As part of settling in, and this goes for anyone who moves to a new town, you should explore your nearest restaurants and curio shops; get a feel for what the locals and the tourists really see in the place. What I am in the process of doing. Only you are suffering because I have access to this column!
But, seriously, I was lucky. Truly lucky. Fate dropped me into this spot, just north of Orlando. My first taste of this area was the delicious Mount Dora/Golden Triangle area, which encapsulates the small towns of Eustis, Tavares, and Mount Dora. This is a very different part of Florida, and you will hear me say that again and again as these review pour in.
It’s wonderful here. Truly a part of Florida I never really knew…until now.
On the one part, Central Florida and Orlando are like Las Vegas, a huge infusion of fabricated creativity to the joys of millions. The other part was here long before that point. That’s where I ended up, right here, in an older segment, where folks drove through to get to Miami and the Keys for their vacations. There was fishing here to be had. Large, old trees lined driveways and stores were small, two-second visits, with nothing printed on the t-shirts.
The roads got wider.
And the chain franchises worked their way onto the bigger entryways from these small towns. I didn’t mind moving from the city to here. At least I didn’t have to go driving a day and a half for a half soy grande mocha latte to satisfy the urge. I could escape to the feelings of the big city, while going to sleep in the groves at night. I welcome the occasional chain because of this-a feeling that I can get back to the city, if only arbitrarily.
Mellow Mushroom is a southern food chain, so I guess I can look at it as partially local and partially a franchise. It had the usual humble beginnings in the early 70s and has been quietly expanding for all this time. I’ve not heard about it until I moved to this area and, yes, all word-of-mouth has been good. When it opened up a location in a thicket less than five miles from my home, I was intrigued. Every night, a huge line of customers waited, parking having taken up on various lawns and dirt trails.
A good sign, if an annoying one. It meant the place must have a draw, but is terrible with crowds.
Of that everyone was so excited to be there, they did not mind a wait.
I finally got over there, and even I, on a Tuesday night, had to dig a bit to find parking. But seating was immediate. The staff is a bit young, but remember, this joint had just opened its doors. They’re youth affected the ordering, slightly, and they kept refilling drinks without comment, ad nauseum. I cannot be sure if this is a hiring practice, picking pretty youth for servers.
I came to Florida by way of Colorado, so, yeah, I know a thing or two about hippie culture. And when I saw the name “mellow,” I figured that I was going to be treated to a full array of vegetarian options, tofu all the way, and nothing actually being killed for my gastrointestinal enjoyment.
Okay, nothing of the sort.
Instead, the place is only hippie in name. There’s more tie-dye at Joe’s Crab Shack than here. The décor follows the practice of modern artwork, with large murals and a full-view of kitchen where dough is being stereotypically tossed around. The interior is a wide open space, with multiple light tables that can moved about to accommodate larger groups. This means it is great for fuller parties; it is really bad if you have something important to privately tell your loved one. Noise was an issue. Even with the high green backs of the booths, a din permeated our privacy. I was aware of a bass line of music, but could not make it out over the din.
The menu was what I would think of as “Californian” or western. Very creative with a few hundred ingredients per named items. The slant was towards Italian, with an eye towards pizzas and calzones, but I noticed lots of other off kilter tastes, including a chicken mole sandwich and pretzels as appetizers.
Not really hippie, but alright.
We ended up going with the “Mellowterranean,” a creative mix of cheeses, olives, onions, peppers and grilled chicken. I’m guessing it’s supposed to taste like a gyro with pizza crust. We also ordered a “li’l” Caesar, but discovered that it was still huge, even if the adjective suggested it was going to be a smaller size.
The pizza arrived at decent time, our drinks remained filled and everything was at the right temperature. The pizza was a bit overtly cheese, ruling out reheating options on the leftovers, but I cannot compare it to any of their other pizzas since this is my premiere visit. But all the veggies were fresh and crisp, when we finally found them. They used a less-is-more approach. The flavors were subtle and good, not overpowering. But I shouldn’t have to ask myself if there was chicken on the pizza half-way through the slice.
A pizza is born on its dough, and this dough, yes, makes the pizza slightly better than the delivery idiots out there. The bread was fresh, a whole wheat concoction that was full of flavor and a decent medium depth. It had not rejected the grease, not that there was much, so the cheese did not come off in one swoop of a bite.
But these quibbles are minor for something that was still a very professional presentation and complete evening. The food was good; the staff adaqueate, the atmosphere complete. The only disdain is for something that I’ve noticed at all of the restaurants in these parts.
Prices. These pizzas are very good, and worth a decent cost. Not the cost they are charging. But, hey, they just opened the place. And I’ll also say this, if I see another one? I will go back. That should tell you something. If I like a place enough to ignore big prices (I’m looking at you, Disney), they have something. I cannot deny, the pizza was good and inventive. And so much different than the red roof up the street or the red-white-blue delivery option.
Enjoy. Let me know what you think when you head over to Mellow Mushroom. And, no, they don’t have mushrooms on everything.