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. I should note I’ve reviewed the Nashville, Tennessee location as well.
The Columbus location of Mellow Mushroom is a lively-looking bar just off I-70 in Polaris. It’s got a lot of the basic items common to all Mellow Mushroom locations, but it’s also got some local cuisine, some local micro-brews, and a substantially more open and bright concept than its Nashville counterpart. Unfortunately, there isn’t as much of a distinct menu as there was at the other location I tried, but that is fine. The universal menu has some pretty strong items too. The pizzas are as varied and interesting as ever, but I’ve covered them already. Let’s talk about the other tasty things.
The appetizers are an interesting range of simple and complex items. The garlic bread feels pretty simple, with cheese-covered Italian loaf, but the bruschetta is a masterful work of basil, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and garlic atop crunchy toasted thin bread. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar bring the whole dish together perfectly. Then there are the subs: The Philly cheese steak is a delightfully simple take on the Pennsylvania original, and it really evokes a simple flavor instead of cramming it with too many vegetables or other things to make it overly complicated. It’s no health food, though, I guess.
Where this iteration of Mellow Mushroom really stands out, I feel, is in the concept. Each restaurant and franchise owner gets the opportunity to design their dining room as they see fit, and the local version forgoes the cramped, lunch-centric type of place for a very wide open sort of whimsical mushroom world. But it’s not as weird as it sounds. In fact, it’s got a bar loaded with local brews from Cincinnati, Columbus, Kentucky, and other neighboring locales. You could almost miss out on the whole mushroom concept, if you wanted, since there are plenty of TVs and probably room for a band to play. This place has a much livelier, sports bar feel.
Mellow Mushroom is going to be a place you’ll remember regardless, but coming here with a certain kind of dining experience in mind really has its benefits. Come with sports and drinks in mind, and bring your friends.
- I would say this location is better thought of as primarily a bar than a pizza place, something different from the others I’ve seen.
- There’s a patio for summertime dining, and since this area is so far from Columbus’ crowded downtown, it’s a very pleasant atmosphere.
- This location doesn’t have as strong a unique food menu from others, but its drinks are outstanding.