The Gleeful Gourmand: Best Restaurant Review, Ever

Friday, March 9, 2012

Best Restaurant Review, Ever

Viral. Spreading like wildfire. I bet those are two phrases Marilyn Hagerty of Grand Forks, North Dakota never imagined would be applied to her review of The Olive Garden. And yet, mainstream sites and foodie blogs are all a-twitter this week because of it. City Pages called it "the greatest restaurant review ever written." So what's all the fuss about? The fuss is that it's an unintentionally hilarious, straight-forward account of the grand opening of the first Olive Garden ever in Grand Forks. 

And it contains gems like this: "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's like the Ernest Hemingway of of food critics: to the point and pulling no punches. 

It was way too easy at first to smile at her review in a of "Bless her heart" sort of way, and also bless Grand Forks's heart too, for having just opened it's very first Olive Garden. But that got me thinking: There are a lot of places in America like Grand Forks where the best restaurant to open in a long time is an Olive Garden. She may seem like a simple writer, but I think that's exactly what her audience (the ones who regularly read her column) wants and needs. They need to know what the place is like, if the food is good, and what it costs. She relates all of that brilliantly, with a no-nonsense approach. 

The Olive Garden is sort of a joke now to foodies. But Marilyn Hagerty reminded me of what it was like here in Richmond when I was a kid. I'll be honest: It wasn't the great food city it is today. Restaurant choices were far and few between, and if you wanted a wonderful dining experience, you had to drive about a half an hour into the city to get it. When The Olive Garden first opened on the Southside (that's South of the James River for you non-Richmonders) it was a big deal. Our closest brush with fine Italian dining up until that point was the local Pizza Hut. It was really, really good. I will never forget that it was there that I tried calamari for the first time, and learned what it was. I also learned that I hate calamari, but that's neither here nor there. The food was delicious, satisfying, and you left feeling like you had had a really nice dining experience. It was a big deal.

The Olive Garden is also kind of a joke in our house. My husband hates The Olive Garden. But he was born and raised in L.A. and can't understand why this silly chain restaurant still holds a a special place in my heart. Here's the truth: Although I've had the privilege of eating in some of America's most exceptional restaurants, sometimes when I see commercials for the O.G., I get a twinge in my heart and an overwhelming need for all-I-can-eat breadsticks and salad.

So I say, good for you Marilyn Hagerty. You wrote a great review, and you told your audience exactly what they needed to hear. You don't care what anyone thinks of you and your writing, and I for one think that's a marvelous thing.

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