here are a few foods that people have such strong opinions about that they’ll start a conversation (or a fight) whenever they’re brought up. Hamburgers, ice cream and Cincinnati-style chili are a few, but I’ve only ever experienced honest-to-goodness harsh words from anyone over pizza.
On one hand, you have people who are rabid about New York/East Coast-style; on the other hand, there are those who think the only decent pizza is deep-dish Chicago-style. If you have more hands to spare, you could go on to argue about wood-fired, artisan-style, sauces, toppings and on and on.
My husband hails from upstate New York and has definite opinions about pizza — mostly, he’d be happy eating it nearly every day. My son doesn’t much care as long as there is a crust of some sort and my daughter doesn’t like any pizza except Northslice. Me? I’m just happy to eat, whatever it might be, though I’m not a huge fan of Chicago-style and I can be a purist when it comes to toppings.
With three very different ideas about pizza and my fairly lassaiz-faire attitude, we trekked off to Mellow Mushroom in Wilder, Ky., for a mid-week meal. We were seated immediately, but soon after the place was completely packed (and it’s quite a large restaurant). The first Mellow Mushroom opened in 1974 near the Georgia Tech campus and has grown to 100 restaurants in 15 states that are locally owned and operated. I’ve visited the one in Knoxville, but this was my first visit to the Wilder location.
Our server started out on the highest of notes, coming to the table for drink orders so quickly we hadn’t even had time to open menus. She continued the night with attentiveness and knowledge, which we all appreciated. We seemed to be in a carb mood, so we started with a half order of pretzels ($4.95; three flavors available), salted. The pretzel dough is the pizza dough, salted and served with yellow mustard. They were absolutely delicious, chewy, salty and piping hot. Mellow Mushroom skips the traditional step of boiling the pretzels before baking to give them a slightly hardened outer crust. I didn’t miss it. I wished we had opted for the full order, where you can choose two flavors instead of one.
Still on that carb kick, we ordered the cheesy garlic bread ($4.50). It was super-garlicky, gooey with cheese and we fought over the last slice.
Since my daughter doesn’t generally like pizza, we decided to try another menu offering. From the sandwiches (Panini and calzones) we found a ham and cheese hoagie ($4.95 for a half; served with potato chips). The toasted hoagie was stuffed with Black Forest style ham and served on the same French bread used for the garlic bread. It was satisfying and rather substantial for just a half sandwich.
Since two of us pizza-eaters tend to have very different ideas of what toppings belong on a pizza, we decided to order two smalls ($7.95, and $1.25 each topping for make-your-own). My husband opted for a classic red sauce with pepperoni and mushrooms and I chose a garlic and olive oil crust with Roma tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella.
I’m a sucker for a pizza Margarita, and I wasn’t disappointed here. The crust at the Mellow Mushroom is made with whole wheat-blend flour and is tossed thin before being topped and baked in a wood-fired oven. You get those nice charred spots and browned cheese bits and there’s just enough chew to make it delicious but not so much that you feel like you’re eating deep-dish pizza. I tasted the pepperoni and mushroom pie and found it quite good. The sauce isn’t overwhelmingly sweet and it wasn’t dripping off the sides.
The dessert menu was really heavy on chocolate. We argued over whether or not to have ice cream (the Mellow Mushroom serves Graeter’s) with our brownie ($2.95). We also chose one of the only non-chocolate items on the menu, an oatmeal raisin cookie ($2). And then we waited. And waited. For a very long time. Our server came by just as we were about to flag her down. When she came back a moment later she brought along ice cream for the brownie, on the house. Both desserts were great; the brownie was nice and chocolaty and the cookie was full of golden raisins.
The big surprise of the night was when our daughter decided to try a bite of the pepperoni/mushroom pizza after hearing us rave. She thought it was delicious! Score a major point for the Mellow Mushroom.
Go: 1014 Town Drive, Wilder, Ky.
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Red Meat Alternatives: Yes, including vegan; also gluten-free options
Accessibility: Fully accessible