Mellow Mushroom: Like Pizza Hut, but Without Stuffed Crust
A few months ago, we were having a glass of wine at a local wine bar, and learned that a Mellow Mushroom was being built across the street (in place of a favorite Tex/Mex joint that had recently been torn down). I'd never heard of Mellow Mushroom, but since Natalie went to UT Austin for college, she was familiar with the concept. She'd only been a couple of times years prior, so we thought we'd try it out once it opened.
We waited a couple weeks after they opened to let them find their sea legs, then went for dinner on a weeknight. An interesting thing struck us as soon as we walked in--they have a divider between the bar and the dining room (a large garage door), and even though there was hardly anyone in the dining room or bar, the divider was closed. It really kind of killed the open floor plan concept they could have if they'd keep the divider open. The room is big enough (with high enough ceilings) to keep the noise to a manageable level. Open the door--let people enjoy your space.
Another thing we noticed--there are TVs mounted on the walls, presumably so you can watch whatever game that happens to be on. Unfortunately, the TVs are too small, and are mounted too high, so watching anything is challenging. They were playing a re-run of the recent Superbowl, and it was tough to see what was going on, even though we knew what happened with the game. Spend an extra $100 / TV and get something useful. Not a huge deal--just a thought.
Nits aside on decor and layout, and on to the food. As stated, I'd never been to a Mellow Mushroom before. I thought it was strictly a pizza place. Nooooo. They have wings. They have hamburgers. They have sandwiches. They have salads. They have pretzels. They have soup. In short--they have too many different types of food items on the menu to do a great job with any of them. We always encourage a restaurant to pick one thing, get good at it, and stick to it. Being known as an upscale Chili's (due to so many menu options) is not a compliment. That said, we were looking forward to their signature pizza, which was supposed to be their "main attraction"--the one thing they were really good at.
We briefly asked the waiter about the pizza. He raved about it. It was special, he said. They make each pizza to order--including hand-tossing the dough. They use multi-grain flour (up to 5 different types) to make their dough. They use molasses as a "secret" ingredient. He couldn't have been more positive, and suggested we try their equivalent of a supreme. While they have a lot of "exotic" pizza options, along with a "make your own" option, we took his advice and ordered a House Special pie. A word to the wise when ordering--it's going to take at least 30 minutes for you to get your pizza. So order a salad, or an appetizer, or something. Because if you don't, you're going to be stuck trying to watch a Superbowl re-run on a very small, very far-away TV. At least they have a decent beer list to get you through.
When our pizza eventually came, it did pass the sight and smell test. It looked good, smelled good, and had a nice thick doughy crust cooked golden brown. There was even a dusting of Parmesan cheese on the crust. Unfortunately, our first bite confirmed that many of the toppings were only 1/2 cooked (meaning they were 1/2 raw). And, while the dough did have the characteristic "sweetness" that we'd heard so much about, it sort of tasted like wheat bread with some honey drizzled on top. Was it different? Yes. Was it amazing? No. It lacked that deep-dish crunch and chew and bite, and just kind of pulled apart like a whole-wheat dinner roll at a health-conscious restaurant. Was the pizza ultimately tasty enough? Sure. It was fine. It was definitely pizza. It was probably 100% what they wanted it to be--perfectly executed according to their playbook. It's just not a playbook we're fond of. It was akin to a Pizza Hut deep-dish, if you swapped out the salty, chewy crunch of Pizza Hut crust, and inserted whole-wheat flour mixed with molasses. I'm not unhappy we went, and I even ate a leftover piece for lunch the next day. But we probably won't be frequenting the Mellow Mushroom on a regular basis.