*Editor’s note: Thank you to Beer & Pig field correspondent Alex McVeigh for this fabulous write-up of the opening of the new Mellow Mushroom in Herndon, VA. Please make sure you check out his twitter and his other works listed at the bottom of this article.*
At the stroke of 11 a.m. Monday, July 22, the world got a little bit brighter for lovers of beer, pizza, hoagies and other forms of deliciousness. Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers opened their doors on Elden Street in Herndon in the old Fuddrucker’s building.
While it’s easy to mourn the loss of a fine institution of Fuddrucker’s, one glance inside Mellow Mushroom reveals a completely re-imagined space filled with new possibilities.
“I can’t think of a better place to get us started in Northern Virginia than Herndon,” said Pooja Mehta, owner of the location. “We tailor our locations to the communities we’re in, so with this location we chose a railroad theme, which is a nod to Herndon’s history, but we also added some more futuristic elements, and some ‘graffiti,’ which can usually be found at train stations.”
Upon glancing at Mellow Mushroom’s menu, it’s clear they are not messing around. A wide variety of calzones, 15 specialty pizzas, 11 appetizers and 14 different hoagies are there to fill any need.
The specialty pizza menu itself is stunning. Many of them don’t even follow the normal pattern of crust-tomato sauce-cheese-topping.
For example, the Funky Q. Chicken, Buffalo Chicken and Maui Wowie, don’t even have tomato sauce, instead using BBQ sauce, Buffalo sauce and pesto, respectively.
“I love pizzas that think outside the box a little and use something like hot sauce or BBQ sauce for the base,” said Ben Shields, who was preparing to become one of their first customers Monday morning. “I like regular pizzas, but when you change up the sauces, it’s like having a great meal laid out before you in a circle. I’m going to try the Philosopher’s Pie, which is like a gyro that you can eat by the slice, which I think anyone can get behind.”
Mehta says her favorite pizza is the Red Skin Potato Pie, which has roasted red potatoes, bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar, mozzarella, chives, sour cream and spicy ranch dressing.
“It’s like a loaded baked potato with a crust,” she said.
Others, like the Holy Shiitake (three types of mushrooms, garlic aioli and truffle oil), Thai Dye (curry chicken, onions, cucumbers and Thai chili sauce) and the Mellowterranean (chicken, onions, peppers, olives, chives, feta and tzatziki sauce) use simple olive oil and garlic as the foundation on which to build their delicious temples.
The most outside the box selection is the Bayou Bleu starts with a bleu cheese base and is topped with shrimp, Andouille sausage and chives.
Enterprising diners can also build their own custom pizzas by selecting the base, cheese, veggies, fruits and a mind-boggling array of meats, that include Andouille sausage, applewood smoked bacon, meatballs, in addition to the standards.
Taking it a step further, chicken, steak and shrimp are also available in BBQ, buffalo, curry, herb vinaigrette, jerk, pesto or teriyaki style.
The Munchies section of the menu features appetizers such as hot pretzels, a meatball trio, oven roasted wings and more.
The biggest change from the original Fuddrucker’s is the addition of a large bar area immediately on the right from the entrance, which includes capability for 30 different draft beers.
Currently, one line is dedicated to Abita root beer and three other lines are not yet filled, but the remaining 26 are brimming with craft beer (and Miller Lite) from around the country.
The beers range from the dark, such as Left Hand Brewing’s Nitro Milk Stout and Port City’s Porter, to the light, such as Long Trail Ale and Victory’s Prima Pils.
“We worked hard to get a wide variety of beers to cater to any taste at any time,” said Shae Dannemiller, the general manager. “A lot of places tend to be IPA-heavy, but a lot of people, especially women, aren’t into that. We’re also well-stocked with high gravity beers, a third of them are over 7 percent alcohol.”
His business card might say general manager, but Dannemiller’s real title is cicerone, the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier. He’ll be the one to point people into new directions, find the best brew for each meal and keep the stock new and exciting.
“Long term, my goal is to build relationships with the distributors, because I want us to be able to get the limited release beers, the special brews, as they come out,” he said. “For example, when Founders releases their Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which is limited and is aged in bourbon barrels for over a year, I want to get some here.”
“Our current selection is a good starting off point, now we’ll get some reaction, meet our customers and find out what they want so we can look into it,” Danemiller said. “I have two firkins [a large beer cask that holds about nine gallons] as well, so I’m looking into getting some one offs and special cask beers. I‘d also like to move us into getting bombers and 750 ML bottles.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Mellow Mushroom’s beer selection is the Beer Club, where members get points every time they try a new beer, whether in bottles or on tap. As the points build up, members will get tickets to special beer tastings, brewery tours, and even perhaps input on what draft beer to stock at one of the 30 draft lines.
Dannemiller says he wants to prove that “Herndon can handle good beer,” and with Mellow Mushroom, local diners have their work cut out for them.
Here’s the full list of draft beers currently available at the Mellow Mushroom:
Abita Purple Haze
Abita Root Beer
Avery Brewing Company Ellie’s Brown Ale
Boulevard Brewing 80 Acre Wheat
Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Lager
Curious Traveler Shandy
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Firestone Walker Union Jack Pale Ale
Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA
Founders Red’s Rye IPA
Great Lakes Elliot Ness Vienna Lager
Highland Wolfden Red IPA
Left Hand Brewing Nitro Milk Stout
Long Trail Ale
Lost Rhino’s Rhino Chasers
New Belgium Fat Tire
Old Speckled Hen Extra Special Bitter
Peak Organic Summer Session
Port City Porter
Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale
Terrapin Monk’s Revenge
Victory Golden Monkey
Victory Prima Pils