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Olive Garden reviewer in North Dakota surprised by attention

Some people can be downright rude, one North Dakota restaurant reviewer learned this week. Not to mention snobby.

The story pits urbanites with endless culinary options against a prairie town with slim pickings. Marilyn Hagerty’s review of a new Olive Garden in Grand Forks, N.D., seems to have struck a nerve among some city slickers.

In an earnest, utilitarian column for the Grand Forks Herald, Hagerty wrote about the decor, the ambiance and the low-fat entrees available to those counting calories.

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

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Her review has gone viral after being picked up by news blogs and shared thousands of times through Twitter and Facebook -- with most incredulous commenters wondering why the chain was even getting reviewed.

The Grand Forks Herald, in response to all the attention, reported that the column has had more than 200,000 page views. By comparison, the second-most read story on its site the same day had about 5,000 page views.

And as the snark pours in from around the country, Hagerty points out in an interview with the New York City alternative weekly the Village Voice that her critics don’t understand reality in Grand Forks.

Here, culinary options don’t typically include high-end, exclusive eateries.

When the town of about 50,000 people got an Olive Garden a few weeks ago, it was quite the event. Of course Hagerty would write about it.

Gawker, a New York City-based news and humor site, highlighted some of Hagerty’s observations, surprisingly with less snark than most of its other posts.

But the comments weren’t as nice.

Among the milder ones: “Honestly, I wasn’t sure this was real. I thought they did a copy and paste from an Onion story,” a reference to the satirical news publication.

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Another defended the review, saying it’s not funny to pick on an “old lady from a small town” writing for her local paper.

On Twitter, reaction was bemused. “For a moment I couldn’t decide if that was a parody or not,” one person wrote. “But I guess in North Dakota a new Olive Garden is big news.”

All this reaction has the longtime restaurant reviewer confused.

“I don’t get it,” Hagerty told the Village Voice.

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She explained that residents had been talking about Olive Garden for months after learning it would be coming to town.

“Oh, it was one of the biggest deals in ages,” she said. “The rumors had been floating around for decades.”

Hagerty also told the Village Voice that she had received some snobby, incredulous emails -- and yes, those bothered her.

But like any polite journalist, she answered them with a curt, “Thank you for your message.”

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