The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: ‘Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews” by Marilyn Hagerty
For my birthday this year my kids gave me this book: ‘Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews’ by Marilyn Hagerty. They discovered it in a small bookstore in downtown Burlington, and recognized Anthony Bourdain’s name on the cover (he wrote the foreword and the book was published under his imprint, Ecco Press) as an author/chef that I’ve read before.
Marilyn Hagerty writes for the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks, ND. She writes five columns each week including the “Eat Beat” column where she reviews the local restaurants in Grand Forks. She has been writing this restaurant column for over 25 years. ‘Grand Forks’ is a collection of her reviews.
Bourdain’s foreword mentions Marilyn Hagerty’s infamous 15 minutes of fame back in 2012 when her review of a newly-opened Olive Garden in Grand Forks went viral. I had not heard of this incident so I checked it out on the interwebs.
Her simple, straightforward and positive review of the Olive Garden became the target of snarky, rude tweets and Facebook re-posts.
Basically, people made fun of her quiet praise of this new Olive Garden in her town, and from there they moved on to some of her other local reviews. Happily the story does not end here, as a wave of positivity overtook the wave of snark. Thousands of people and the media took notice and came to her defense. She landed interviews on The Today Show and NPR. Then Anthony Bourdain swooped in to laud her years of local restaurant reviews, arranged for her to dine at La Bernardin in New York City, and made plans to work with her on a book – this book!
When I read this book it makes me think of the places I used to go out to eat with my grandparents. And with Christian’s grandparents. Those small, local restaurants that exist for years and years without ever really changing the food or the decor.
The food is good but not pretentious, and our grandparents used to look forward to essentially the same things every time: soups, half-sandwiches, brunches with steam tables holding French toast, eggs and bacon.
Hagerty’s reviews include places like these plus truck stops, diners, family restaurants, and other chains in the Grand Forks area such as Shakey’s, Player’s, Dairy Queen, and even McDonalds.
Hagerty’s reviews are straightforward, simple, kind. She shares the prices of dishes she tries and a bit of what else is on the menu. She likes to share about the folks dining with her – her “constant companion”, friends, children. She is not harsh or critical, and she is not out to skewer anyone. Occasionally a review will mention something about a dish or about the establishment that could use a change. There have also been one or two dry-humored jabs at misspellings on menus.
In the book she says, “What point, I wonder, is there in tearing down hard-working restaurant people? And if a place is just too bad, I move on.”
In a Wall Street Journal article titled “When Mom Goes Viral” her son James R. Hagerty shared, “If she writes more about the décor than the food, you might want to eat somewhere else.”
I have eaten in many, many more places like the ones reviewed in Hagerty’s book than in upscale, trendy, and wickedly expensive restaurants more likely to be reviewed online or in our local Burlington-area papers. And the food in these restaurants is good! Filling, comforting and affordable. This food is a lot more like the food I tend to cook at home and the recipes I share in this blog. It’s for this reason that I don’t think of myself as a foodie.
I just love good food, and I love to share good food with people I care about.
An example of this is the annual Chicken Pie Supper we attend at a local church with the Armchair Squid and his family. We get a whole lot of tasty food, and share it with great friends! For these reasons I am enjoying Hagerty’s reviews and her observations of the people and trends in her town.
What is The Cephalopod Coffeehouse, you ask? Brilliant and well-dressed is the host The Armchair Squid who describes it thusly:
“The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you’ve finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same. In this way, we’ll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.”
Visit The Armchair Squid and see what everyone’s reading!