Last night I had the opportunity to join the newest restaurant in Ocean County, Toms River's Mellow Mushroom, for a preview dinner.

I arrived with two friends at 8pm to a restaurant full of happy diners (and rambunctious kids that were exploring the restaurant rather, let's say, enthusiastically) in a bright and colorful dining room that was uniquely decorated with local art. Over the next two hours, we were treated to a parade of Mellow Mushroom's food on the house as they welcomed friends, family, and local dignitaries.

We started with orders of their hummus, an order of pretzel bites, and their "meatball trio".

The standout was the huge plate of pretzel bites with their beer cheese dip. The plentiful helping of doughy nuggets were hot and tasty, while the dip was tangy without looking or tasting like the neon orange fake cheese sauce that so many restaurants serve.

If you're going to build a pizza place in New Jersey, it better be something different.

We have some great pizza joints here in Ocean County, so a new spot for pizza had better be doing something that we can't already get. Thankfully Mellow Mushroom has both a unique selection of specialty pies (like the "Rib Eye Pie" that we got; a white pie with sliced steak and a pile of veggies; like mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and olives), and a different type of pie than the much loved foldable slices of Jersey pizza.

Mellow Mushroom's "House Special" pizza
Mellow Mushroom's "House Special" pizza

I would call Mellow Mushroom's pizza somewhat more robust than a slice of boardwalk pizza, but not quite as close to a casserole as a Chicago deep dish pizza would be.

I know it's blasphemy in the Garden State, but for a loaded slice like on their "House Special" in the photo above, yes, you may need a knife and fork.

I have to give Mellow Mushroom credit for having a good dessert selection while avoiding the pages of pornographic calorie bombs that many chain restaurants serve up to further expand their customers' waistlines.

Don't get me wrong, they have tempting sweet treats like the giant chocolate chip cookie that I got:

Photo by Justin Louis
Photo by Justin Louis

But I didn't finish eating it and immediately regret an overdone indulgence.

While there were a few hiccups during the course of our meal, that's why restaurants do these friends & family preview nights, to have a dress rehearsal in order to iron out the details. And to give all of the credit where it's due, our waiter was not only attentive, but incredibly apologetic when one of our pizzas was delayed because of a mistake in the kitchen. In fact, the two managers that visited our table to also apologize, went out of their way to stop by and tell us specifically why our meal was delayed.

A brand new restaurant that is making their first entrance into the local marketplace is going to have some growing pains. For the staff to not only apologize profusely but to also explain what was going on and why our meal wasn't out yet, tells me that the attention to customer service is at the level that it should be at.

Overall Impression
As I said earlier, if a regional chain that specializes in pizza is going to make their first entry into New Jersey here at the Shore, they need to give us something that is both worth sampling and something different than what we already have. In my opinion, Mellow Mushroom hits on both of those points. Their pizza is different enough from the wide variety of pies that we already have here to make it worth the trip down Route 37, and good enough to earn a place among our plethora of dining options already nearby.

Mellow Mushroom's "Mighty Meaty" pie (Photo by Justin Louis)
Mellow Mushroom's "Mighty Meaty" pie (Photo by Justin Louis)

Mellow Mushroom is at 1111 Route 37 West. They officially open to the public on Monday, December 19th at 11am. 


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