Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Recently there was a brief but mighty blip in the interwebs, involving 85 year old Marilyn Hagerty, of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Ms. Hagerty, despite her golden years, is a columnist for the Grand Forks Herald, including “Eatbeat” a restaurant review column.

The frenzy began when Ms. Hagerty reviewed the Olive Garden restaurant, which had just opened in Grand Forks. Her review was a nice, sincere account of her visit. Having once lived in a small town in Illinois (population 7000), I can tell you that getting any chain restaurant to open is a cause for celebration. When McDonald’s came to town, I was beside myself with joy. But I digress.

Once the review was posted, some snotty-nosed snark-faced bloggers and twitterers pounced, mocking anyone who would review a chain restaurant. And to review it irony-free! How dare she! To you kids, I say, GET A JOB. I also say, QUIT MAKING FUN OF THIS NICE OLD LADY. She’s employed, are you? Or are you sponging off of Mom and Dad, or living on somebody’s couch?

Subsequently, as her review went viral, the rest of the internet decided they had better talk nice, because making fun of nice 85-year old ladies is kind of the pinnacle of douche-i-ness. And besides, SHE HAS A JOB, do you?

I have a confession to make: I like the Olive Garden. I like their soup and salad and breadstick lunch. I like their meatballs, you can eat half and have the rest for lunch tomorrow. And I like their white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. So sue me.

Coming from Chicago, this may seem to be blasphemy, or at least approaching trailer trash-talk. Chicago is considered a mecca for foodies, and is the home of several palaces of “molecular gastronomy”, including Moto, which claims to be like “taking part in a multi-sensory science experiment”, and providing a “post-modern, interactive and fantastical gastronomical ride”. Seriously? Now that I’m out of high school, I would prefer not to pay top dollar to take part in a science experiment, especially since back then it usually involved dissecting frogs which always ended up being the females and full of yukky eggs. Restaurants such as Moto strive to “deconstruct” food, in other words, make it not look like food. I invite you to check out the pictures on their web site. What exactly are you eating?

But the Big Kahuna, the Superbowl of fancy schmancy restaurants, is Alinea. Considered one of the finest restaurants in the world, Alinea attempts to relieve you of $210 for its 20+ course dinner, not including drinks, of course. Inspecting their website, I find that the sample menu features “Wooly Pig with fennel, orange, and squid”. Mmmm. I tend to avoid eating wooly food, as it has usually resided in my refrigerator too long. My restaurant correspondent, a close relative of mine, has actually been to Alinea, and she reports that dessert involved the chef squirting chocolate stuff all over the tablecloth. Really. Honey, I can do that at home for you and charge you much less. Where’s the Hershey’s syrup?

Hey, guys, wouldn’t it be fun to compare Olive Garden to Alinea? Let’s keep score, and see who wins!

The front of Alinea

 1. Location: Alinea has no sign on its door. You just have to Know. In contrast, Olive Gardens have large signs in front of them, usually with pictures of grapes on them. You can feel confident when you walk in the door that you are in a restaurant, and not a methadone clinic or somebody's trendy hipster townhouse. Score 1 for Olive Garden.

The front of an Olive Garden
 2. Alinea’s prix fixe menu is $210. That means fixed price, you backwoods heathens. Not including wine. My culinary correspondent informs me that she and a friend forked over $600 for dinner for two. Olive Garden charges $6.95 for its soup, salad and breadstick lunch. Not too shabby. Add a glass of wine or two, and you’re still under $20. Score 1 for Olive Garden.

3. It can take 4 or 5 hours to eat at Alinea. You can stuff your face and get out of Olive Garden in an hour or so. Frankly, I just don’t know anybody I want to talk to for 5 hours straight while waiting for the interminable procession of unrecognizable food. Nope, can’t think of anybody. Score 1 for Olive Garden.

4. At Alinea, people take pictures of their dinner and post them on Flickr. You don’t have to do that at the Olive Garden. Nobody needs to see a picture of your meatball. Score 1 for Olive Garden.

5. And most importantly, at Alinea, you may not know what you are eating until the waitstaff explains it to you. They may even have to instruct you how to eat it. At the Olive Garden, you can usually recognize your food. And you use a knife and fork, the way the dear Lord and your mother wanted you to eat.

So, in summary, it looks like the Olive Garden wins hands down over Alinea, 5-0. So don’t you brats blogging on your Ipads make fun of that nice old lady. She knows a winner when she sees one.


Anonymous said...

Well, I think they're even in terms of the pictures. I bet there's been a number of pictures taken of the food at The Olive Garden that have ended up on Facebook. But I digress from work...

Anonymous said...

I love your blog! I find myself pumping a fist and yelling "Amen" a lot while I'm reading. Go, Mary!

Anonymous said...

Former Peorians can easily identify the food at Motos. Turds, vomit, and Compost/Cheeze Whiz Lasagna. And would not eat at said restaurant.