Mellow Mushroom's food is rich -- so rich it comes with its own jewelry!
There is something magical about mushrooms -- even the non-hallucinogenic kind -- and so I was pretty stoked about eating at Mellow Mushroom for the first time. The chain got its start in Atlanta in 1974, when three college students cooked up the idea for an artful pizza joint based on philosophical eccentricity and a nod to tasty fungi. The concept got popular fast, and today there are three Mellow Mushroom stores in metro Denver -- including one that just opened Monday at Park Meadows. Each location is locally-owned, and no two are exactly the same.
J. Wohletz Mellow Mushroom pie topped with something extra.
I ventured into the restaurant on the 16th Street Mall, and found that this Mellow Mushroom had some strange magic: My pie came with an unexpected accessory.
I'd expected the place to have a little more college hippie atmosphere; I'd equate the atmosphere more with the characters at the end of St. Elmo's Fire than the beginning of the movie. This location has a distinctly corporate-thinly-disguised-as-a-laidback-college-haunt feel, with an angular, lighted bar, a couple of neon color-changing lights peeping out from columns and a large amount of stainless steel. Only two things give this Mellow Mushroom any semblance of being a mellow, pizza-slinging student hangout: the weird, rainbow-hued acid trip painted on one side wall, and the continuous lineup of Grateful Dead songs (or it could have been one really long song, you never know with the Dead) playing on the sound system.
J. Wohletz The Magic Mushroom soup at Mellow Mushroom -- very rich.
The menu also had far fewer mushroom items than I'd expected, and more of a typical American sit-down chain-restaurant selection: hot wings, hummus, artichoke-spinach dip. I settled on a bowl of the house Magic Mushroom soup ($5.95), a small Holy Shiitake Pie ($12.35) and a dessert slice of red velvet cake that did not have a cool name ($6.25).
On a Thursday night, the dining room was packed with a surprising demographic: mostly families with children, a few larger parties of families, a couple of singles perched at the bar watching sports on the plasma screens, and a single table of college-aged people who were drinking moderately and placidly enjoying the televisions.
J. Wohletz The Holy Shiitake Pie, before my discovery.
Watching the cooks in the back of the restaurant's semi-open kitchen was more entertaining than scanning the crowd, as the line was staffed with attractive, scruffy-but-clean guys in their twenties, whirling pizza dough on their fingers. My soup took about forty minutes to arrive, which seemed excessive -- but at least the wait came with some scenery.
The Magic Mushroom soup is menu-pumped as a wine and herb broth with creamy Italian Montamore cheese, topped with grilled shiitake, button and Portobello mushrooms and fresh chives. Based on that description, I was expecting a broth-based soup -- but instead I got a thick, creamy concoction the consistency of thick gravy, sprinkled with crumbles of white cheese and an avalanche of chopped chives. The soup was very rich, even thicker with the topping swirled in, and magically delicious. The Italian Montamore was an excellent choice to accent the mushroom-focused soup, as its salty tang, fruity flavor and bare hint of sweetness played off the earthy, meaty, slightly smoky mushroom flavors.
It was also magically filling, and I was glad I'd ordered a small-sized pizza -- which took another twenty minutes to arrive. My attentive server finally dropped it off with profuse apologies for the wait. She was dressed in shortie-shorts and a Mellow-branded T-shirt that was the only way to distinguish staff from guests -- and good for Mellow Mushroom management. I have never understood some chains' penchants for forcing their servers into stiff, uncomfortable monkey suits to hawk chicken wings and pints. It doesn't look professional so much as it does forced-phony; doing a good job trumps the uniforms every time.