Mellow Mushroom is a pizza joint that could appear to the outside observer to be more about marketing than real substance.
There is a goofy-looking Psilocybe mushroom mascot that represents the Southern chain. The decor is faux psychedelic, and all of the food possesses a goofy nomenclature. However, when you get past the bright colors and the veiled yippie marketing ploy, you actually uncover a cool pizza joint that is as fun as it is flavorful.
The Columbus location of Mellow Mushrooms is the latest offspring of a chain from Atlanta. The 'Shroom is often located near college campuses (hence the voluminous beer and pizza selection). The delivery vehicle appears to be a Volkswagon Microbus with mushrooms painted on it.
The first Mellow Mushroom I visited was located in Hilton Head. I loved the place because their menu was exceptionally geared toward vegetarians like myself. After all, how many pizza and sub shops feature tempeh as a sandwich or a pizza topping? Any place with tempeh gets a bump in my book, in much the same way that I applaud the specific labeling of vegetarian items on the menu (I hope this doesn't give away my predispositions in rating restaurants for restaurateurs to exploit in the future...or maybe I secretly hope it does).The Columbus Mellow Mushroom is located just east of the Polaris exit of I-71 near a couple of other vegetarian-friendly establishments (Carfagna's Kitchen and Pei Wei being the most notable). The decor features murals in the style of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and Dali's "Persistence of Time" with the Mellow Mushroom hidden inside like Waldo, as well as artwork featuring the likenesses of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Jerry Garcia and Ray Charles amidst scores of others. There are flat screen televisions every few feet.
The beer selection is pretty nice. There are Bell's beers including Hopslam, Stone brews including the smoked porter, and Troeg's ales like Nugget Nectar as well as a full arsenal of Buckeye state favorites from Great Lakes and CBC. Mellow Mushroom also has a limited selection of wine and a full complement of liquor.
The main attraction is obviously the pizza. It is thin crust, cut into large slices in a vaguely New York style. The medium pizza is cut into six floppy slices. The toppings selections are more akin to a West Coast approach. Spinach, broccoli, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, avocados, tempeh and tofu are a few of the ingredients that seem at home at both Wolfgang Puck establishments and the Mellow Mushroom.
I sampled the Kosmic Karma, a pizza with spinach, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, and basil atop mozzarella and feta cheese drizzled with pesto. The feta and tomatoes give the pizza bright, tangy character, and the garlicky pesto and basil shine through at the end. The crust is chewy and has a nice buttery flavor.
There are a number of other pre-fab veggie pizzas, and plenty of other toppings if those don't float your boat. There are also vegetarian hoagies including portobello and cheese, tofu or tempeh as the featured ingredient.
The starters were also great. The stuffed portobello mushroom was great, albeit a little expensive. A mushroom cap is smothered in garlic butter and cheese and stuffed with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and feta. It was served on a bed of leafy greens with a sharp vinaigrette accent.
The salads are good. Be forewarned that the Esperanza dressing that is on many of the salads is a Caesar-like dressing and it is made with anchovies.
Rumor has it that Mellow Mushroom may be looking to expand into other locations in Ohio. For the time being, Polaris is the only Ohio location.