Octogenarian Olive Garden reviewer returns a year after going viral: ‘My world has not been the same’

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

She's back!

Marilyn Hagerty, an 86-year-old columnist from Grand Forks, N.D., became an unlikely media sensation last March after her earnest review of a local Olive Garden in the Grand Forks Herald went viral online. (Her column read like something out of The Onion: "The place is impressive," Hagerty wrote. "It's fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway.")

On Wednesday, the Herald published Hagerty's sequel, "The Olive Garden, one year later."

"One year and one day have passed since I wrote my initial Eatbeat review of The Olive Garden on 32nd Avenue South in Grand Forks," Hagerty wrote. "My world has not been the same. I went viral, and I didn't even know what that meant."

In her new column, Hagerty summarized the hoopla:

First, there was the online critic who said the review was pathetic. Others followed, wondering why anyone would critique an Olive Garden restaurant. They couldn't know that I write about truck stops, fast food places and all kinds of restaurants.

Then, there was a barrage of commentary from kind and gentle people. At one point, 1,300,000 hits were reported. There were TV trucks, from the "Today Show" and "Piers Morgan," in my driveway and national television shows such as Anderson Cooper, Jay Leno and "Top Chef" on the line. And Anthony Bourdain was doing an about face and praising my work. To top it all off, I received the Al Neuharth Award for excellence in journalism for 2012 that had gone before to the likes of Garrison Keillor and Walter Cronkite.

[Related: Hagerty on Internet fame: ‘It’s overwhelming, wild, crazy’]

But "That is all in the background," she wrote before launching into her review—which, once again, is charmingly earnest:

Last week, I chose minestrone soup made with fresh vegetables, beans and pasta in a tomato broth. It was preceded to the table by a generous bowl of crisp salad with a sharp tasting dressing. And there were warm breadsticks, freshly baked off, in a basket.

All of this for $5.50 is a very good buy. It's a good buy even at $6.95, which you pay if you get refills. And this lunch item is available until 4 p.m.

Hagerty, who will turn 87 in May, described the vegetable soup as "hearty and satisfying" and noted that children "are well-treated with color crayons and choices including a little cup of grapes as one of the side dishes."

But there are some "minuses," she wrote: "The food is predictable, down to the four or five black olives you find in the salad bowl."

And "the two menus, the spiel by the waiter and the commotion of nearby tables made impossible to understand what was being offered."

Hagerty, a former features editor for the paper, told Yahoo News that she was paid $65 for her review—the same amount she received last year.

"I do not bill for expenses," she added. "I pay for all of the food I eat when I visit restaurants."