A restaurant review by an 85-year-old grandmother of her local Olive Garden that went viral has stoked an online storm with accusations flying of food elitism and insufferable snobbery.
When Eatbeat columnist Marilyn Hagerty of the Grand Forks Herald called a newly opened branch of the Olive Garden in her small, North Dakota town "the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks, " the story went viral, garnering 14,900 retweets and 25,900 Facebook ‘likes' less than a week after the story appeared online.
As of Monday, the online version received a record 700,000 hits for the site.
The Olive Garden is a family restaurant chain that serves American-style Italian fare with about 750 locations across the US and Canada.
It's Hagerty's plain-talking, ingenuous rave review of the chain restaurant that has made the writer an internet celebrity. But its simple honesty has also misled some to speculate the review had to be a spoof in the manner of satirical website The Onion.
Since the story went viral, it's attracted a bevy of snarky comments from readers who have called her "pathetic" and the Twittersphere, where food heavyweights have leapt to her defense, including Anthony Bourdain, who tweeted, "Very much enjoying watching Internet sensation Marilyn Hagerty triumph over the snarkologists (myself included)."
The latest in the Hagerty saga, meanwhile, includes a column in Monday's Wall Street Journal entitled "When Mom Goes Viral" in which son James, a journalist for the publication, describes his mom as a woman with nothing left to prove, a busy grandmother whose life is filled with eight grandchildren, volunteering at church and caring after an "unreliable dachshund."
Hagerty herself has also been a guest on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" with guest host Jane Lynch from TV show Glee, and has given interviews to CBS's "This Morning: Saturday'" and the "Today" show on NBC. She's also scheduled to dine with notoriously finicky eater and news anchor Anderson Cooper from CNN this week.
On YouTube, a phony reading of her column in a ‘Sir Ian McKellen' accent also turns her article into a long, Shakespearean-like soliloquy.
Meanwhile, as Hagerty tells it, Olive Garden's arrival in the small town of 55,000 was a major event for the folks of Grand Forks, akin to the "second coming of Christ," she told ABC News.
And the wait, according to her estimation, was worth it.
"The place is impressive. It's fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting," she wrote.
Of her Chicken Alfredo, a recommendation from her server clad in a white shirt, tie, black trousers, and "apron adorned with gold-colored towels," she said it was a generous portion, as well as "warm and comforting on a cold day."