First Look at Mellow Mushroom, Spring's Destination for Gourmet Pizza and Craft Beer

At first glance, the sprawling suburb of Spring -- whose restaurant preferences seem to run the gamut from McDonald's all the way to Sonic, with Tex-Mex mixed in for special occasions -- might not be where you would pick to open a place known for gourmet pizzas and sandwiches, not to mention an extensive craft beer menu. Upon closer inspection, however, Mellow Mushroom (16000 Stuebner Airline, 832-698-8888) may have very well picked the perfect spot for their 25th location.

Situated in a revamped bank tower-turned-strip center at the corner of Cypresswood and Stuebner Airline, Mellow Mushroom's giant sign signals the pizza purveyor's grand entrance into the Houston market. While the location isn't the most central, it does happen to be smartly placed. With over 60,000 people living in a six-mile radius, Mellow Mushroom finds itself one of the sole craft beer sellers within almost double that distance. The restaurant has also placed itself aggressively close to not only the massive Klein High School, but also the area's two most popular sit down pizza restaurants: Paul's Pizza and Double Dave's Pizzaworks.

They aren't pulling any punches, that much is clear.

Stepping inside, it's clear Mellow Mushroom does its homework and has brought the big guns from the get-go. The spacious front patio is dotted with clever touches like custom, wrought-iron details on the fences and peeks at some massive mural work that carries into the restaurant. Once inside, the cavernous space is broken into several sections: a long alley of booths leading to a semi-open kitchen, an area of tables lining the front window to the patio, and bar lining the far wall that's backed by a faux baseball scoreboard.

As your eyes scan the room, the first thing you may notice is the eclectic interior. A massive metal blimp -- perhaps a shout out to the Goodyear blimp once stationed a few miles down Cypresswood -- hangs over the middle of the dining room. The organic geometric mural reminiscent of stained glass that began outside snakes its way along the walls and branches up to the vaulted ceilings. Above the bank of booths hang giant, outrageous Tara Mcpherson-esque baseball card paintings featuring pinups and aliens among others.

And while the art is certainly impressive, where the artists hail from is just as noteworthy: A studied eye will know that metal blimp, decked in beads and glass, as the work of Houston art car legend, ScrapDaddy (a.k.a. Mark Bradford). The murals bear the signature style of one of the city's most prolific street artists, Weah. And the trading card art, I would later find out, belongs to another local artist: Katharine Kearns.

The use of local art and culture is an idea that runs throughout the locally owned Mellow Mushroom franchises, each outfitted with custom touches that reflect its neighborhood. Visually speaking, Houston's version is certainly an impressive addition to their portfolio.

A quick glance at the beer menu shows more attention to local detail. With over 35 taps, not only is the impressive line- up of beers predominantly craft, it also featured several Texas breweries -- Saint Arnold and Karbach among them -- on tap the day I visited. The bartender was quick to help me navigate the menu and offer suggestions as to his favorite beers as well as menu items to accompany them.

The hoagie-style sandwich menu had several interesting offerings (even including a tofu sandwich) but the specialty pizzas were what I came for. I chose the Thai Dye pie, topped with curried chicken, basil and cucumbers and finished with chili oil. While the sweet crust and toppings were excellent, the small pizza is pricey at $12.

That said, the pizza was generously covered with chicken and I left stuffed after wolfing down my ill-advised fourth and final piece. Despite my gluttony, the small is probably large enough to reasonably share along with an appetizer, upping the value proposition. Also balancing out the more expensive pizzas are exceptionally reasonable beer prices.

While I don't have much reason to get out to Spring these days, Mellow Mushroom is enough to draw me out now and then, perhaps next time with a group large enough to tackle several small pizzas to make the trip even more worthwhile. With their awesome tap lineup, I'll be bringing a designated driver as well.

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