Friday, March 7, 2014
Bonobo Pizza has been a fixture on the corner of Bracket and Pine for a long time (six years?). Before that it was a neighborhood pizzeria that made absolutely terrible pizza. The place was always empty, and I think one pie would languish on the counter for an entire day.
But then Bonobo Pizza arrived, the name referring to a breed of chimpanzee. I’m not sure how this relates to pizza but it’s a typically arcane bit of creativity from Bonobo’s peripatetic first proprietor, Oliver Outerbridge.
For perspective let’s look at Outerbridge’s cooking career, which has run the gamut. He started on Islesboro with a seasonal restaurant called Oliver’s. It was located in the heart of the precious village of Dark Harbor, the island’s tony summer enclave. If the island elite would meet at Oliver’s for dinner during July and August it was because it was chef’s night off at the island’s only other dining establishment, the Tarratine Club’s private dining room.
Since I was a part-time summer resident at the time I had actually been to Oliver’s and it was an experience in dining mayhem. He specialized in Global Cuisine, another name for “anything goes” from around the world.
After the Islesboro stint he opened a restaurant in Belfast in 2003. And sometime between then and around 2006 he came to Portland to open Bonobo’s.
Fast forward a few years and it’s now owned by Denise Compton. The concept, however, is pretty much the same: thin crust pizza baked in a wood-fired oven with all natural ingredients.
I haven’t been to Bonobo’s since Outerbridge’s tenure, and we went last night more out of curiosity than a hankering for a pizza dinner. About the only time I have pizza for dinner—which is rare—is when I call up and have it delivered. I did this a few weeks ago, ordering from Leonardo’s and was pleasantly surprised: This was the best thin crust pizza I’ve had in Portland, making the indefatigable, overly popular Otto’s seem like schleppers..
But that’s another story.
Bonobo’s menu sticks to pizza, salads and soup and a short dessert menu. The bar serves only beer and wine from two very limited lists. The closest we could get to local beer was a lager from New Hampshire.
For the two of us we ordered one pizza, which is about 13 inches and priced at about one dollar per inch. There are so many toppings to choose from that we were pleased that we could mix and match a bifurcated pie with two different toppings for each half.
I don’t think you can do that at Flatbread since that would send the rigid kitchen into tilt and certainly not at the inexorable Otto’s who might take offense at the suggestion.
To me it seems like an awfully good idea.
The two toppings we chose were one half being the Farm Pizza, which is pork sausage, mozzarella, roasted onions, oregano and red sauce; the other half was the Smokey Pizza, which was comprised of smoky roasted butternut squash, roasted spinach, roasted onions, leeks, gorgonzola, Parmesan and cream--a mouthful to be sure.
The toppings were actually sensational but with all the hoopla of it being a thin crust baked in a wood oven I thought the crusts fell flat. It seemed to succumb to the weight of the toppings. In that regard I wasn’t impressed.
We started off with the house salad that we shared. It could have fed a family of four. It was, however, an excellent salad with fresh local greens that were perfectly dressed with well made vinaigrette.
With a beer each, one pie and one salad and house-made but average blueberry cheesecake dinner was a very digestible $39 before tip. That in itself is reason to go to Bonobo because it’s good value. Otherwise, in the larger world of Portland pizza it holds its own--no more, no less.
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.