College students and pizza go hand-in-hand. From Snappy Tomato and Dewey’s, to Papa John’s and Domino’s, run-of-the-mill pizza joints aren’t too hard to find around the Northern Kentucky University campus. Tucked in between a Dairy Queen and a sports grill in Wilder, Ky., Mellow Mushroom is somewhat of a groovy gem.
The hippie bus sticking out of the building gives off a good indicator of what’s to come. The laid-back hosts stand behind a giant, colorful mushroom that leads the way to the open kitchen where you can watch your pizzas being hand-spun, topped and slid into the oven.
The atmosphere is different than most other pizza joints. “It has character,” sophomore Mary Kate Gnotek said. Bright colors, innovative art and an eclectic mix of music gives Mellow Mushroom a psychedelic effect. The puffy clouds hanging from the ceiling add to the whimsical atmosphere.
The seating is ample, with high-top tables in the bar area, and a more family-friendly setup of booths on the opposite side of the restaurant. Mellow Mushroom is suitable for all ages; even on a snowy Tuesday night there were families, college students and older generations scattered throughout.
The service is friendly and attentive. It’s not necessary to ask for a refill because one will arrive at your table the minute your Coke gets low. The time it takes for your food to reach the table is also speedy and it still tastes fresh and homemade.
The menu is surprisingly extensive for a specialty pizza place. There are plenty of options to choose from, such as “munchies” (or appetizers), salads, pizza, calzones and hoagies.
Even those who aren’t big fans of pizza, like sophomore Olivia Wuest, can find something. “I was pleased with the selection,” she said, “and I didn’t feel left out.”
The bar menu is also one of Mellow Mushroom’s specialties. Their far-reaching list of beers comes from local breweries, as well as favorites from around the world.
For munchies, try the spinach and artichoke dip served with toast points. Served straight from the oven on a crisp white plate, the dip has a great creamy balance of spinach and artichokes. But at $6.95 per serving, a group of four only gets two pieces each and is left expecting more for the price paid. Your server might also suggest the freshly made pretzels crafted out of pizza dough and baked with your choice of topping.
The turkey and cheese hoagie is a good alternative to pizza, according to Wuest. A classic combination of turkey, provolone, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise can be dressed up with bacon. Served with a bag of kettle-cooked chips, the half-order at $4.95 is more than satisfying.
The pizza is where Mellow Mushroom really does their work. The House Special, a classic deluxe, not only looks irresistible, but the flavors make it so. The mound of veggies, meat and cheese are melded together atop a buttery parmesan hand-tossed crust and fresh red sauce.
For something different, go for the Red Skin Potato Pie. Instead of a red sauce, the crust is covered in an olive oil and garlic white sauce, then topped with red skin potatoes, bacon, cheddar and Monterey cheese, chives, a drizzle of sour cream and spicy ranch sauce. It’s unlike a regular pizza and more like an order of potato skins.
Mellow Mushroom offers gluten-free crusts and many toppings are vegan and gluten-free as well. It’s easy to create your own specialty with the wide array of ingredients Mellow Mushroom offers. Or leave it up to the chefs to make one of their own, such as the Magical Mystery Tour Pie, which takes a pesto base covered in mushrooms, mozzarella, spinach, feta and jalapeños.
Another drawback is the pricing — it seems a little high for the servings and sizes. For the small House Special (10 in. and four slices), it’s $12.95. “It was a bit expensive for me as a poor college student,” Gnotek said after her visit. But sophomore Kelsey Kloentrup agrees that the atmosphere makes up for the prices.
Although it may not be a weekly hangout for college students, Mellow Mushroom is a great place to relax with friends and eat fresh, delicious pizza — especially after you get your paycheck!
For more information on the menu, prices or ingredients visit www.mellowmushroom.com or call and order takeout at 859-441-6600.
Story by Claire Higgins