Note: Since this review took place, we've learned that the 'vegan soy cheese' mentioned below is definitely not vegan -- it contains casein. The wait staff for this meal was misinformed.
601 Peace St.
Raleigh, NC 27605
Hours: Sun-Wed: 11 am-10 pm; Thu-Sat: 11 am-11 pm
Review Date: January 31, 2004
Reviewers: John Davis, Kruti Desai, Mehul Desai, David Erb, Jody Hamilton-Davis, Kathy Marx, Gene McMahon, Bill Robinson, Sam Taylor, Jeanne Temkin, Teresa
The Ambience: Ok, let's get the worst part of eating at Mellow Mushroom over first. The atmosphere is very noisy - most of the patrons seemed to be college students, all talking at the top of their voices. To make matters worse, the music is always on, very loud, and it's certainly not pleasant to the ears. All in all, it was more like we were in a noisy bar than in a restaurant.
Another issue was regarding reservations, or a lack of. The place is very popular - especially the weekends - and it's tough getting a table within a reasonable amount of time. Even though my wife and I arrived half an hour earlier than the rest of the group, we had to wait more than an hour for our table for 12.
I must say, however, that the service was good for a place that crowded. We were served very efficiently, and although our server looked busy, she was always there when we needed a refill of our drinks.
The Food: This is where Mellow Mushroom makes up for any lack of ambience. The menu is quite vegetarian-friendly, and since all the items had a detailed description, it was easy to figure out the vegan items from the ovo-lacto ones. The food options are pizzas, calzones and hoagies, and a few salads. The pizza crusts do not contain any eggs or honey, and they can be ordered with soy cheese (they do not use casein) to make a vegan meal - although there is a small extra charge for the substitute. [Please see the note regarding the soy cheese at the top of this page.]
To start out, one can order their famous pretzels (Half order of 3 pretzels for $3.00, Full order of 6 pretzels for $6.00) - Garlic Butter basted with Parmesan or Honey basted with Cinnamon. The pretzels are warm and soft, and each bite is like a slice of heaven! They also have regular ($1.75) or cheesy garlic bread ($2.75), but the pretzels win hands down in my book. Unfortunately, the pretzels cannot be ordered vegan. There are quite a few salad choices - the Greek ($6.10 for full, $3.90 for the small - with lettuce, red cabbage, carrots, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, Feta Cheese, black olives, tomatoes, pepperoncini and banana peppers with Esperenza dressing) and the Spinach ($6.10 for full, $3.90 for the small - with Parmesan, mushrooms, tomatoes and Esperenza dressing) being my favorites. Although some of the salads have Bacon or Ham, they can always be ordered without the meat (and without the cheeses for a vegan salad). They also have a yummy Caesar salad ($4.50 for full, $2.75 for the small), and their Caesar dressing does not have anchovies, so it is a vegetarian salad.
This is one of the few places in the Triangle that serves a Tofu (Whole $6.50, Half $3.95) or a Tempeh (Whole $6.95, Half $3.85) sandwich. Both hoagies come with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato on heated French or Wheat bread, with either grilled Tofu marinated in Teriyaki or Tempeh, and covered with Provolone cheese, grilled onions, green peppers, mushrooms and sprouts.
Other sandwich choices include the Avocado Hoagie (Whole $6.50, Half $3.95 - with Provolone and onions, heated then topped with fresh sliced Avocado, lemon juice and sprouts), the Vegetarian (Whole $6.40, Half $3.85 - with Provolone, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, black olives, Mozzarella and sprouts), or the Portobello (Whole $6.95, Half $4.25 - with grilled Portobello mushrooms covered with Provolone cheese, and garnished with grilled onions and green peppers). For a vegan option, one can substitute Soy Cheese with the Provolone or the Mozzarella. The sandwiches come in two sizes - half (which is around 6") or full (around a foot long).
Most of our group had the sandwiches, and the rest went with pizzas. Bill and Jeanne loved their Tempeh hoagies, but John though that the marinated Tempeh was not very flavorful, and that the sandwich was not warm enough. Kathy had the Mini Greek Salad and half a Tofu Sandwich, and although she liked the taste, she thought there just wasn't enough of the grilled tofu in the sandwich. Kruti had the Tofu sandwich too, and she loved it, her "complaint" being it was too stuffed to eat without making a mess! Jody went for the Portabella and Gene tried the Veggie Hoagie and they both liked their sandwiches.
The menu features six different vegetarian Pizzas, although you could make your own with their individual toppings. They have an amazing assortment of toppings, including garlic, jalapeno peppers, tempeh, black and green olives, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, apart from the usual favorites like onions, green peppers, pineapple, mushrooms, etc. Teresa, Sam and David went for the Mega Veggie pizza (covered with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, black olives, tomatoes, broccoli, Feta cheese, banana peppers, artichoke hearts and Tofu). That is one mega-pie, made completely vegan with the soy-cheese substituted for the regular cheese, and our reviewers were very satisfied with the result. Teresa's only suggestion was that the Tofu on the pizza should be grilled like it is for the sandwiches.
I went for one of my favorites, the Gourmet White Pizza. It's got Olive Oil sauce, minced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, Provolone, Mozzarella, Feta, fresh tomatoes and onions, and I've not had a better white pizza any other place so far. I heartily recommend it to cheese-lovers everywhere!
The Verdict: Mellow Mushroom's sandwiches and pizzas are very, very good. If you're looking for a lovely romantic place to celebrate a special dinner, stay away! But if you're looking for a very tasty and reasonably priced meal, this is the place to go to. Just don't forget those earplugs.