November 26, 2014

Dining With Tolf

'Shroom' For Growth

Some chains make it a point to feel unlinked. The Mellow Mushroom is one.

Robert W. Tolf | 1/1/2005
Question: When is a pizza chain not a chain?

Answer: When it's a Mellow Mushroom.

Not a Domino's, Papa John's or Pizza Hut, but a Mellow Mushroom, whose peppy and proud staff in Winter Park's newest eatery (opened in October at 2015 Aloma Ave.; 407/657-7755) kept assuring us was not just another cookie-cutter operation. It was not the same as a big corporation but more of an individual kind of place where no one felt he was a small part of a huge corporation mass-producing a product. What a tribute to management to instill that kind of conviction in a staff working in a collection, if not a chain that now numbers 73, with four in Florida.

Mellow Mushroom was started in 1974 in midtown Atlanta by two Georgia Tech roommates who were working in a local pizzeria developing their own ideas of how to improve the product as well as the staff and setting. How happily they have succeeded is obvious the minute you enter their newest Mellow Mushroom, to "Give Pizza A Chance" in the words of the menu circling a peace sign logo. There's ample choice, and you can watch the pizza chefs adding all the ingredients -- 33 of them, including anchovies, tofu, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, banana peppers, jerk chicken, meatballs and "fresh mozz." The combo that put the place on the map in Georgia features pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, onions, green peppers, "shrooms," black olives, tomatoes, bacon, ham and extra cheese. It comes in 10, 14 and 16 inches pegged from $11.20 to $21.40, the most costly item on the menu.The eight freshly assembled salads are $2.55 to $8.25, the quartet of spring water dough calzones, $6.75 to $8.95, and the 15 "Monumental Hoagies" from $3.75 for halves to $6.95 for Mellow's own version of the Philly cheese steak, made with grilled top round steak smothered with provolone and garnished with grilled onions, green peppers and "shrooms," with lettuce and tomato and a dollop of mayo on a heated French or whole wheat roll. All consumed in infinitely more attractive surroundings than the pizza joint norm, with spacious booths blessed with high backs.

I'm not in the habit of reviewing pizzerias, chain or otherwise, but what five of us experienced at the new Mellow Mushroom certainly encourages me to find
other shrooms.

Bonefish Grill
Another chain success that manages to avoid "chainess" is the Bonefish Grill collection, picked up by the Outback Steakhouse in 2001, apparently aiming for the same kind of success as the empire's Carrabba's Italian Grill, with 170 locations in the country, including 25 in Florida. The Outback Italians finally made it to Miami-Dade County, opening last month in Miami Beach's Courtyard by Marriott (3921 Collins Ave., 305/673-3525). The first Bonefish Grill in the area opened in July 2003 in Coral Springs (1455 N. University Drive, 954/509-0405) and features 3-D oversized metal sculptures by Florida artists loyal to the fishing theme as a dramatic backdrop to the display kitchen, where chefs grill the market fresh fish over an oak-burning grill along with hand-cut beef and pork tenderloins. Open nightly for dinner, with the 19 entrees ranging from $13 for an 11-ounce grilled sirloin, fire-roasted chicken with splashes of marsala, mushrooms and prosciutto or shrimp tangled with tomatoes, capers, onions and olives, garlic and green chiles spiking spinach fettucine, to $17 for fire-grilled Atlantic swordfish or Parmesan-pistachio-encrusted rainbow trout and $17.50 for grilled 9-ounce filet mignon.

Toojay's Gourmet Deli
Seafood is not the reason for the success of another chain, Toojay's Gourmet Deli, which is definitely on a roll. And rye not when they are in the heart of the area filled with those who honor New York's Carnegie Deli, Reuben's and Wolfie's Rascal House. Tampa Bay meccas for blintzes and matzo balls and pastrami and potato pancakes are in St. Petersburg's BayWalk (727/823-3354) and Tampa's International Plaza at 2223 N. Westshore Blvd. (813/348-4101). The newest Toojay's opened last June in Boca Raton's Glades Plaza (entrance on Butts Road, 561/392-4181), making 22 statewide from Jupiter (Bluffs Shopping Center, 561/627-5555), Stuart (Regency Square, 772/287-6514) and Vero Beach (Treasure Coast Plaza, 772/569-6070) all the way south to Coral Springs (The Walk at University, 954/346-0006) and Plantation (The Fountains, 954/423-1993). In between are gourmet delis in Lake Worth (419 Lake Ave., 561/582-8684), Palm Beach (Royal Poinciana Plaza, 561/659-7232), Palm Beach Gardens (Loehman's Plaza, 561/622-8131) and Wellington (The Mall at Wellington Green, 561/784-9055) plus the new one in Boca joining the two Toojay's already on a roll, at Polo Shops (561/241-5903) and Regency Court Plaza (561/997-9911). And there are six in the Orlando area, one in Sarasota and one in The Villages in central Florida.

Tags: Dining & Travel, Around Florida

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