This one was especially fun for me, because in the Days of Yore, I spent about five years in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Shortly after I graduated from college, I got married, and my husband (now ex-husband) joined the Air Force. Grand Forks is where he got stationed. When I found out, I cried. But my Dad told me, “Look at it as an adventure!” He was right, and I made a lot of friends up there, as well as getting my first job and getting some great experience that would serve me well in my career.
Anyway, I recall Marilyn Hagerty’s name from the Grand Forks Herald, and a few years ago, her review of the new Olive Garden in Grand Forks went viral. (I couldn’t find the full column online, but you can find snippets here and there...and of course, the full review in the book!) It went viral because everyone knows that Olive Garden is kind of not that great of food, right? And not all that authentic, right? I mean, it’ll fill you up when you need it, and I have enjoyed meals there in the past, but I don’t think anyone would call it gourmet dining. But Ms. Hagerty reviewed it seriously, commenting on the food, service, and decor. In fact, she praised the decor quite a bit. The DECOR!
It was a funny but charming review, and you couldn’t help but like her for writing it. Having lived there, I can report that it is a smallish city, and any new restaurant opening was indeed a big deal. When I saw a while back that many of her reviews had been published in a book, I knew I had to get it.
I can’t begin to convey how much I enjoyed this book. She reviews everything from Sanders 1907 (which was the nicest restaurant in Grand Forks at the time when I was there) to the East Side Dairy Queen. She goes to buffets at Golden Corral and to the new Arby’s. No matter the restaurant, she writes about it seriously and with kindness. She seems to have her problems about certain things (if you’re her server, do NOT ask her multiple times how everything is...let her visit with her friends, gosh darn it!), but she goes out of the way to find complimentary things to say about every place she visits. The reviews in the book range from 1987 (I lived there at the time) to 2012, and in the earlier reviews, we are treated to descriptions of decor that includes mauves and greens and light wood and brass railings. Can you or can you not picture that exact style of ‘80s decor?!
She also mentions several places that I remember. There was the Chuckhouse at the Westward Ho Motel; Whitey’s Wonder Bar across the river in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (I had a lot of beers and a lot of onion rings at Whitey’s!); Bonzer’s downtown; and one of my regular haunts, John Barleycorn at Columbia Mall. There were many times when my friend Lisa and I would head out after a rough day at the lab and hit that place for Bloody Caesars or the occasional melon daiquiri. (I have yet to find another melon daiquiri like the ones at Barleycorn.)
Some of you may recall that Grand Forks and the area was devastated by a horrible flood of the Red River of the North in 1987. It was very sad to read of all the places that Ms. Hagerty wrote about that succumbed to the flood. The Chuckhouse and the Westward Ho were one of them. John Barleycorn is no longer in operation. Amazingly, both Bonzer’s and Whitey’s are still in operation, but many restaurants (not to mention homes) were lost in what Ms. Hagerty refers to as the Flood of ‘97. Based on what I watched on the news, read in books and online, and what my friends there said, it deserves its capital F. From the book:
Bit of Norway, along with many other Grand Forks and East Grand Forks businesses, succumbed to the Red River of the North flood in April and May of 1997. Says Marilyn of that time:
“There was a period of time when I did not write because of the Flood of 1997. We had to evacuate and went down to Bismarck, where my daughter lives. My husband, retired editor of the Herald, died down there after a time in a nursing home.
“The Herald called and wanted me to write, so I started in. The Herald was being published in a school in a small town north of here. There were writers from all over the country in here during the big flood. Still, the Herald wanted writing from someone who lives here.
“The Herald, by the way, won a Pulitzer Prize for flood coverage. I can claim nothing to do with the Pulitzer Prize.”I can tell you, that brought a tear to my eye. The whole book made me think of my time there (I was back in Indiana long before the Flood hit Grand Forks and that area) and I made an attempt to describe some of it to Ken. I felt like a stranger in a strange land at first, even though I’m also from the Midwest. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the upper prairies are a different kind of Midwest. People seem a little more insular and distrustful of people from elsewhere. So here I was, from Indiana, not really a hockey fan (that made people wonder about me from the very beginning, I’m sure!), a new graduate on her first job, and part of the Air Force community. In looking back, I had a lot of things going against me!
It really wasn’t easy at first, but I settled in and learned the job, and got to know my coworkers better, and I made so many good friends there! I’ve lost touch with many of them, but I still get Christmas cards from a couple of them, and I found my former manager in Microbiology on Facebook. (She seemed quite happy when I told her that I’ve become a hockey fan!) Reading this book made me think about all the good times we had, and I’ll be spending a little time writing letters to both Carole and Susan, who are so wonderful about sending me cards every year.
Ken asked me if I’d ever want to swing through there on vacation some time. I said, “Well, it’s not exactly easy to ‘swing through!’ It’s like just two hours south of the Canadian border, so it’s way up there.” He asked again. “Would you like to go there again one day?” I grinned and said, “Yeah!”
I don’t know when this will happen, but I foresee Whitey’s onion rings in my future!
For those who don’t have the connection to Grand Forks that I do, you might not enjoy this book to the extent that I did. However, it is a delightful read that I plan on keeping in a handy spot for whenever I have a bad day. I don’t think it’s possible to read this without a smile sneaking onto your face!
And remember...if the chef includes an orange slice as garnish on your plate, that means he or she cares. Marilyn knows.