A slice of Mellow Mushroom's 'Holy Shiitake Pie'

Mellow Mushroom has been a staple of college towns across the Southeast for decades, spreading like spores to cities like Knoxville and Asheville, Tallahassee and Gainesville, ever since the first restaurant opened in Atlanta in 1974. With its drug-pun merch (the word “baked” appears frequently), irreverent pizza names (the “Holy Shiitake Pie” is a favorite) and surreal art, the restaurant positions itself as a countercultural hangout, the kind of place where budding artists might paint a psychedelic mural in exchange for free pies for life.

That vibe is still there, but the chain has also gone pro. For proof, look no further than south Sarasota, where Karen Atwood opened a Mellow franchise on Monday. The restaurant is huge, with a big, sunny front room, dozens of tables and a lively bar. The stoner theme is still strong, but this place isn’t a dive. You won’t find cheap, skunky beer at the bar, but instead Aperol spritzes and Old Fashioneds, plus craft beers by the glass or pitcher.

But what really matters is the pizza. You can build your own from a huge list of ingredients or trust the restaurant to do that for you. That “Holy Shiitake” pizza ($12.99-$24.99) is exceptional—flavored with four types of mushrooms, three types of cheese, garlic, caramelized onions and chives. The crust is soft, but offers some crunch, with a slightly sweet flavor accented with a pleasant, garlicky zing. The “Funky Q. Chicken” pizza ($13.50-$25.99) is less successful. Its generous bounty of crispy bacon is underserved by a too-sweet barbecue sauce strewn about.

In addition to ’zas, Mellow serves all kinds of salads, sandwiches, wings, burgers and the like. There are plenty of reasons to check it out, whether you’re stoned and starving or just starving.

Mellow Mushroom is located at 6727 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Call (941) 388-7504 or visit mellowmushroom.com for more info.

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