Otto Pizzeria

In an earlier post, we briefly touched on the offerings of both Bonobo and Otto, two well-regarded pizza restaurants here in Portland. While, after our first, tentative slices, neither restaurant could have “go-to” status immediately conferred on it, we agreed that Otto was doing some impressive work on the pizza front, and vowed to return.

Last night, rained in with an endless parade of DVR’d episodes of “The Colony” and “Teen Mom” stretching before us, pizza seemed like the right choice for a night on the couch. Since we haven’t come anywhere near working our way through every pizza restaurant in town, our intention was to order from someplace new, but when we really considered the gluten-free-basil-crust-artichoke-and-barbecue-sauce options that lay before us, we didn’t want to risk our whole evening on that silliness, and instead returned to what has been one of a few standout pies: Otto Pizzeria.

I haven’t really worked out my issues with Otto. When I try and go through the list of what I want pizza to be, Otto nails it in many regards: A thin crust, which thickens up to a nice rolled edge, with some cornmeal on the peel, the tiniest bit (for me, not enough) of black char, and some satisfying, crunchy baby blisters on the underside, the result of cooking at high heat. The dough has a nice amount of crunch on first bite, which gives way to a satisfying chew. The cheese blend is of a high quality, and the staff has always been great: friendly, conversational, and proud of what they do.

What is it, then, that is continuing to make me keep trying other places, keeping me from declaring Otto the end of our pizza search? Last night, as we worked our way through our bacon, mushroom, and vidalia onion pie ($19 for a large), I tried to carefully consider each ingredient. The crust was spot-on, as usual. The bacon was crumbled into tiny pieces, which gave a nice, porky crunch to each bite, and was a nice surprise; I imagined wet, wiggly mini-slices, which never work out. The mushrooms were fresh, and I was amazed at how much flavor they are able to get into them. Instead of shriveled little gray slices of nothingness, these were fat, moist, and full of flavor. Could they be marinated before cooking? Even the onion was impressive; sweet and complimentary. The whole pizza was sprinkled with fresh ground pepper, and there were a few nice black spots on the top of the crust.

On my second slice, I began picking the toppings apart, and found that there…was no…sauce? AHA! This pizza needed a fresh pizza sauce, maybe even uncooked, with some chunks of fresh tomato, some basil, some acid, a little moisture! “Otto isn’t saucing their pizzas,” I thought. Then, today, in preparing for this review, I realized that I am an idiot: Otto very clearly states on their menu that the pizza we ordered was a white pie. In fact, more than half of the pizzas on Otto’s menu are served “white” style, with toppings laid bare over crust.

I think this is the source of my reservation. On a pizza with ricotta, or apple, or mango (!!!), there are plenty of other opportunities to introduce some moisture and some freshness of flavor. Even a heavy olive oil drizzle might help. But on our particular pizza last night, the flavors are all too similar: too smoky, too earthy, too oniony, and, ultimately, too much.

Make no mistake: Otto certainly knows their way around a pizza oven, and offers creative takes on classic pies. The question for next time will be whether the normally friendly staff will have any patience for requested (obnoxious?) customizations to their specialty pizzas. For next time, we’re getting a red pie, heavy sauce, well-done. If that doesn’t make them too grumpy, we may have a winner on our hands.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed “Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road,” as well as the taco-centric blog “Eat More Tacos,” and the junk food-centric “Spork & Barrel.” His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, “‘Wich, Please,” was named “Hottest Restaurant in Maine” for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.


  1. “obnoxious?”

    you can drop the question mark. 15 years i lived in brooklyn — pizza’s an art, and it’s personal, and acting like you know better is out of line. you want to have a make your own pizza party, stay home.

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  2. Thanks for commenting. I certainly don’t want to compare pizza-eating credentials, but I tend to agree…pizza is personal, and it is an art. And, as I think I stated, it is one that Otto performs very, very well.

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  3. I expected Otto’s pizza to be great. What surprised me is how nice everyone is. The guy who took my phone order even qualified the spelling of my name. That was thoughtful, and I like that. I also love stay at home make your own pizza party. We should have one!

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  4. honestly, otto is just ok period. There really is no “go to place” in maine unfortunately. If you have ever had new haven ct. pizza you will be ruined for life. frank peppe’s, sally’s and modern are far above any here. This is not a matter of taste, it’s simply fact. It could be done here but it just hasn’t. Im not going to dis otto its not bad. But for 18 bucks a pizza it’s got to be better. I actually think pizza joint is alot better for a bit cheaper. But, still not on the level of the above. Also, for the B-town guy, the pizza’s in nyc dont compare to new haven pizza. Im from new hampshire but have tried many of the nyc ones that are all good but not at the new haven level. As far as maine, just isnt there yet…… not even close.

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  5. This whole pizza is an art thing is a bit pretentious. Yes, they make great specialty pizzas, but they’re not going to be offended if you want to change it up a bit. I should know, I used to work there. Order it however you like it!

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  6. I agree with the original commenter’s assertion that pizza is a very personal creation…but at the end of the day, it is still food. I may not know what’s “better,” but I do know what I like, and pizza isn’t some sacred, special item that is beyond comment or evaluation.

    It’s nice to hear that Otto might consider a request to leave my pizza in a little longer. Thanks for commenting, Sabrina.

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  7. My point exactly (though you put it much more eloquently than I did)! The creative energy and careful attention of the staff is what makes the place so great, but at the end of the day it is a take-out place, and that means people should get what they want. C’mon people, it’s not some posh restaurant. Plus the people there are just so friendly- they’re just not going to care if you want red sauce on their white pizza.

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  8. honestly, since its more of a “takeout joint” i dont really care how the people are. give me the soup nazi. I just want some unbelivable pizza in maine. I’ve been to Di fora and girmaldi’s in brooklyn and lobardi’s etc.. in nyc. 18 bucks a pizza ok fine. But, But, But make it so its worth it. The aforementioned places are worth it. you guys are missing it all together. is Otto ok…. yes. is is excellent?? no. c’om lets me honest about this. I’m still going to otto bc it’s umm ok.

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  9. A specialty order is never a problem. Malcolm, it sounds like you have a good understanding of your own taste preference. It is far easier to accommodate someone who knows what they like rather than simply identifying what they do not.

    I greatly appreciate feedback on our pies, it’s the only way we know how to improve our product. I agree with Sabrina (hi sabrina!) that pizza as an art is indeed a little pretentious. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that what we do is any way artistic.
    However, a comparable pride and attention to detail that employees at OTTO demonstrate is the driving force for the level of quality that we strive to continually improve upon.

    Again, thank you for all the feedback.

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  10. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Tyler. One of the satisfying things about writing a site like this here in Portland, is that occasionally, the owners show up, listen, respond to feedback, and engage with customers. It makes writing much more appealing when you feel like you aren’t just sending reviews out into the ether. Thanks!

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