Mellow Mushroom is not your typical restaurant chain. With 100 locations across 15 states, the franchise seems to have all the trappings of a corporate food factory. But this chain breaks the mold of the standard line. Founded in 1974 by college students, Mellow Mushroom maintains an air of nonconformity — every Mellow Mushroom is a sports bar specializing in pizza, but beyond that, every single location has a radically different menu catering to the local cuisine. Nashville’s local iteration has a healthy dose of Tennessee barbecue mixed into its already eclectic menu.
14″ Funky Q Chicken Pizza: $18.99
I took the direct route and had the most barbecued item I could find. The “Funky Q Chicken” pizza has barbecued chicken, caramelized onions, Applewood smoked bacon and sauce smothered in a Mozzarella and Cheddar cheese blend. Altogether the various elements mix extremely well into one very tasty pizza. It came relatively quickly, steaming hot, in the middle of the crowded lunch hour; an impressive feat for a pizza place in the middle of the busy city on a workweek.
Looking at the menu, the wide variety of pizzas each bring something different to the table. As I said before there are a number of menu items focusing on southern barbecue cuisine, but pizzas come in flavors ranging from Hawaiian accents to the type you’d find sold in the back of a cart in Rome. Mellow Mushroom specializes in the unexpected pizza. I should note the menu also points to calzones, hoagies, salads and bar food but don’t let them sidetrack you. The pizza is the main attraction here.
With colorful and unusual decor (the chandelier in the dining room is made of drums and a large psychedelic mushroom dominates the back wall) and unusual pizza names like “Kosmic Karma” and “Magical Mystery Tour” there are a lot of items to try. I’d hate to generalize the menu based on my one experience, but my companion Ali, who had tried several of the other varieties of the pizza, indicated they are equally delicious.
My one complaint is the price. Most of the 10-inch small pizzas hover around $12.25 while the 14-inch middle sizes go for $19-$20 on all but the most basic pies. Larger 16-inch pizzas cost $24 and up. I understand Mellow Mushroom doesn’t benefit from the supply network other chain food places have, but prices that high can be a turn off when other pizza places can bring out a pizza with similar ingredients (or you could probably make one at home) for less. In a competitive industry, prices too high will drive customers to forsake the unique experience to save a buck.
- Mellow Mushroom’s catchphrase is “come in with an open mind and an empty stomach.” Good advice. There are a lot of unique pizzas.
- The menu has a few less adventurous alternatives, but they look like side items. It seems to be all about the pizza.
- The bar definitely caters to younger city slickers out to watch local sports. Still I imagine younger kids would enjoy the food.