Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

About a month ago, I received a press release relating how a restaurant-in-waiting expended a year "to develop a location that represents the easygoing attitude of Columbus, while maintaining the 'bohemian chic' atmosphere ... synonymous with the Mellow Mushroom name."

While I'm still stumbling over "develop a location," like you, when I think "bohemian chic," my thoughts sprint immediately toward Polaris.

So has Mellow Mushroom. Well, bohemian bona-fides aside, apparently around Polaris, if you build it they will swarm. Because only steps away from the newish beehive-busy Five Guys burger station, this spore off the old Mellow corporate Mushroom plant (it's a Southern-based chain) has sprung up, and for its two short weeks of existence, its roomy and warehousey space consistently has been near crazy full.

Full of what? Well, mostly throngs of young families with kiddies in tow. Which makes for some curious conflations, considering Mellow's interior is a fatty riff on the smoky and jokey '70s stoner aesthetic.

So toyland-seeking tots frolic around a twisty, almost ceiling-high trippy mushroom sculpture that anchors the big, open room. And preschoolers gaze up at murals like: a melty homage to The Persistence of Memory where Dali himself makes a cameo and Jim Morrison holds a slice of psychedelic pizza; Jimi, Jerry and the Blues Brothers play cards under a purple haze of smoke; and near the restrooms, a reproduction of the iconic and laconic American Gothic farmer resembles acidhead Hunter S. Thompson and wears Steal Your Face lightning-bolt specs.

In the spirit of free-market democracy, though, Mellow seeks to provide something for everyone. Thus its sincere commitment to sports shows up in ESPN-fixed flat-screens interspersed with Grateful Dead teddy bears, and Mellow's craft-suds allegiance translates into a large bar with oceans of high-quality "kind beers" on tap.

Windows line Mellow's perimeter and afford diners a front-row view of the mallish parking lot. Even more ocular distractions can be had at the busy pizza-prepping station, where Mellow's handmade pies are tossed by dudes in non-baseball-themed baseball caps.

Those pizzas are pretty good, certainly better than most. In the same "something for everyone" vein, they seem designed to please fans of both thick and thin crusts. So toward their center, the 'za dough is thinnish and cooked to firm and crisp; the considerably thicker edges are poufy and chewy, attractively browned, dusted with parmesan and eat quite like nice, old-school garlic bread.

The pies come in feeds-one-or-two small ($8.50-$12) through feeds-a-big-family large ($18.50-$25); with red sauce (good, simple, mostly tomatoes) or "white" (light oil with a touch of garlic); choose-your-own toppings or pre-designed styles.

Those prearranged styles range from Mighty Meaty (with paper-thin pepperoni, maple-y ham, ground beef and so-so sausage) to Mega Veggie (canned olives, tofu, feta, broccoli et. al.) to ones with pesto or even Buffalo chicken to a recommended Philly steak-like Philosopher's Pie.

But Mellow's got more than pizza as the easy-to-read menu and jeans and T-clad servers will tell you. After an obviously rehearsed recitation of the place's "three Atlanta college kids in the '70s" origins, they'll describe the salads, appetizers, calzones and hoagies available, too - all pretty well made.

While the mildly spicy and thickish Tortilla Soup ($4/cup, $7/bowl) was chili-like, it did have a trace of toasted corn in its black bean studded, tomatoey mix.

Coarse-grained hummus ($6) was an even bigger hit. An olive-oil doused and paprika-dusted mound was rustically redolent of cumin and garlic and handsomely presented at the vortex of chewy and crunchy toasted pita points.

A tart and black peppery balsamic emulsion enlivened if never fully united raw mushrooms, bacon bits, parmesan shards and de-stemmed leaves of the Baby Spinach Salad ($4/7).

I liked the salty Brutus salad ($7.50) better. Delicious, dark-seared meaty Portobello strips (though I'd like more) provided ballast for roasted peppers, shaved parmesan, real kalamata olives, feta and romaine tossed in a refreshingly light, Caesar-style vinaigrette.

For an excellent all-veggie sandwich, try the darkly Grilled Tempeh hoagie ($5.50/$9.50). Its stout whole-wheat roll had pesto mayo, sprouts and vinegar-marinated chewy tempeh (with real flavor!) also done Philly steak style. Corporate counterculture rarely tastes better than that.

Mellow Mushroom

2170 Polaris Parkway, Polaris




11 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Thursday

11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday

12 p.m.-12 a.m. Sunday