in February. The novelty is slowly wearing off, but the steady following attests the warm welcome.

    My first visit to Olive Garden was during midafternoon, so I could be sure to get in. After a late breakfast, I figured a late lunch would be fashionable.

    The place is impressive. It’s fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting.

    My booth was near the kitchen, and I watched the waiters in white shirts, ties, black trousers and aprons adorned with gold-colored towels. They were busy at midday, punching in orders and carrying out bread and pasta.

    It had been a few years since I ate at the older Olive Garden in Fargo, so I studied the two manageable menus offering appetizers, soups and salads, grilled sandwiches, pizza, classic dishes, chicken and seafood and filled pastas.

    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.

    She first brought me the familiar Olive Garden salad bowl with crisp greens, peppers, onion rings and yes — several black olives. Along with it came a plate with two long, warm breadsticks.

    The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.

    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.

    Olive Garden has an attractive bar area to the right of the entryway. The restaurant has a full liquor license and a wine list offering a wide selection to complement Italian meals. Nonalcoholic beverages include coolers, specialty coffees and hot teas.

    On a hot summer day, I will try the raspberry lemonade that was recommended.

    There’s a homemade soup, salad and breadstick lunch available until 4 p.m. daily for $6.95.

    An olive branch on menu items signified low-fat entrees. There is a Garden Fare Nutrition Guide available for customers seeking gluten-free food. And for those with food allergies, Olive Garden has an Allergen Information Guide.

    All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.

    Olive Garden is part of the Darden chain of restaurants that also operates Red Lobster. There are about 700 restaurants, including four Olive Gardens in North Dakota’s major cities.

    Olive Garden has gained a following since 1982 with its ample portions and relaxed ambience. It’s known for its classic lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo and chicken Parmigiana.

  2. matty80

    When you could order a half sandwich, a cup of soup.

    Okay, so here’s my experience of this. I’m from the UK, and I’d never really experienced the classic American ‘family restaurant/diner’ thing until a few years ago. My wife and I were visiting for a wedding and were driving around one day feeling knackered and a bit hungover, and just looking for somewhere to grab lunch.

    We came across a Perkins. I assume this is where the ‘snark’ comes from but, really I’d never heard of this place. We went in, sat down, a really friendly old lady came over, we ordered iced tea, a half-sandwich and a cup of soup each, and then sat there in vaguely Americana-fuelled sedate happiness for an hour eating and drinking this stuff. We even had pie.

    You know what? All joking aside, it was actually just really, really nice. I hear where this lady is coming from. There’s a lot to be said for just sitting there in a vaguely hungover fuzz while a nice person fills up up your iced tea and stuff.

    Good on her.

  3. starstarstar42

    Anthony mentioned being a skinny, small kid through the start of high school and being bullied. Puberty hit and he ended up 6’4″, so the bullying stopped.

    He never forgot about being vulnerable though. That colored his attitude and world-view a lot I suspect. It certainly had something to do with why he took, so personally, issue with how this sweet old lady’s reviews were denigrated.

  4. TooShiftyForYou

    She is never mean—even when circumstances would clearly excuse a sharp elbow, a cruel remark. In fact, watching Marilyn struggle to find something nice to say about a place she clearly loathes is part of the fun. She is, unfailingly, a good neighbor and good citizen first—and entertainer second.

    Anyone who comes away from this work anything less than charmed by Ms. Hagerty—and the places and characters she describes—has a heart of stone.

    This book kills snark dead.

    Bourdain was always great at taking a step back and pointing out the best in things.

    “For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we’ve all had to become disappears, when we’re confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.”

  5. murdo1tj

    “If you sit down with people and just say, ‘Hey what makes you happy? What do you like to eat?’ They’ll tell you extraordinary things, many of which have nothing to do with food” – Anthony Bourdain

    I imagine he used this type of philosophy when talking to this woman. Great perspective

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