By In Joe Vault, Stuff

The Olive Garden

My wife worried, when I worked out an Olive Garden write-off with the great Tommy Tomlinson, that I would poke fun at Marilyn Hagerty’s now famous Olive Garden review. This tells me that I did not explain the idea well enough to her. I loved that review.

In case you missed it, Marilyn Hagerty is the 85-year-old author of the Eatbeat column in the Grand Forks Herald, a newspaper in Grand Forks, N.D.*

*At about 50,000, it is the third-largest city in North Dakota behind after Fargo and Bismarck.

She wrote an earnest review of the new Olive Garden that appeared in the newspaper … a review so earnest, in fact, that it briefly blew up the Internet. This is part of what the Internet does — like Hemingway himself, the Internet destroys earnest.* As of Sunday morning, the Eatbeat Column was still the most clicked story on the Grand Forks paper Website. Second was a video featuring Marilyn talking to CBS This Morning. Third was a story about Marilyn saying that she had done a lot of things in her life but had never gone viral.

*That might be the most tortured wordplay I’ve ever attempted. My neck hurts now.

I loved that review. I really did. Oh sure, I’m not going to tell you that I didn’t get a chuckle out of some of the more impassioned parts, like when she wrote: “At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she recommended, I drank water.”

But all in all, I loved it. And here’s why: I want to live in a world where someone in Grand Forks or anyplace else can enjoy the Olive Garden. I want to live in a world where people can like things unconditionally, without irony, without sarcasm.

Sure, I know: It’s the Olive Garden. I get the joke. And, hey, I enjoy poking fun at the Olive Garden’s excesses as much as the next person* — especially for their absurd, “When you’re here, you’re with family” commercials where people use terrible Italian accents or the pompous way their menus use “Pizze” instead of “Pizza,” like we’re supposed to somehow believe that the Tour of Italy menu item is actually, you know, a tour of Italy. I shake my head every time I pass the always full Olive Garden in Times Square — walk two blocks in any direction and you will blindly run into an authentic Italian restaurant infinitely better and cheaper.

*Unless that next person happens to be Keith Law.

But the world is not Times Square. And the Olive Garden breadsticks are warm.

There’s so much good, funny, smart writing available on the Internet these days that it’s easy to miss that there’s a certain kind of writing that isn’t much available: And that’s VULNERABLE writing. Could you imagine how much different “Catcher In The Rye” might have been if readers were allowed to write their immediate comments below it?

PsychoBrat: “Hey, Holden quit WHINING!!!!!”

StevieStevie: “Rye sanwichh. Mmmm.”

TerribleTim: “Stooooooooooooopid.”

MarjorieM: “You guys totally missed the point. This was about the confusion of youth and the desire to find something real and authentic in a world changing too rapidly …”

BaseDuen2847: “Shut up Marjoarie. Maybe YOU missed the point.”

StevieStevie: “Rye sanldwiche. Mmmmm. Mmmm.”

Who wants to expose their hearts on the Internet? Who wants to admit — except in some deeply ironic way — that they really and truly like something? Who wants to lay bare their enthusiasm, open it up to the boots of cynics and skeptics and snarkers? Much better to start a “Fire Rex Ryan” Web site … or poke fun at Yuni Betancourt.

I think this is the really cool thing about little kids: They don’t know enough yet to be cynical or overprotective. A couple of weeks ago, we took our girls — ages 7 and 10 now — to Myrtle Beach for the second time. If you haven’t been, Myrtle Beach is kind of the Olive Garden of beaches. It is crowded and commercial and overstuffed with miniature golf courses with pirate and dinosaur themes and tee-shirt shops and gaudy seafood restaurants with giant inflatable lobsters on the rooftop.

The girls love it.* They do not love it in spite of all that commercialism. They love it BECAUSE of all that commercialism. They love the fake shark teeth necklaces. They love the inflatable shell fish. They love the small strips of sand. They love the miniature golf — wow, do they love the miniature golf. We played one of those pirate miniature golf courses where every other hole has a little spinner board that gives you rules for that hole (Hit off one leg; block your opponent for one shot; take one off your score, etc.). They could not have had more fun on the beach in Rio.

I remember when I felt like that at Cedar Point, an amusement park in Ohio. Everything felt new and thrilling and so alive. The cotton candy tasted better than anything I’d ever eaten. The rides felt like the edge of adventure. The games of chance felt like Vegas. The shows felt like Broadway. Only later, much later, did I go back and see that it was all so much smaller and grittier than I had remembered.

*The girls also love the Olive Garden. Elizabeth, our oldest, has loved olives since she was a toddler, and I remember one time an Olive Garden waitress brought her an entire plate of sliced olives. She thought this was the greatest thing ever.

Our girls will get older and lose much of that, I know. It’s already happening with my oldest daughter, and it hurts to watch that joy get stomped. Last year we were at Disney World, and they were having that parade down Main Street where all the Disney characters come out in these giant floats. There’s dancing. There’s singing. The girls loved that so much. Well, I saw Elizabeth dancing happily and then I saw another girl, maybe the same age maybe a year older, walk by, look at Elizabeth and kind of roll her eyes and maybe even mouth something like “grow up.” It was like watching Internet snark in real life.

Well, Elizabeth immediately stopped dancing and looked horribly embarrassed. And I was sick. I’d had a similar experience when I was maybe her age at the Ohio State Fair — it had to do with show featuring Ronald McDonald and a boy my age who thought everyone watching was lame (especially me). Well, we all have similar experiences, right? I immediately pulled Elizabeth aside and told her, “Don’t worry about what that that girl did. What does she know? You’re at Disney World. Look around: There are people in costumes dancing everywhere. Enjoy yourself. Dance — that girl is not having fun. You’re the one having fun.” She smiled a little and nodded, but something small and meaningful had changed. She wouldn’t dance as freely. I never did.

That’s why I loved Marilyn Hagerty’s review — there is not one cynical, sarcastic, ironic or satirical word in it. She liked the Olive Garden. She appreciated the way the servers were dressed; she noticed the flower display; she thought the fireplace added warmth. She wrote about it all with vigor and enthusiasm, not only unconcerned that it might become snarked up on the Internet but clearly unaware that such things happen. You know that quote from the author William Purkey: “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching.”

Inspired by that, Tommy and I went to the Olive Garden in Charlotte late last week. Tommy said he had not been there in years. I have eaten at Olive Garden many, many times — as a traveling sportswriter, the Olive Garden is often the easiest option.

As soon as we sat down, a woman sitting in the booth across from us — as if she knew what we were doing and wanted to appear in both our columns — suggested that Tommy try the chicken. “It’s WONDERFUL,” she said in the most sincere voice imaginable, as if she was talking about the latest Josh Groban album or the traveling show of “Wicked” or Meryl Streep’s performance in her last movie. It would be easy to jab at that sort of euphoria over Olive Garden chicken, and it might be funny too — I sort of did in that follow up line, didn’t I?

But snark wasn’t how I felt. Instead, I felt happy. And, for some strange reason, I remembered a promise I made myself many years ago. I did not take my first flight until I was in college — all of our family trips were by car. I was fairly nervous on that first flight, but I remember looking out the window as the plane took off. And I was blown away by the beauty of it, that feeling of being a few thousand feet above the ground, looking down on the rooftops and the trees that look like broccoli and the tiny little cars that seem to be inching along linguini thin ribbons of highway. It was thrilling.

Then I looked around the plane and noticed that hardly anybody was looking out the window. Some were sleeping. Some were talking. Some were reading books. Some were just staring straight ahead, into the back of the seat in front of them, not unlike Puddy from “Seinfeld.” And right then, I promised myself that every flight I ever took I would — even for only a second — look out the window and appreciate the remarkable view from above.

I have now flown countless times … and I haven’t kept that promise. Not even close. I sleep on planes. I work. I read. I watch videos. I play this stupid “Line Runner” iPhone game that, sooner or later, will break my spirit. Sometimes, I don’t even lift the shade the whole flight. Somewhere along the way, flying went from modern miracle to mode of transportation. I don’t regret that exactly — you can’t fake wonder.

But, it is also true, that every so often I do remember and look out the window and see the scene and try to feel a bit like that scared college kid who wanted to enjoy every moment. Sometimes I don’t. But sometimes I do. Tommy and I ate breadsticks and salad, I had the spaghetti and meatballs, we talked about many things, laughed a lot, and got free refills on our drinks. I’m not going to tell you the food was wonderful. But the meal was.

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89 Responses to The Olive Garden

  1. David says:

    You’re a blessing, Joe.

  2. Katebits says:

    I want to hug this blog post.

  3. Frankie B says:

    What David said. Thanks, Joe.

  4. JJSKCK says:

    I need the occasional reminder–like this one, like the one Conan offered as some of his last words on NBC–to be less cynical. Less sarcastic, less jaded, whatever you want to call it. I try very hard to let joy into my life, but it’s difficult when nearly everything I hear or read tries to sap it.
    Thanks for this reminder.

    • Lyndon says:

      I’d like to point out that Conan has always been a playful antagonist of The Olive Garden. Years ago, in response to their “authentic Italian restaurant experience” ad campaign, Conan wished they would just call Olive Garden for what is/was:

      “Pretty good for the price.”

  5. CJK says:

    Should have written this post 5 years ago when the original non-sarcastic OG review was written – It runs circles around this one, really:

    “A martini is not a martini without an olive.

    That, at least, is the thinking of a true connoisseur.

    And to Siouxland residents, many of whom consider themselves connoisseurs of fine food, a city is not a city without an Olive Garden. So as of Monday, Sioux City becomes a real city.”

  6. James says:

    I’ve been around enough to see what happens to people as they get older. The young snarkers turn into middle-age whiners and elderly “get off my lawn!” grumpers.

    The joyful, on the other hand, stay joyful. They always seem to find the silver lining.

    Stay joyful, Joe.

  7. justtv says:

    Joe wins the internet.

  8. When I was growing up, we didn’t go out to eat at restaurants with waiters. It just wasn’t in the budget. When my dad was out of work for a while and he thought he had a job lined up, we celebrated by going to Denny’s. The first time I went to the Olive Garden, I was finishing my freshman year of high school. We went out to eat as a family after my big brother graduated. I was literally in awe of the experience: the nicely-dressed servers, the big portions, the unlimited breadsticks, the huge desserts brought out on a cart. And for once, we were allowed to order anything we wanted. It was awesome. It became a tradition to go to the Olive Garden after graduations after that. But every graduation, it was less special. In time, Olive Garden was a place I had been for lunch before, just for fun. I had been to other, better, Italian restaurants. I went out to eat at a restaurant once a week or more. But I don’t think Olive Garden is meant for people who go out to eat all the time. It’s a special occasion place for people who don’t go out very often. A lot of places don’t have a bunch of options. Now, I live in Stephens, Arkansas, where people have to drive over an hour to get to Texarkana and any sort of restaurant variety. Where do many of the people go for these special occasions? The Olive Garden. The Red Lobster. Texas Roadhouse. (I think the last one is actually really good, but I’m not sophisticated). Thanks, Joe, for loving this article that could have been written by someone from our church. I loved it too.

  9. I’m generally adverse to chain restaurants, but the Olive Garden fried lasagna is one of the greatest things I’ve ever put in my mouth. I feel that same sense of wonder to which Joe was referring each time I have it. (Also, I act like I’m sophisticated, but I definitely cut two OG coupons out of the Miami Herald yesterday)

  10. There are sometimes examples of “vulnerable writing” on Salon. But whenever I read such a piece, I think in the back of my mind: no matter how forthright, thought-out, and self-deprecating the piece, there will be someone in the comments section willing to call the author selfish, stupid, or just an asshole. You can’t please everyone, and now it’s much easier for the displeased to vent their spleen at you.

  11. Reagan says:

    I forwarded this article to my wife with the following note attached:

    “The best sports writer in America just wrote a review of the Olive Garden. You’ll love it.”

    And she did.

  12. Aaron G says:

    Actually, she didn’t like the Olive Garden.

    She’s a nice old lady, and her review (focusing on the ambience and not the food) is her typical way of giving a bad review. Also, she’s super awesome.

    • Diane says:

      Yes, what she’s being is polite. Polite to her readers who will like the Olive Garden, and polite to the new business in town. Read a play review in a small-town newspaper and you will find the same thing. It’s one of the aspects of small-town living that I enjoy.

  13. nickpa1 says:

    Two of my favorite blogs are Deadspin and Joe’s blog…kind of a nice yin-yang balance between the two.

    • Tampa Mike says:

      I can barely read Deadspin anymore because almost everything there is so snarky. It used to be pretty good and funny, but for the last couple of years it has turned. It seems like they are more interested in being the TMZ of sports than a good blog. They are far too fixated with ESPN as well IMHO.

  14. Irishjohn says:

    A really lovely post, great work.

  15. nightflyblog says:

    Not everyone can be Katie the Prefect.

    And for as much as I snark Olive Garden at times, the wife and I do eat there. There’s nothing wrong with “pretty good for the price.” Besides, they do have some good soup, and I love me some good soup.

  16. Robert says:

    The part about your daughter dancing reminded me of the first time I saw this happen to my kids.

    About a year ago we were at one of those “movies on the lawn” deals and the movie didn’t have a set start time unless you consider “dusk” to be set. So my daughter (5) had grown a little restless, and to kill time and energy, she started sort of speed walking back and forth to a tree that was about 50 feet away…arms flailing, hair bouncing, mouth smiling wildly. I then notice a couple of girls a few years older than her snickering at her and imitating her walk, and my heart sank. She didn’t, and never did, notice, but one day she will. And I have no idea what I’m going to say.

    • Indy_fab says:

      Consider the wisdom of Thumper the rabbit for your daughter to reply to the joykillers. “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

    • Mo says:


      Great comment. If you’re not a writer, you should be. Maybe it’s because I have an almost-5-year old daughter too, but your note was touching. It’s going to be hard to see this happen, but our girls are going to grow up. Maybe the best we can offer is to be there and support them.

  17. Matt Fisher says:


    I read you often, but have never commented (unlike my wife, who reads you often AND comments). When I was 22-24 years old, I wrote for a newspaper called The MetroWest Daily News out of Framingham, MA. Today, I’m a 34-years-old English teacher in Western Mass (and previously in NYC and a Boston suburb). I gave up on writing a long time ago (poor pay, poor hours, high stress), and I usually don’t regret it. I do regret my decision when I read your work, though. Joe, you are the kind of writer I think I used to want to be. I must admit, though, no matter how hard I tried, I could never be as good as you have been. Posts like this remind me of that. You are truly brilliant, and I am jealous. Next fall, I am going to teach (for the first time) a high school class called “Baseball in America.” My reading list was just approved, and it includes The Soul of Baseball. Thank you for that book, as well as being a force that helps me keep my inner cynic locked away. And, of course, thank you for this post.

    • Edward Brown says:

      I know I’m preaching to the choir, but as an English teacher and baseball lover/reader (I’m a season-ticket holding O’s fan, if you want to challenge my credentials), “The Soul of Baseball” is the best book on baseball written, tied with “The Boys of Summer.” I cried through parts of it, and if you want to test my credentials on that, I’ve never cried as a six-year season ticket holder of the O’s. Good luck in your course.

      Joe, you are the best. I love a good Olive Garden. And let’s not forget Friendly’s, Cracker Barrel and Appleby’s. They have their place, and it’s a good one.


  18. Mark Coale says:

    A fried of mine once so gorged himself at Olive Garden’s bottomless pasta bowl that he had trouble breathing and walking to his car.

  19. Number Three says:

    Wife and I used to frequent the Olive Garden when we were grad students in love but without cash and living in suburbs of Nashville. Once in a great while, we end up back in one, and it brings back the MOST POSITIVE MEMORIES I think I can have. Thanks, Olive Garden. And Joe.

  20. Andrew Wood says:

    Love your post, Joe. Thanks for sharing a thought I wish I could have expressed so well.

  21. Joe says:

    My son is eleven and the days of just being a kid are quickly coming to a close. To this point, however, he has managed to enjoy fun things w/o worrying if they were cool or not. If it’s fun, it’s fun. He’s pulled this off mostly because his best friends are also unconcerned about being cool. I hate that this will change but I already see some signs and I know I can’t stop time. I appreciate it even more because a couple of his friends (who became his buddies mostly because we are friends w/the parents) have been caught up in looking cool for four or five years now. Hopefully your girls will find other girls of similar mindset and they can be kids for a while longer. And maybe one of them will grow up to be the next Katie the Prefect.
    Dark Side of the Mood

  22. Matt says:

    It seems to me that people (including you in your post, Joe) have applied their own narrative that the lady’s review was soft and wasn’t critical. It was critical–just in an earnest fashion.

    • Tampa Mike says:

      I think most people are missing the fact that she isn’t a food critic giving a grade, but just a summery of her experience. She is just writing about the place so people can decide if they want to go or not. It’s South Dakota, it’s not like she can write about fine dining.

    • Jillcee says:

      It’s actually NORTH Dakota. And you’re wrong about fine dining in South Dakota.

  23. Mark Coale says:

    Good thing you were not fired in an olive garden, like that arena football team.

  24. jim says:

    Replace Olive Garden with batting average and how does this play out?

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Allison says:

    Thank you for writing this. It’s the perfect reply to the snark. And I really appreciate it.

  27. Wow wonderful post. Refreshing. My daughter loves the Olive Garden, particularly the fact that she is always offered freshly grated cheese on top of her noodles. It’s fun to see her eyes light up.

  28. KHAZAD says:

    When you put in the part about your daughter dancing at Disney World, I was immediately taken back (with a clear memory of something I haven’t thought of in years)to a similar moment when I was young. When you begin to be embarrassed about having fun and showing joy, it is really the first loss of innocence. The sad part is that there are many people out there who love nothing more than taking that innocence away from someone.

  29. The story of your daughter broke my heart. What a shame we must live like that, and it only gets worse with the anonymity of the web, where both barrels of derision can be unloaded with nary a thought. As a tiny blogger that writes just to let the muse out, I still feel a twinge of judgment with every negative comment that lands at the end of one of my posts. But then I consider your inspiring example, and I aspire to keep progressing. Thanks for your example, and for sharing your gift.

  30. Eh. I think many, many more people are more sincere than “the Internet” would give credit for — the Olive Garden may be overpriced, but it is not terrible. There is nothing wrong with enjoying it. Obviously, countless millions do. This does not make them somehow inferior to a blogger somewhere who believes he or she is too hip to actually enjoy something and have a positive attitude.

    Wait, you’re on my side. Why am I complaining? Thanks for writing this.

  31. Love you, Joe, you’re the best.

    Marilyn Hagerty is visiting Le Bernadine and Olive Garden in NYC:

  32. Sam says:

    Being a resident of Myrtle Beach, I thank you for your visit and your honest review of your experience

  33. David in NYC says:

    “I’m not going to tell you the food was wonderful. But the meal was.”

    Joe, as earnestly and unironically (as vulnerablely, if that’s a word) as I can say it, that was an absolutely wonderful ending to this post. Spot on, as the Brits say.

    My world is a better place because I can read your writings, so I guess the internet is good for something.

  34. Well, bless your heart for seeing sincerity by not reading between the lines, Joe. If it makes you feel better to believe that Marilyn liked the Olive Garden, it’d be a shame to disabuse you of that notion.

  35. Oblong says:

    Ah Cedar Point… a middle schooler’s paradise. You had free reign over several square miles. You were an adult for a day. Start off with mad dashes to all the cool new coasters, for us in the mid 80s it was Demon Drop, Iron Dragon, Disaster Transport (disappointing). Cool off with Thunder Canyon, flirt with the girls, and go sit in the air conditioned theater to watch some IMAX type movie about rockets or something. More rides. We always ended up near the games up front around dusk. At that point you had that rash on your inside thigh from being wet and walking around. Your face was sunburnt. Hair was a total mess. For 3 or 4 years Cedar Point was truly a great day. Walking through the park with my kids is a trip down memory lane. “Over there’s where we did this…” “That ride is where did that…” “There’s where this oldride used to be…”

  36. Ed McDonald says:

    Amen on flying. I always get a window seat and take pictures out the window. I’m not ashamed. Last month I saw Wrigley Field from the air, what’s not to love about that.

    Also, if you are paying attention when you fly from Charlotte to Chicago you can see Cincinnati and both stadiums.

  37. /amy joy/ says:

    I had a similar experience boarding my first plane at the age of 23, and I had the great fortune of leaving from SFO at dusk. All those twinkling lights blanketing the Bay Area were one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I still look out the window as often as possible.

  38. /amy joy/ says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  39. Cedar point, small? Just because you’re from Ohio doesn’t make it somehow quaint, it’s still the largest amusement park by rides. Sure aside from the rides everything is trivial, but that’s the main reason people go there. It’s quite easy to get lost in a crowd in Cedar Point, hell you could walk around the
    entire place for an hour and not see the same person twice.

  40. JenL says:

    Great Post… I teach seventh grade and have an 11 year old stepdaughter and I constantly tell my kids to not let the world force them to grow up. I try to remind them that they have the rest of their lives to be an adult and to possibly miss the wonders out the window of the plane, so to enjoy and appreciate them now. Definitely enjoyed the post. Thanks.

  41. Omniart says:

    I like your writing, Joe, but disagree with this post.

    What is charming in a child can be distressing in an adult. Marilyn Hagerty’s review of Olive Hagerty represents a failure of imagination. How sad that, after all those years of living, her imaginative world is so small that an Olive Garden—a boring corporate restaurant—represents fine dining. How sad (and scary) that she can be so ignorant about corporate marketing and so easily manipulated. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is still ignorance.

    But whatever you or I may think of her opinion of Olive Garden, surely we can agree that the editors at The Grand Forks Herald should not have published her review? Or should newspapers begin presenting elementary school book reports as serious book reviews? Put another way, it was the job of the editors to realize that this well-intentioned lady happened to lack the understanding requisite to writing a competent restaurant review.

    But regarding your daughter and dancing, I think that she may very well dance as freely again. Yes, there are many children (especially boys) who learn incorrectly that it is uncool to dance. Luckily a good number of us develop self-confidence and dance anyway. Sure, at first we may be a bit nervous and we may not be quite as free as when we were young, but we soon find friends who like to dance, and pretty soon the music is so much fun and our friends are so pleasant that we are dancing without giving a thought to nay-saying nincompoops.

    So to Joe and everyone agreeing with Joe, I say, increase your imaginative world. Explore by eating dinner at that local restaurant that you’ve been meaning to try, and then go out dancing. Because otherwise you’re just eating at Olive Garden, standing on the sides of the dance floors, and bemoaning snarky kids.

    • Oblong says:

      This my friends is the definition of what we call “Elitist”. Not everybody can live outside of Grand Forks. To these people this is it. It’s neither sad or unimaginitive or scary. That’s an incredibly horrible thing to say and quite condescending to boot. I bet those people wouldn’t trade places with your experiences for anything in the world. She wrote this for the readers of her newspaper, not someone living in an urban center in other parts of the country. This isn’t the NY Times.

    • This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Diane says:

      Yes, small-town newspapers are different. When an Olive Garden arrives, it’s a big deal. The newspaper’s review is thoughtful of both the readers who will be excited about Olive Garden, and respectful of the new business in town. When your neighbors get together and put on a play in a community theater, no one gets a bad review in the newspaper, either. Omniart should increase his/her imaginative world by spending a little time in small towns (not suburbs, actual small towns). Bonus feature–fewer snarky kids at a young age.

    • Diane says:

      Okay, InternProfits, you’re officially signed up as an elitist. Your secret decoder ring will be arriving in the mail. Somehow you missed the point, though–this discussion only APPEARS to be about the “unhealthy, cheap,…generic shlocky food” at Olive Garden. Go back and reread from the beginning.

    • Justin Lee says:

      I removed my reply because it was posted as someone else’s profile, so I’ll repost it here:

      @Oblong how the heck is @Omiart being “elitist”. Please.

      Some of us don’t like mass produced, unhealthy, cheap, “make-a-profit-at-all-costs” generic shlocky food like the serve at the Olive Garden?

      If that makes me an elitist, then please, sign me up.

      At first Joe’s post made me feel a bit guilty about being snarky. Your silly comment just eroded all of that guilt.

    • Justin Lee says:

      @Diane what point am I missing?

      Sure, it sucks when kids lose their innocence (and I have a 2 and 4 year old so I’m sure those days will arrive soon), but I wasn’t focused on that.

      I was focused on @Omniart’s we’ll written rebuttal about the Olive Garden.

      If getting educated about mass produced crappy food and then choosing not to eat it makes me an elitist, then I feel sorry for all those who aren’t.

      I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make?

    • Omniart says:

      Olive Garden has restaurants in hundreds of cities and towns. It has almost nothing to do with Grand Forks. It is another corporation that is helping to pave over the distinctions between towns.

      In my opinion, part of what makes Marilyn Hagerty’s review sad is this: Grand Forks is all she knows, but she doesn’t seem to know Grand Forks. It’s like going to a town you’ve never been to before, asking a stranger if they can recommend a place to eat, and having them reply with Applebee’s. It makes me a little sad.

      My reaction may be elitist and somewhat condescending. I see that, and all that I can say is that that is my honest reaction. I can see how people might react differently, though I find much of the enthusiasm for Hagerty to be patronizing. She is an adult, not a child.

      I wish that I could afford to travel more and see more of the country, though I feel fortunate to have lived in many places—cities and small towns, and many in the midwest. Until I can, I’ll continue with my favorite method of mapping the country in my imagination: going to Baseball Reference and looking up names of minor league teams! The Grand Forks Chiefs. The Grand Forks Forkers (ugh, they must get tired of “fork” puns there). The Grand Forks Flickertails—I like this one. Mostly part of the old Northern League.

    • Diane says:

      @Justin Lee, both you and Omniart seem to be focusing on how bad Olive Garden is, and how ubiquitous. I personally never eat there, but then we don’t have one in my small city, and if we did get one I know how excited the general public would be, because I know how excited they were when we finally got an Applebees several years ago. If you can’t relate to that, you won’t understand the review in context.

      If you read one of the other links someone posted above, you’ll get the idea–the reviewer is NOT raving about Olive Garden. She is being polite in a small-town. Even then, a comment refers to it as a passive-aggressive review, and it’s not that either. It’s saying what you can that’s positive and leaving out the negative.

    • Oblong says:

      @Justin… it’s not about what you like or don’t like. That’s great if you don’t like Olive Garden. But it’s the very definition of elitist to assume there’s something wrong with others who either like it or are indifferent to it. Some enjoy it just so they can sit and enjoy a night out without having to cook or cleanup, just like the end of Joe’s post where he said something like “The food wasn’t the greatest but the meal was.” The whole point of the post by Joe wasn’t about food or corporate Italian places. It was about not worrying about being made fun of or trying to impress others but rather about enjoying the moment for what they should. What’s sad is instead of enjoying your company and talking to each other you focus instead on the cheesy and unimaginitive menu and feel the need to mock.

    • Omniart says:

      @Diane, first off, let me say that I’m enjoying our little argument. If I am reading you right, you are saying that I don’t understand the excitement that new chain restaurant generates in a smaller town where such restaurants are less common—and my lack of understanding is probably due to being a city or suburban dweller who is accustomed to being surrounded by chain restaurants. Am I reading you correctly?

      One of the things I like about the city is that I can avoid chain stores. Applebee’s and Olive Garden are for the suburbs. Yes, I live in a city, but I moved here three years ago from a town of about 30,000, where I spent the previous decade. I never understood why people would get excited when a new chain restaurant would open: that town of 30,000 had a lot of great local places to eat. Is it that chain restaurant a badge of importance, or should I say coolness? A sign that the town is moving up in the world? Bah. Take pride in your own town, and create unique things of your own. (Like community theater!) Don’t give in to peer pressure by not dancing and eating at Olive Garden.

      Now that boingboing article is interesting. It has thrown me for a loop, as I find it hard to believe that Hagerty’s review is negative in any sense. This is making rethink everything. . . .

    • Diane says:

      Interesting response, Omniart! The city I live in also has a few great local restaurants, and others that were good have opened and struggled and sometimes closed. I don’t know the demographics of your previous city of 30,000, but I have lived in this town of about 25,000 for 25 years, and in that time the school district’s “free and reduced lunch” percentage (frequently taken as a measure of the prosperity of a community) has gone from maybe 20 – 25% to more like 50 – 60%. We’ve lost jobs and with them part of our middle class. So as I say, when the Applebees came to town people were elated–another place to go locally, another place for people from surrounding REALLY small towns (400 or so population) to go. And the paper has to cover these things as events. To the majority of the population whose family has been here for generations, they ARE events. These aren’t the people who get into the big city (two hours away) very often.

      I completely agree with the boingboing article, though–just as in our local paper, you can read between the lines. When we read play reviews (we have one of the longest continuously running community theaters in the country), you can tell who was really good and who was merely adequate without the reviewer making it explicit.

    • nealfumanchu says:

      Anybody else see the irony of Omniart’s posts in relation to Posnanski’s story? Oh well, life is irony I suppose.

  42. I cook professionally in Italy and of course I need to say that’s not Italian food, BUT I like that salad. It’s not an Italian salad, but I like it. I even like it better than most Italian salads. Italians don’t use salad dressings so to run into a salty and creamy parmesan dressing is a treat for me.
    I think if they billed themselves as purveyors of American food with a nod at Italy fewer people would complain, but they insist on a rep for authenticity and claim to train their chefs in Tuscany. You know I could train people to make Martinis in Beirut, but that wouldn’t make them Lebanese. Same for these efforts. They must not allow them off the campus at all, or surely some of them would bring back some dangerous ideas of real Italian food!

  43. I don’t think I will ever blog again thanks to this!

  44. Kirsten says:

    Hi Joe, thanks for the great article. I flew for the first time when I was 7; I am now 22, have flown numerous times, and still get a thrill, albeit a smaller one, every time I look at the window. Sometimes I feel a bit silly getting so excited, but I like to indulge in wonder 🙂

    I want to direct you to one of the most sincere corners of the Internet that I know: That is the channel of two adult brothers who are unashamed nerds, i.e. they are not afraid to get very excited about their particular interests, and they spread that excitement in a fabulous back and forth vlog. I think the dominance of snark in our world has slowly been beat back by the rise of the nerds over the past few years.

  45. As a Grand Forks, ND resident, I’m happy to have read this post (accept for the part where your stories convinced me that I needed to kick a little girl and a little boy in the shins). Most of us are with Marilyn – we don’t understand why it’s such a big deal!! My husband consistently proclaims his lost faith in ‘us’ as a society – ‘us’ as in people/humans as a whole. He actually sent me the link to your post, so thank you. Hopefully you are restoring in him a little faith. Because I’m not in the mood to move with him to Mars at the moment, which is what he offers as his alternative to dealing with ‘us.’

  46. Paul Franz says:

    I still watch every take off and landing through the window on every flight I take. “Routine” or not, it seems incredible to me each time.

  47. Dan Shea says:

    I still watch every take off and landing, because it concerns me that such a large thing as an airplane can be not on the ground. Once we get far enough away from the ground I’m OK.

  48. Glenn Craven says:

    Another Posnanski gem. You’re absolutely right about exposing yourself as a writer or journalist, Joe. I’ve had to (and usually was glad to) do it for years. We went from fielding angry phone calls or snippy letters to the editor complaining about our views to a slew of often-nonsensical, frequently venomous (and usually anonymous) comments stringing on for pages sometimes, immediately below our heartfelt work. … Thanks, Joe. Keep dancin’ like nobody’s watchin’, even though tens of thousands of us are.

  49. Jim Wexler says:

    Olive Garden sucks. The food is bland, and fattening. I agree with the resonder who says its depressing when a local sends you there or Applebee’s. The special, differentiated foods served by local passionate cooks are forgetten — pushed aside for lousy extra breadsticks. Ok it’s homey, and downright american, to embrsce mediocrity. But here in elistist NY you can eat so darn local….must be fifty ethic tastings that are breakthorugh, a different exerience every day if you want — for low cost and high human interaction value. Most NTers miss that and dully eat their tuna sald sandwich from the deli, but ut us there. I would hope that Grand Forks would retain its local flair, with a bakery, a sandwich man, a BBQ guy etc. But I think those are less valued and pushed aside. PS – I spent one night in Grand Forks while driving acorss country from Alaska 30 years ago. Hometown USA. Drunk ass picked a fight with me and nearly belted me.

  50. tomemos says:

    I think it’s a mistake to think that all–or even much–of the reaction to Hegarty was negative. You can make fun of something out of a sense of affection; it may be condescending, but is it more condescending than Posnanski is doing here, by comparing Hegarty to his preteen daughters? This post (by a friend) gets at this pretty well, I think.

  51. Pogue009 says:

    Joe makes me cry sometimes, there is part of me that always be the farmboy who considered every McDonalds visit a treat.

    I am in my thirties now, have lived in 7 states, have my degree and have enjoyed the wares of so many amazing resteraunts. This article brought me back to being 12yo sitting at table with my mother and now deceased father at The Armadillo as a reward for getting straight A’s on my 6th grade report card.
    When you are the 5th out of 6 kids getting a whole evening of your parents attention makes something as simple as a Chimichanga an experience that Gordon Ramsay working hand in hand with Mario Batali could never match.
    I love you Joe, thanks for everything you do.

  52. jachmilli says:

    Be very careful and do your research which should include the specific companies that you are considering joining up with and finding as much feed back from those who “have gone before” you.

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  53. AMusingFool says:

    This is why I always enjoy Miyazaki movies. The earnest wonder they capture.

  54. There’s an assumption among people in larger towns that non-chain places are usually good. That’s true in large towns. They have to survive against tough competition. In smaller places, they have to be edible. In some small towns, a new Applebee’s really is a better place to eat. And they drive over an hour to get to the Olive Garden, because it really is better than any place closer. There’s a couple of good restaurants nearby where I live, but a dine-in Pizza Hut is dangerously close to the top 5 places within 30 minutes.

  55. Tran Lam says:

    Your story about your flights reminds me of how I did the same thing on my flights. I usually do it for about 15 minutes, especially in water changing color zones. Then I look around and saw nobody was doing it. I was like the only inexperienced kid who was interested with the views. The difference is that I do not really stop looking out at the window, because I have bad dizziness using technologies while motioning. I guess some times life is more appreciated when we notice natural nuances of the world, rather than what we created.

  56. has never didn’t deliver sensible food and outstanding client service to its customers. Fine, quality food and outstanding service make Olive Garden one of the leading restaurant chains within the country. If you are thinking of the best place to celebrate you’re special milestones or a romantic place for a date, you may positively notice the interiors of Olive Garden to be the simplest setting for these occasions. and this place can also build you’re feeling like you are indeed dining and drinking in a very classic Italian winery.

  57. Shea Ahna says:

    God bless you, Joe.

  58. Hello, this is fastidious post I actually loved reading

  59. […] The Olive Garden | Joe Blogs – Joe Posnanski […]

  60. Nice garden information i love it.niagara falls

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