Give me a break. This sudden stardom being accorded an 85-year-old North Dakota food writer for her praise of a new Olive Garden restaurant overlooks what for me is the most important point: the food that chain offers will always suck.
NPR, bless its boring, adenoidal head, has a typically breathless piece on its online newsblog noting two points about this phenomenon, points the writer assists us in understanding through the use of numerals.
“1. Almost everyone loves a story about someone who seems to be just so darn nice and who's still going strong at an age when many of us will just be glad to still be around.” According to essayist Paul Fussell, the use of “darn” puts the NPR writer in solid middle-class surroundings. “One of their treasured possessions,” he writes in his book Class, “is a whole vocabulary of euphemized profanity and obscenity, so that when you hear, ‘Holy cow!’ or ‘Holy Moses!’ ... you know that a member of the middle class is nearby.” In other words, NPR is just folks, golly gee.
“2. There are an awful lot of snarky sorts out there on the Web who just don't realize that in many towns and cities across the U.S. a restaurant such as The Olive Garden (or Macaroni Grill, or Red Lobster, or Applebee's or any of many other chains' outlets) is indeed a big deal.” And gosh darn it, we’ll stop in just as soon as we’re done over to the Wal-Mart’s. It’s a pathetic attempt at rationalization.
On to the aged food columnist and the words that have won her fame. “The place is impressive,” she writes. “It’s fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting.”
That last sentence is telling. When you moo with the herd, you spend lots of time in lines. Olive Garden’s AARP-intensive customer base seeks not nourishment but comfort. They eschew surprises. Did your childhood dining experiences emerge from cans and boxes? Your Olive Garden fare comes out of pouches. The kitchen is a big reheating operation. Bon appetit.
“The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.” Jesus. Talk about lowering the bar of expectations. I want a huge portion, and I want my goddamn cheese.
“All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.” Calvin Trillin observed that, when he traveled as a well-known food writer, he inevitably was steered by city fathers to what they deemed their location’s most impressive place, and it was always the same pre-fab nonsense that he termed “Casa de la Maison House.” Remind me to save my visit to Grand Forks for the day when I, too, sport removeable teeth.