3420 Ryan St. • Lake Charles• 337-419-1001 • mellowmushroom.com
The Local Grubscape
By Justin Morris
In some instances, restaurants can find themselves more “idea” than “entrée.” Cool logos, mascots, or even niche themes can be enough to get diners in the seats and even build a loyal following.
It may be easy to write off many of these “idea” restaurants, but let’s not be too hasty. In an age of social media and more accessible branding, it sometimes takes a little more splash to get noticed these days, even if it means setting up a giant Transformer-esque robot alongside Ryan Street.
Yes, I am talking about Mellow Mushroom. While not new in concept, it is certainly a new addition to the Lake Chuck grubscape, and I figured it had finally been long enough to go see what’s up.
Now, let me lead by saying that, while it’s been a while, I have spent my time working in a restaurant or two, and I can certainly appreciate the things that can happen to a kitchen and a waitstaff on a normal day, much less one in the throes of the grand opening rush, so I tend to hang back and let the masses have their go at it.
This serves a couple of purposes: For starters, it gives an attentive team the chance to see the weaknesses in their plan or deal with unexpected inevitabilities that crop up in the earliest days of such a business, and it gives them a chance to fix those. I also let the shine wear off the apple long enough so that it won’t be a madhouse when I get there to see what they are all about. I think doing this optimizes my chances of having a good experience and, for editorial purposes, gives the staff a chance to show me what they really are there to do with their food.
I found a gracious hour to call my own on a hot June Thursday and figured I needed to eat while I could. Fortunately, I had time to go somewhere and sit for a little while before I was back on the go again, so I swung over to the Mellow Mushroom on Ryan.
The restaurant has company roots dating back to the original store that opened in Atlanta in 1974. Each store, while related, has its own local elements that make it all its own, including store-specific menu items.
When I walked in at about 3 pm on a weekday there was hardly a soul in the place. That was typical for that time of day and well suited to my intentions. I made my way to the bar, with its black metal shelving displaying all the high-proof libations offered, while an industrial piece of pipe work served as the tap fountain that ran up into the wall, whisking away all the beer lines to their appropriate kegs. I quickly noticed that that was but half of the bar. Another one sat mirror-image to it in a smaller area between the main dining room and the rather eclectic courtyard, leaving room for four dozen taps in all.
It wasn’t long before I was greeted by a pleasant bartender — Jenn, was the name — and we set to the task of picking me out a beer. We settled on an odd choice: Goose Island Sofie. Not my typical style, but it was her favorite summer beer, and a sample of it led me to give a pint a go. It’s light effervescence and cool, crisp, almost fruitiness made it the perfect solution to beat the heat — certainly more so than any hop bomb I was likely to order.
While she grabbed the beer, I set to the menu: a bright, colorful spread attached to a flat, black board that listed the rundown of apps, sandwiches, salads, calzones and, of course, pizza, with signature pies as well as good build your own options. A few items caught my eye: the Sausagefest Po Boy sounded good, as did the Jerk Chicken Hoagie, but it would be wrong not to get a pizza for the first visit, right? Then, I saw on the “Lake Charles only” menu a pie called “The Marley.” This Chuck Vegas exclusive dish is pestobased pizza, topped with jerk chicken, mozzarella, Italian sausage and onions on a pesto basted crust. This I had to experience.
During my brief wait, I sipped my beer and took the place in while Bob Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street” echoed through the vaulted ceilings, over a veritable open kitchen setup and walls festooned with records, photos of Jimi Hendrix and other groovy items of interest and atmosphere.
Both bars were sizable and comfortable and could seat many more than were there. The courtyard was the most animated space, framed on two sides by a storage container and an old Airstream trailer covered in paint and writing and carved out to house a booth. Guarding the whole scene up front is your Harvey the Love Bug meets Optimus Prime sentinel that stares out into the traffic of Ryan Street.
In no time, my Marley Pie sat in front of me, and the smell was almost intoxicating. The pesto-dominant pie oozed with a crust thin enough to be perfect but thick enough at the edges that I requested a side of jerk sauce to dip them in to finish them off with a sweet and tangy blow. Some red pepper helped with the heat, which wasn’t dominant and admittedly didn’t stand out on the pizza quite as much as I would like, but it did add a great sweet and tangy contrast that really let the basil go to town.
Traditionalists in the pizza game, say what you will, but this was as well cooked, tasty and creative a pizza as I’ve had in this town and others, and, for whatever my opinion is worth, it’s one that I certainly intend to have again.
Admittedly, I wasn’t there during peak hours. Nor was I there while one of the many bands that frequent the place were playing. But I always want to give a new place a chance to get the bugs out before I do the whole first-impression thing, and I have found it to be a wise approach. Show me what ya got, and we’ll see where ya go from there. As for Mellow Mushroom? Thanks to them for the fantastic pizza, refreshing beer, killer service and a little Bob Dylan to get me through a hot and hungry summer afternoon. We’ll do it again soon.