When Mellow Mushroom arrived in Atlanta in the early 1970s, it was designed to capitalize on the carefree attitude and values of the hippie nation. Looking to draw attention from the younger, hipper crowd, the fresh-faced pizza joint hoped to mark itself as the alternative to your parents’ and grandparents’ pizza restaurant. Feeding off some of the debauchery of the late 60s, even the name “Mellow Mushroom” was meant to embody “coolness” in every way. My father, in fact, was living in Atlanta during that time and remembers the atmosphere surrounding Mellow Mushroom’s opening. “Everyone wanted to be mellow—it played off Donovan’s big hit ‘Mellow Yellow’—and every hippie out there was familiar with the magical properties of mushrooms.” (I assume he’s not talking about chanterelles here.) He went on to say that as a bunch of misguided Atlanta youths, “many a late night hanging out with friends was spent eating a cold slice of their pizza and a beverage.” Suffice it to say, I think he enjoyed the pizza.
I stopped in last weekend to get a first look at the place and to sample a bit of what they had to offer. This was my first time with the chain, but given the amount of excitement and level of hype surrounding the coming of this place, expectations were probably slightly higher than they would have been otherwise.
I’d heard from many people to start off their “pretzels,” which come in a few varieties: garlic and parmesan, kosher salt and butter, or cinnamon sugar and honey. I went with the savory garlic parmesan option, but was fairly underwhelmed by the popular starter. These represent little more than their basic pizza dough, twisted into the traditional pretzel knot, baked up and doused with cheese and garlic butter. Their pizza dough, in general, was fine, but these came out slightly overcooked, leaving them chewy and tough, rather than soft and golden brown as a good pretzel should be. They’re paired with a cup of their pizza sauce, which was also a bit on the boring side, and I simply didn’t feel that there was much need to ever order these again. Nothing bad, but nothing particularly inspiring.
The crust was no slouch either. While I was not initially overly impressed with the dough based on my experience with the “pretzels,” the pizza crust came out nicely baked, golden brown, with a crisp exterior and soft chewy interior. A respectable crust, indeed—key to any exemplary pizza pie.
I guess the real question is whether I will find myself going back to Mellow Mushroom in the future. That, my friends, is a definite ‘yes.’ I’m looking forward to sampling some of their more exotic creations and combinations on the menu. I’ll probably avoid their version of the Hawaiian, the “Maui Wowie,” as I firmly believe pineapple should not come within 100 yards of any respectable pizza, but I’m not opposed with their “Philosopher’s Pie,” with steak, Portobello mushrooms, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, provolone, feta and mozzarella cheeses…or even their “Kosmic Karma,” with feta and mozzarella cheese, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, and pesto. These pies don’t come cheap, however. My medium specialty pie was upwards of $20, but the slices are sizable, and one or two such slices would likely be sufficient for the more dainty eaters.
Whether you go soon, and decide to battle the crowds, or wait until things die down a little, I think you’ll find something to like at Mellow Mushroom and I, for one, am happy they’ve arrived in Little Rock.
Mellow Mushroom: 16103 Chenal Pkwy, Little Rock, (501) 379-9157. Mon - Thu: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm, Fri - Sat: 11:00 am - 11:00 pm, Sun: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm