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FNS Photo by Ryan Babb
Grand Forks Herald food columnist Marilyn Hagerty sits in the green room Saturday before her “Today” show appearance.
FNS Photo by Ryan Babb Grand Forks Herald food columnist Marilyn Hagerty sits in the green room Saturday before her “Today” show appearance.

Food columnist Hagerty talks to ‘Today’ about mystery of her popularity

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GRAND FORKS — Marilyn Hagerty said she still doesn’t get it.

During an interview for NBC’s “Today” show Saturday morning in New York City, the Grand Forks Herald columnist said the national attention she’s received in the past two years stumps her.

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Her latest review, of the chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday, recently went viral online and prompted “Today” to invite her back for a second appearance.

Host Lester Holt asked about the public’s continued interest in her. Did she think it was because she was reviewing popular chains and not a fancy French restaurant in her Eatbeat columns?

“I think people who wonder about my Eatbeat don’t understand what the Eatbeat is,” she said. “The Eatbeat is the column I do every week and I’ve done it for 30, 40 years.”

Two years ago, public interest in Hagerty exploded after her review of the Olive Garden was highlighted by a few blogs, some snarky, some sincere. She came to the attention of TV personality and author Anthony Bourdain. She has since appeared on several national talk shows and published an anthology of her Eatbeat columns with Bourdain.

“It’s something I certainly wouldn’t have ever expected to happen,” she said later. “For all of the work you do, and the things you think you did really well, nothing goes over and it’s like a lead balloon. But you do something like this and it gains national attention.”

Beyond fine dining During her “Today” interview, she and Holt discussed her past fame, the origin of the restaurant review in the newspaper, and of course, her review of Ruby Tuesday.

Holt noted a few of her observations, such as the way “the glass over the salad bar seems to keep the foods protected,” and the state of the tables. He followed that with a comment from her son, who has said if Hagerty writes more about the décor rather than the food, readers should take that as a tip to eat somewhere else.

“Should we read in between the lines here?” he asked.

“My son is full of prunes,” she said.

Holt laughed. “I’ve never heard that before. Is that a Grand Forks expression?” he said.

“I suppose,” she said.

Hagerty talked about her desire to cover more than fine dining restaurants in a town of 55,000.

“I’ve been to truck stops and I’ve been to McDonald’s,” she said. “I’ve talked to the people who work there in the kitchen and talked to the people who take the orders. I find it very interesting. I like to tell my readers how much things cost, how clean the place is, how the food tastes.”

Low-key visit After the interview, she said she’s enjoyed her overall experience on national television and sitting behind the scenes. But this particular trip was a quick one, as she and Ryan Babb — multimedia producer for Forum Communications and self-described personal assistant to Marilyn — flew into New York on Friday and headed back to Grand Forks by late Saturday morning.

Tight scheduling didn’t leave much for exploration of the city, one Marilyn has visited several times now for her talk show appearances and a restaurant tour. This time, the only restaurant they dined at was the one in their Fifth Avenue hotel.

How was the food?

“I’d been snacking all day, so I just had an hors d’oeuvre and Ryan had a steak, which he liked very much,” she said. “So, no big food adventures.”

To see Hagerty on the “Today” show, go to on.today.com/1jJ0ILk.

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Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit www.grandforksherald.com. 
(701) 787-6736
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