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New Yorkers Surprised by Olive Garden’s Warm Reception Outside of New York

GrandPeople seem to think this earnest Olive Garden review in the Grand Forks Herald is a joke (no, the accompanying photo doesn't help) but little about it surprises me and I know nothing about the North Dakota dining scene. This is how things are, and would hardly be the first Olive Garden critique in a regional newspaper (here's a recent one from Baton Rouge's The Advocate, which I mistook for the gay Advocate for a nanosecond)

Admittedly, I do worry a bit about the town if this is true: "All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here." I'm starting to feel a little attracted…

With very little research, it was easy to determine that independent restaurants do, indeed, exist in Grand Forks, and Marilyn Hagerty has, in fact, reviewed them, many of them. On one hand: good, she tries everything, not just chains. On the other hand, she's dined extensively in the region and truly finds Olive Garden to be the "most beautiful." Pehaps local message boards could heatedly debate this a la Pete Wells's starring of Shake Shack.

A tiny sampling of non-chains in Grand Forks:

Sanders 1907 Dakota Cuisine. The menu is fairly meat-and-potatoes, but they do serve hamachi carpaccio, escargot, duck burritos, and list 58 scotches.

The Toasted Frog does bar food that wouldn't be wildly out of place in bigger cities: fried cheese-wrapped pickles served with sriracha, and panko-crusted fried oysters with remoulade. Wood-fired pizzas are also their thing and the Roma-Dakota mixes late '80s faves: sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts with the unexpected: pheasant confit.

Dakota Harvest Bakers is an artisan bakery using local ingredients. Sandwiches include banh mi and a muffaletta.

Frankly, I was most excited to learn about new-to-me regional chains (always a pleasure): Paradiso Mexican Restaurant with all-you-can-eat Fajita Wednesdays, Rhombus Guys, a gluten-free pizzeria, JL Beers, a craft beer and burger joint touting freshly ground beef and baked buns, and Grizzly's where "fresh flavors of the northwoods" translates to Wisconsin cheese curds with ranch dressing, steak, ribs, and general bbq-ness, and Green Mill with award-winning buffalo wings.

UPDATE: The Village Voice went straight to the source (smart!) and Marilyn Hagerty sounds pretty awesome.

Photo: Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau Visitors Guide 2012

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