Lessons from Marilyn Hagerty: The Local Food Reviewer Who Went Accidentally Viral
Monday, March 12, 2012 • 5:02pm
Marilyn Hagerty, the food critic for Grand Forks Herald, is my new idol. I love how quickly her restaurant review went viral, the ultimate goal for an online food writer. It is heartwarming to see an 85-year old excited about the hottest new restaurant in town “it’s called The Olive Garden.”
Maybe it’s because I just read 50 Shades of Grey, but when I read about the “two long, warm breadsticks” and the bustling waiters in their black trousers, I got a little happy. The writers at SNL and Jimmy Fallon will be working late this week.
She received her 15 minutes of fame – roughly the amount of time she quizzed her waitress “at length” for recommendations – in response to a run of the mill restaurant review in her regular ol’ North Dakota town. She goes on to rhapsodize about the “impressive Tuscan farmhouse style” and the plethora of black olives on the salad.
But to Ms. Hagerty, she was just doing her job. She covers local dining and this was a big story. As a writer struggling to write the perfect piece, there is much I can learn from this impeccable professional and industry veteran like her. She notices details, uses accurate descriptive terms and is efficient with her language. She creates a distinct setting, tone and atmosphere. She provides price, menu listings, hours and specials. She even timed her meal to avoid long lines on opening day. What a pro!
After reading her review, I understand that a new trattoria is taking Grand Forks by storm with their raspberry lemonade in the summer, and chicken Alfredo in the winter. It tells me this new hotspot – The Olive Garden – transports you to Italy with it’s pastas, planters and arched doorways.
I say kudos to Ms. Hagerty for doing a good job and making something as common as a chain restaurant a special treat. She was looking forward to the opening and she got the scoop. Boy, did she ever.
I am so inspired by this chain of events that I want to offer some reviews of my favorite chain restaurant offerings. I am in constant search for the best food, and if it is handed to me thru a drive-thru window, that counts.
Red Lobster – I’ve had a seafood lover in me for 41 years before I finally took the plunge at my friend’s urging. Urging. She told me the cheddar corn biscuits were hot and addictive. She was right. There were four of us who enjoyed lunch that day, and we named ourselves the Secret Red Lobster Society. ” I ordered a lobster tail because that’s what I do. I wasn’t expecting it to be great, since I spend a lot of time in Maine and Cape Cod and know good lobster, but I was curious to try it. Ms. Hagerty would relate. It actually was not bad, and I liked the Caesar salad.
Chipotle – My current obsession is the grilled chicken burrito bowl. I am getting it once a week now, and find that I look forward to it that I am finding excuses to run errands on Route 22. The chicken is char-grilled to absolute perfection. I order with brown cilantro rice, black beans, lettuce, corn, extra hot salsa and guacamole, which is $2 extra. I top it off with a squeeze of lemon from the soda bar and some chipotle hot sauce.
Five Guys – Best fries. The blackboard said “Shelby, Idaho” which means these are artisan spuds. They are so freaking good, I use all my will power to walk past those ketchup red doors when I’m walking around town hungry.
Panera – There’s a lot to like about Panera. I think they have a great salad selection and the Mozzarella Panini combines sundried and fresh tomatoes on a crusty ciabatta bread. My favorite is the tomato soup and baguette, a comfort food 2-punch.
Manhattan Bagels – I pick up a dozen or two every week from Manhattan Bagels. I love their whole wheat everything, honey wheat and California bagels. My daughter eats the egg with poppy and my other daughter likes the mini bagels. They have a creamy, salty whipped lox cream cheese spread that is to die for. Their to-go salad selection is fantastic, their coffee bar ample and their fried egg sandwiches always hits the spot.
It’s hard to sound excited about bagels, fries and chicken. It’s also hard not to come off as a pretentious snob. I strive to be somewhere in the middle, just like Marilyn Hagerty.