Hyped-up about Mellow

by Charles Jenkin

Mellow Mushroom has a lot to pick from, regardless if you want pizza or something a little different. Check it out at the Ballantyne Village. Photo courtesy of Mellow Mushroom

“Close your eyes now; look inside now; let the sound take you away.” It is so exciting to see a vibrant, busy and profitable restaurant in a location that had remained vacant for much too long in a prime spot.

Pretty good proof that location isn’t everything; here, in the center of Ballantyne Village, you still need to offer the right mix of atmosphere, food and value to be successful. Case in point is the Mellow Mushroom that opened in December 2011. This had to be one of the busiest openings I have seen in a very long time in south Charlotte. And they appear to be maintaining a high volume of pizza lovers.

The Ballantyne Mellow Mushroom is the epitome of creating a theme atmosphere. The throw-back-to-the-1960s décor is based on the 1968 hit song “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf. The local owners decided to elaborate on the ‘magic carpet’ in the song, and that led to the use of a Middle Eastern motif featuring carpets, lamps, hookahs, genies, belly dancers and bright colors. I have to believe a few beers or glasses of wine were involved in the inspiration process.

The store’s main areas of visual impact include a 16-foot mushroom canvassing a cluster of booths, a 20-foot tall glass hookah tower filled with fog and colored lights (no, you cannot smoke with it) and four flying carpets. The mezzanine area features interactive, touch-screen computer tabletops allowing you to order more pizza and wings, play games or surf the net. There’s a number of big screen TVs, including a 106-inch model mounted over the winding staircase leading to the upper level.

Photo courtesy of Mellow Mushroom

Yes, this is a pizza joint for sure. However, the menu contains much more to round out a meal or satisfy those who may have already had pizza twice that week. Starting with tasty appetizers, as in the Capri – sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil topped with balsamic glaze and served with a side of spring mix tossed in herb vinaigrette dressing. More for ­sharing is the Spinach Artichoke Dip – freshly sautéed spinach blended with artichokes, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses in a rich and creamy sauce topped with shaved parmesan; then baked and served with garlic toast.

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to delight in the Stuffed Portobello Mushroom – the enormous fungi is basted with garlic butter and stuffed with artichoke hearts, feta, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach; then they top it with mozzarella cheese; the whole thing is baked and arrives on a bed of spring mix tossed in herb vinaigrette and finished with a drizzle with a balsamic glaze. You can definitely share this one. Other options include tomato bisque, tortilla soup, oven-roasted wings, fresh-baked pretzels, meatballs and hummus.

If you’re a salad aficionado, you’re in the right place. I’m not sure why, but a Greek salad just goes really well with pizza. Mellow’s tasty homage to Greece includes salad mix, onions, cucumbers, green peppers, mushrooms, feta, kalamata olives, tomatoes, pepperoncini and banana peppers. They garnished it with shredded carrots and red cabbage. The Brutus is their Caesar salad with kalamata olives, grilled portobello basted with garlic butter, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and feta. You can, of course, build your own salad. There must be hundreds of combinations to create. Choose your greens and ingredients; everything from jerk chicken to barbecue tofu.

Photo courtesy of Mellow Mushroom

Don’t feel like pizza? Better see a doctor… I mean, how about a hoagie? With 16 selections, your only dilemma is making the choice. Steak and Cheese, very popular, includes grilled steak, onions, mushrooms, green peppers and mozzarella cheese. The Chicken Parmesan has red sauce, melted mozzarella and shaved parmesan cheese, garnished with Italian seasoning. In high demand is Irv’s Sausage and Peppers – grilled sausage links, caramelized onions, green peppers and melted provolone cheese; it comes with spicy mustard, lettuce and tomato. The Mushroom Club offers ham, turkey, applewood smoked bacon, provolone, caramelized onions and grilled mushrooms; complete with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes and garnished with sprouts. The hoagies are available as a half or a whole; very convenient.

Finally, let’s talk pizza, one of my personal passions. The crust is so important that it can make or break a pie. Mellow has an excellent recipe for their dough and the brick oven turns it into a wonderful foundation. You can come up with just about any pie your heart desires. So you don’t go around in circles, there are several pre-selected combos, both traditional and inventive, that create a delectable harmony atop the crust. Consider the Red Skin Potato Pie – an olive oil and garlic base loaded with red potato, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, then sprinkled with chives and finally drizzled with sour cream and spicy ranch dressing.

The Mellowterranean is an olive oil and garlic base with chicken, onions, roasted red bell peppers, black olives, chives, mozzarella, feta and a side of tzatziki sauce. And then there’s the Magical Mystery Tour – a pesto base and crust with button and Portobello mushrooms, mozzarella, spinach, feta and jalapeños.

Photo courtesy of Mellow Mushroom

My personal favorite is the House Special – a red sauce base with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, ham, applewood smoked bacon, mushrooms, black olives, Roma tomatoes, green peppers, onions and extra cheese. Now that’s a pizza pie!

Mellow is very good at consistently serving delicious brick oven-baked pizza. The restaurant also offers vegan-friendly and gluten-free offerings. The full-service bar features 48 draft beers on tap in addition to several more in bottles. Additional opportunities include a beer club with member rewards, weekly trivia nights and live music on select evenings.

This eatery is exactly what it’s supposed to be. Very relaxed; throw on your oldest jeans or a pair of shorts and that tie-dyed shirt in the bottom drawer. The Mellow Mushroom is a fun place to be. The interior is like no other restaurant you will experience. And the food is delicious; especially the pizza. Service has been very good, with a friendly and knowledgeable staff. I can think of only one item where there may be room for improvement. I thought that the calzone on one occasion was a little too doughy; either too much dough itself or it needed a few more seconds in the oven. The only real challenge the restaurant faces is the lack of parking for picking up to-go orders. Parking close to the entrance may not be possible; it can feel like a long walk from your parking spot to the restaurant for take-out. Yet, it’s worth it. I’ve done it and will surely do it again, along with sitting inside and taking it all in. I may just become a regular.

Questions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings and food news, email ­culinary@thecharlotteweekly.com.

Mellow Mushroom
3.5 of four stars
14835 Ballantyne Village Way
Phone: 704-369-5300
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight
Details: Take-out, patio seating.
Visit: www.mellowmushroom.com

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