The Olive Garden food critic has come full circle.
A year ago, Marilyn Hagerty of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota reviewed a local Olive Garden restaurant. The review was spread by 35,000 Tweets, and she went from local critic to Internet sensation overnight.
Now Hagerty, 86, has returned to the restaurant to evaluate the food for a second time.
“I think they’re more settled in and I think that the food is about the same,” Hagerty told ABC News, “The salad is good and it’s abundant, and the bread sticks are bread sticks. I think they bake them off; they must be frozen.”
Hagerty said she returned so that the people of Grand Forks, a city of 55,000 people, would know if the food had changed. Having written her column for more than 30 years, she often returns to the restaurants she reviews to check in.
Since her first review, Hagerty has visited the Olive Garden several times for charity auctions. She helped earn over $1,000 for a law school auction, with the winner getting the opportunity to dine with her at the restaurant.
“It wouldn’t be my first choice to go out to dinner on a weekend…but it’s very good,” she said.
In the last year, Hagerty has made multiple guest appearances, dined at Le Bernardin and judged an episode of “Top Chef.”
“I’m very flattered that people have been doing this. I don’t seek any of this attention but it’s developed. Sometimes I feel like I’m making this up, but I’m not. You know the initial week just a year ago. I had calls from Jay Leno…just amazing things that I could have never dreamed of,” she said.
The highlight of her year, she said, was winning the Al Neuharth Award for excellence in journalism, presented by the founder of USA Today. In comparison, everything else “seemed kind of like a fluke. ”
She’s even made a famous gourmet friend. The chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain, after first criticizing Hagerty, “said he changed his mind and he thought that he was overlooking a part of middle America and the way people really do it.”
Hagerty is now working on a book that will have all of her Eat Beat columns, “Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 100 Reviews,” out this summer. It will be published by Harper Collins under Bourdain’s imprint, Ecco.