Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mellow Mushroom Winter Park Review

As I've said in other reviews, Winter Park is one my favorite sections of Orlando. Funky, familiar, and fresh, there's never a dull day on Park Avenue or the many amazing small business that populate the area. 

Of course the main attraction in my book is Winter Park's food scene. So many wonderful restaurants are located within city limits and provide a colorful kaleidoscope of options. 

To add a touch of "funk" in one's day, there's no better place than the Mellow Mushroom on Aloma Avenue. While a couple minutes from Park Avenue, the restaurant's out-of-this-world pizza creations are a definite draw for gluten-free, and non-gluten-free diners alike. 

If you ask me, the element that makes or breaks a pizza is its crust. Hands down. As those of you who are gluten-free can relate, crusts sans gluten can run the gamut from flavorless, cardboard imitations, to crusts so delicious you have to double-check that they're gluten-free. Nothing ruins pizza night more than a mediocre gluten-free crust crust and then having to watch family or friends devour their chewy, glutenous pies. 

Well, thanks to the Mellow Mushroom, pizza night is no longer on the chopping block. Entering the market in 2010, Mellow originally served up a crust made by Still Riding Pizza. My first pizza from the restaurant was a Still Riding crust, and I really like the pizza-ness of it. It was chewy, and reminiscent of a "normal" pizza crust. 

However, they recently switched over to an ancient grains-based crust from Smart Flour Foods. This new crust is based on sorghum, teff, and amaranth flour along with other grains. These ancient grains allow the crust to have an added nutritional benefits. These new crusts are also vegan, which allows them to be even more accessible to those on a restrictive diet.

At Mellow, the gluten-free menu is front and center in the main menu. No special pamphlet or leaflet. I really appreciate this seemingly insignificant detail because it's inclusive and doesn't make it so glaringly obvious that I have to eat a special diet. They can make many of their signature pies gluten-free, and for those dairy free as well, they offer Daiya cheese (vegan). Although they offer dairy free cheese, I always go sans cheese because it allows me to better enjoy the toppings on the pizza and the crust. Also, I have found it hard to adjust to the texture and flavor of the "cheese" after eating the real thing for most of my life. It should be noted that their gluten-free protocols extend only to their gluten-free pizzas and ingredients on the gluten-free menu, so other menu items should not be considered gluten-free. 


My favorite order at Mellow is simple- red sauce and fresh veggies. I mix it up from visit to visit but for this review, I went with one of my favorite combos: red sauce, onion, tomato, spinach. Its simple, but satisfying as the flavors compliment each other. What sets Mellow apart from other pizza places is their emphasis on fresh ingredients. Each veggie looked freshly sliced or diced and tasted market fresh. When a pizza is devoid of cheese, the flavors of the sauce and toppings are more apparent, which is why freshness really matters. 

In regards to the crust, it took me a couple tries to really fall in love with it. Less traditional pizza, this one is more whole grain flat-bread. It has a nutty, earthy flavor, but this is not to say it tastes like cardboard or dirt. The crust is crispier than its predecessor and holds its shape from start to finish instead of drooping under the weight of the sauce and toppings.  


As far as the "mellow" aspect of the Mellow Mushroom, I must say that the Winter Park location does lack in the "funk" department. The set-up and interior of the restaurant reminds me of a First Watch restaurant (breakfast chain).  Although moderately hippie-esque and colorful, I've been to other locations that border on psychedelic. I've seen drum sets on ceilings and even a row of booths built into a tie-dyed school bus which really set the bar high for a chain that prides itself on breaking the mold. There is an additional location on Colonial Drive, near UCF, which definitely ups the ante in the funk factor, but this one is definitely too far away for me to go to on a regular basis. 

All in all, Mellow serves up a reliable, flavorful gluten-free pizza. It's a fun place to take family and friends and has a better atmosphere during peak hours (dinner, weekends). It's also good to know their pizza is reliable because they have locations across the country. 


The Basics: 

Address: 2015 Aloma Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32792 (Additional locations can be found here.)
Website: mellowmushroom.com
Cuisine: Pizza, sandwiches (not gluten-free), salads
Best for: Lunch, Dinner

Price: $25 or less per person
Accessibility: Fairly accessible. All tables standard level. 
Special Features: Offers delivery to local addresses via Doorstep Delivery.

Disclaimer: Restaurant reviews are based upon the information I have at the time of the review and do not reflect changes in supplier or availability of items. Please contact the restaurant directly for up-to-date information and feel free to to contact me with any questions or comments. I was not compensated for this review and it is a reflection of my personal opinion.

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