The seemingly eternal debate about what does or doesn't constitute real pizza, who makes the best, who really invented it, and why does it all matter, continues to rage unabated today much as it did twenty years ago. In its essence, pizza has become little more than an ever-expanding repertoire of ingredients baked on a bewildering variety of breads in an astonishingly imaginative and diverse array of stylistic renderings. But the really brilliant thing about pizza these days is that it's so many things to so many people, regardless of its cultural origins. It has become the ultimate international food, and thank goodness for that.
The fact that I was taught to make pizza three decades ago in Italy by a man I consider to be the finest Pizzologist of all time should have little or no influence on any comments I make on the subject. It is, however, impossible for me to forget the irrefutable advice of my mentor, Sr. Gigi, that great pizza is all about two things only: balance and quality of ingredients. When it comes to assessing the myriad styles and renditions of pizza that I encounter, these qualifiers always spring to mind.
It was with a little skepticism that we recently set foot into Mellow Mushroom for dinner. Not that I was exactly expecting to enjoy a handful of those stalky, thin shroomy delights that grow on cow manure, (more's the pity), but I was a little leery of what might constitute the accompanying décor and soundtrack. As it happens, no worries on those counts, because the décor's a tepid take on psychedelia and the music is just great if (like me) you grew up in the 1970s before Clapton became Clapped-Out.
Even though it's a chain, with its origins in Atlanta GA, of all places, Mellow Mushroom really delivers when it comes to the aforementioned qualifiers.
We sampled three main dishes: a wonderful House Calzone ($7.50) which weighed in at over a pound, and was replete with spinach, tomatoes, mozzarella and tomato sauce. The ratio of stuffing to firm, chewy and wonderfully starchy bread crust was impeccable. The same was true of a simple Margarita Pizza I ordered for around $10. In addition to the delicious freshness of the ingredients, the base of the crust had been lavishly brushed with butter and parmesan cheese, creating a delectably authentic and puffy, crisp rim to the pizza. The third dish was an utterly edible steak and cheese hoagie ($4.95 for a generous half), made with the same chewy wholesome bread, and disturbingly easy to eat in its entirety.
To start with, we munched on some excellent meatballs ($5.95) and some freshly-baked pretzels with marinara and cheese dipping sauces, washed down with a couple of Fat Tires from the modest draft list.
Even though it's a chain, this is definitely a pizzeria I would revisit, mainly based upon the quality of the crust and the balanced application of its toppings. Maybe we have a new pizza genre here...Atlanta-Style, anyone?