Mamma Maria’s

I finally got over to East Grand Forks and tried out some dishes at Mamma Maria’s, a local joint that has been growing a fan base as one of two local Italian places in the area. Giuseppe’s on DeMers in downtown Grand Forks is the other.

I was surprised at the interior of the restaurant, with nice low lighting and a contemporary feel. I was surprised because Mamma’s is in a mall and the prospect for a good Italian restaurant in a mall is not promising.

Luckily, the food was largely tasty.

Wanting to get a pretty good representation of the menu, I and two friends ordered a few dishes and an appetizer. We had the veal cannelloni ($11.99), mamma’s trio ($15.99), fettuccini in a vodka cream sauce ($9.99) and the mamma’s sampler appetizer ($13.99).

Sample Appetizier

The appetizer was out fast and it was hot, as was every other dish served to us. When I say hot, I mean it, cause these were piping hot. Included in the appetizer were bruschetta, mozzarella wraps, fried ravioli, chicken fingers and calamari. It was a big plate full of fried food, but we wanted to try a few different appetizers.

The appetizers were served with a barbecue balsamic vinegar that I found pretty unappealing. It was an incredibly runny sauce that was heavy on the vinegar. The bruschetta was topped with the same sauce over the tomatoes and unfortunately overpowered it and made the bread soggy. Trying the other appetizers, I would really only recommend the calamari. Not the best I’ve ever had, but not bad.

Mamma's Trio

I had the mamma’s trio for an entree, which was another sampler that had a portion of chicken Parmesan, lasagna and fettuccine alfredo. Each was fine, but the alfredo was under-seasoned and the chicken in the chicken Parmesan was a tiny cut.

Served with our meal was a basket of garlic knots that tasted fine, but they were cold both times we had them. They would be infinitely better if served hot, but the flavor was still there.

Garlic Knots

My dining mates both enjoyed their dishes, they said. So while this may seem like a mixed review, I’ve got to say I really like Mamma Maria’s. Because Mamma’s is a local place, I’d much rather support it than a national chain. I have yet to step foot in the Olive Garden since it opened, so I really can’t compare the food. But I would bet that the food at Mamma’s is as good or better. And if it’s not, you can feel good about supporting a local business.

The menu at Mamma Maria’s has pretty much any classic Italian dish you can think of, with quite a selection of seafood, pasta, pizza and sandwiches. Five different burgers are also there if you’re not feeling like Italian.

While I found a few things that could be better, I’ll be heading back to Mamma Maria’s in East Grand Forks soon to explore more of their menu.


The Riverwalk Centre
211 DeMers Avenue
East Grand Forks, MN 56721

Mamma Maria's Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Anthony Bourdain Drops Tidbits About Upcoming Marilyn Hagerty Book

Chef, writer and TV personality Anthony Bourdain will be publishing a book from Marilyn Hagerty on his imprint Ecco Press, but we hadn’t heard anything about the book’s content. Bourdain, in an interview with Eater, dropped a few tidbits about the book.

Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain said it was his first instinct to laugh at the 85-year-old’s succinct review of the “long-awaited” Olive Garden, but after he found that she has worked at the Herald for so long and she writes five columns a week, he changed his tone, saying “That’s a woman who has been showing up at work and doing a job.”

He referenced in the interview a tweet he received saying that the Olive Garden was “the only restaurant that resembles an independently owned and operated Italian restaurant” within 150 miles. I think that the tweeter was misinformed. There is Giuseppe’s in Grand Forks and Mamma Maria’s in East Grand Forks to start. Not to mention other places in Fargo.

Anyway, on to what he said about the book.

Bourdain said he looked at the archive of Marilyn’s work and found the articles will tell “an amazing story.” He also said that there will be other material in the book about the changes that have come to restaurants she has reviewed in the past. Also, “What do they eat out there? I think it’s something we need as a reality check before we start talking down to people, which is our instinct. We are all too happy to tell people how they should or shouldn’t be eating.”

He also hints that there may be more writing from Marilyn. Not sure if Bourdain means he’s “commissioning some stuff” to supplement the other content or a whole separate book. We’ll have to wait and see.

“I’m also commissioning some stuff from her that explains what it’s like to be her and what it’s been like to do that job for thirty years. I think it’s going to be an important book. It may be charming, but it won’t be funny. We’re not laughing at this lady,” Bourdain said.

He also talked about Marilyn on CBS:

Marilyn and Anthony

Word came today that Marilyn Hagerty is in talks with Harper Collins for a book in collaboration with former Les Halles head chef and the current star of No Reservations and The Layover, Anthony Bourdain.

Tony and Marilyn

Tony and Marilyn

Yes, the phenomenon that has become Marilyn Hagerty rolls on. A crew from Anderson Cooper is due back in town for a review with Marilyn, and she’ll be back in New York for another interview a week later.

No info yet on what the book might be. Seeing that Marilyn and Anthony are nearly polar opposites of each other when it comes to food and personality, the book could be interesting reading. Bourdain has built his career based upon snide comments and what a grandma might call “nasty” language. That’s why I love the guy. I’ve read nearly all his books and have seen every episode of No Reservations and The Layover.

I love Marilyn, too, and she definitely deserves it. That doesn’t mean I can’t be jealous though.

Marilyn Takes New York – Day 1

As one comment had it, “Marilynsanity” continues.

Marilyn Hagerty landed in New York City today and the “media circus” is in full gear.  After her down-home Olive Garden review, Marilyn has taken the nation, and the Internet, by storm.

Marilyn in New York

Crews from both CNN and The Today Show were in Grand Forks on Monday and Tuesday to talk with her. The Today Show even did a live shot outside of the Olive Garden. On Piers Morgan Tonight on Monday, guest host Jane Lynch conducted an extremely awkward interview that Marilyn later said “wasn’t much fun.”

But the huge amount of attention Marilyn is getting has started to get old for some. Robert Sietsema at the Village Voice said he’s “so over” the Hagerty Phenomenon. He writes, “The so-called critic… prominently pastes her picture at the top of every column,  makes a single non-anonymous visit to a restaurant, eats only one dish with no beverages, then writes at length about it in the flattest declarative prose imaginable, making the landscape of her native plains state seem mountainous by comparison.”

That’s pretty harsh.

Sietsema does have a point though that Marilyn should really try some great New York institutions like Gray’s Papaya and a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli. She at least got a dirty-water hot dog while a New York Times reporter, photographer and videographer were in tow. She asked the purveyor what he recommended. He said “two hot dogs.” She got one.

But Marilyn and her entourage have a few, higher-scale places in mind.

Tonight, she dined at Dovetail NYC, a Michelin-starred eatery headed by chef John Fraser. Ryan Babb with Forum Communications has been tweeting every step of their journey and shot some great photos of the food.

Black truffle, mushroom and onion soup

The food looks great. I can’t wait to see what she thinks.

Next up is Le Bernardin on Wednesday and the Times Square Olive Garden on Thursday.

By the way, you can even get a Marilyn t-shirt or an e-book of the Best of the Eatbeat.


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Marilyn Hagerty’s ‘Olive Garden’ Review Goes Viral

As much as I try, I cannot keep up with Marilyn Hagerty. Well, she has been doing this for 40 years.

But her most recent review, “Long-awaited Olive Garden receives warm welcome” has taken the Internet by storm and has dramatically driven up views of her EatBeat columns on the Herald’s website.Marilyn Hagerty

She’s done interviews with papers in New York, had her review written about on Fark, Gawker and BoingBoing, among others. Not to mention the barrage of Facebook comments and Tweets.

I have to admit I’m a bit jealous.

But the reason it’s caught so much attention is that the people who read it who aren’t from Grand Forks, or the Midwest in general, find it quaint and folksy. Not that that’s a bad thing.

But I think if people would take a look at the Midwest, they’d find that many people know how good a good restaurant can be. And most of the time, it’s a local place. They’d also find that we know a thing or two about food.

GF Olive Garden

Marilyn’s review was her typical way of writing up a restaurant. She usually leaves out anything bad that happened, but I read today that the reason behind the overt positivity is that a former Herald editor said he liked how the reviews were like a news story, leaving out most personal opinion. I can understand that.

She first brought me the familiar Olive Garden salad bowl with crisp greens, peppers, onion rings and yes — several black olives.

Twitter posts about the review:

 “For those who loved Grand Forks Olive Garden review, here’s Marilyn Hagerty’s equally spectacular Pizza Ranch review.”

“BREAKING NEWS: Marilyn Hagerty also reviewed Taco Bell.”

While it may be fun for all of these people poking fun at her review, I think Marilyn is amazing and I hope to be as active as her when I’m older. I don’t think anyone can exactly explain why the Olive Garden review has garnered so much attention. Some people, including me, think the restaurant is sort of a trough for those uninitiated in actual Italian food. But hey, if you like the food, go there as much as you want. And the service is probably pretty good, at least that’s what I’ve heard so far.

I hope Marilyn isn’t getting tired of being a celebrity already. I think she deserves it.

Wait For GF Olive Garden Almost Over! Get Out Your Sweatpants

Friday brought news that the Olive Garden in Grand Forks officially has a general manager, Manvel native Donald Szutenbach.

The restaurant will open Monday, January 23. It sits where the Columbia 4 theater used to, on 32 Ave. S.

Now, I know nearly everyone who lives in the northern Red River Valley is beyond excited about the opening, but I’m not exactly.

For those who’ve actually had Italian food, this isn’t. It’s American Italian food, or fast-food Italian. Any time you add the word American to a type of food, you make it worse. American Mexican, for example. We destroyed pizza up until a few years ago when people started waking up a finding out you can actually make a good pizza for not much money.

Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto

When we weren’t exactly nice to Pizza Ranch, we definitely heard from those of you who are fans. But bashing Olive Garden? Uh oh. Maybe I should tread lightly.

I just don’t see the extreme attraction. I’ve heard of people driving to Fargo to chow down, usually waiting in line for a while. Waiting waiting waiting for that little disk to glow red and vibrate, signaling it’s your turn to stuff your face with breadsticks and veal scallopini.

‘Sir, why not try our new Alfredo sauce injection station. Just have a seat and we’ll hook ya’ right up. Why eat sauce when you can have it injected right into your veins! It’s much more efficient and cholestoral-inducing!’

Where were we.

Fettuccine Alredo

Don’t get me wrong, I like Italian food and have, in the past, enjoyed myself at the OG. I’m just saying, like with most anything, we could have it better. Why not support a local Italian place like Giuseppe’s in Grand Forks or Mamma Maria’s in East Grand Forks. I’ve only sampled Giuseppe’s once, but a friend says the manicotti is pretty tasty. The one time I was there it was dead, so try it out for me.

By the way, that fettucine alfredo that you love so much? It packs on 1220 calories, 75 grams of fat, 47 grams of saturated fat, and 1350 milligrams of sodium. Maybe just the lunch portion?

And that soup and breadsticks you just can’t have enough of? 26 grams of fat in the “Garden-Fresh” salad and 1930 milligrams of sodium. Breadsticks are OK, if you only have a few. They come in at 150 calories and 400 milligrams of sodium.

The food is most likely prepared in advance and heated when it’s ordered. I have no official experience to back that up, but it is what many chains do to make sure the same quality is seen across the board and also to make preparation simple.

Quality Italian food should be made with fresh ingredients, from scratch and made to order.

The restaurant will no doubt bring some business to the area south of Columbia Mall. The old Grizzly’s location will soon be booming with a Noodles and Company and an Erbert & Gerbert sandwich shop. Add the new Scheels location in the old Target space and it will be busy, to put it lightly.

If you feel differently than me, and you likely do, leave a comment and let me know what you like at the Olive Garden. Maybe I’ll give it a try. A review should come soon.

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