PORTLAND — Mike Keon leaned against the bar in his pizza restaurant — Otto on Congress Street — and stared into a camera under a glaring light to talk about potatoes.

And pizza.

“Mainers love their potatoes. And because this is Maine, we wanted to put something hearty on the pizza, so that’s how we decided on potatoes,” said Keon, 48.

Potatoes on a pizza?

The concept was interesting enough to catch the attention of the Cooking Channel — a relatively new affiliate of The Food Network — and on Tuesday a production crew was at Otto filming a segment on the mashed potato, bacon and scallion pizza. The Otto segment will be part of a one-hour special called “Pizza Outside the Box.”

Eight to 10 unique slices of pizza and their makers will be featured in the special, said associate producer Ray Klonsky. It’s tentatively scheduled to air Aug. 7 on the Cooking Channel, which can be seen locally on Time Warner Cable channel 119


“We just wanted something that would stick to people’s ribs, so that’s why we went with mashed potatoes,” said Anthony Allen, co-owner, along with Keon, of three Otto restaurants — two in Portland and one in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s been a lot of fun, having all this attention on the pizza. We’re still in the pinch-me stage.”

The potatoes on the pizza are mashed with whole milk and real butter. The pie is topped with cheese: asiago on the bottom, then whole-milk mozzarella and sometimes, a sprinkling of fontina on top.

The spotlight on the mashed potato, bacon and scallion pizza began, Allen told me, with me. I apparently was the first reporter to review the eclectic slice, shortly after the first Otto opened nearly two years ago.

From there, the Boston Globe wrote about the pizza, and other media picked up on it. Then earlier this year, the Food Network Magazine was putting together an article spotlighting one great pizza from each of the 50 states. They called Portland Press Herald food writer Meredith Goad and asked her to recommend a good slice in Maine. She pointed to Otto.

Then the Cooking Channel decided to pick eight to 10 of the places mentioned in the Food Network Magazine article to focus on in their TV special, Klonsky said.

“We wanted the most interesting pizzas, as well as something that had a strong regional influence,” Klonsky said.


The four-person film crew arrived at the downtown Portland Otto location, near Congress Square on Congress Street, around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. They filmed Keon and Allen — and me — talking about the mashed potato pizza in the small dining area. They also filmed three Otto workers making pizzas in the kitchen, and got exterior shots of the place as well as shots of downtown Portland.

They were planning to try to film some customers eating at lunchtime as well, before heading off to film two other famed New England pizza makers — Al Forno in Providence. R.I., and Pepe’s in New Haven, Conn.

“To be mentioned along with those places is really something,” said Allen.

The Cooking Channel special will also touch upon some of Otto’s other creative pizza concoctions, including butternut squash, ricotta, and cranberry; pulled pork and mango; apple, bacon and red onion; and egg, tomato, bacon and scallion.

All for just $3 a slice.

Which is not a lot of dough for pizza that’s about to become nationally known.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: rrouthier@pressherald.com


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