It’s all about the crust at Otto Pizza in South Portland. Sure, the venue’s funky, a one-time filling station that retains its roll-up garage doors but is now painted a fog-piercing yellow and packed with tables instead of auto parts. And the menu boasts idiosyncratic 12- or 16-inch pies with toppings such as mashed potato, bacon and scallion ($13/$21) and pulled pork and mango ($12/$19) in addition to the more prosaic cheese and tomato. But the crust here is the draw.

It’s thin and crispy and crackling and brown and hot enough pulled straight from the 650 degree F oven to singe your lips and scald your tongue – in a good way. Could you wait for it to cool down? Yes. Should you? No. The credo at Otto isn’t “let’s hold back,” it’s “dig right in.”

Start with the pork and mango pie, a white pizza with mounds of spicy pulled pork and slivers of sweet mango. The toppings are classic Caribbean complements, and they go surprisingly well with the mozzarella and Asiago that are also on the pizza.

When the waitress put our pie on the table, I worried that the cumin-laced pork looked dry, but it turned out to be moist and flavorful (the meat is seasoned with chili powder, paprika and mustard), and the mangoes – because of a brief stay in the brick-lined gas oven – were soft and juicy. We ordered the 12-inch. Next time I’ll go whole hog and devour a 16-inch bad boy.

The Friday night special pizza with Brussels sprouts and bacon was good, if slightly bland in comparison. There was plenty of bacon scattered across the white pie (only about half of the pizzas on Otto’s menu are tomato-sauce based) but, despite all that cured meat, it needed salt. I’d skip this option if it makes another appearance.

I’d also forgo the 10-inch gluten-free crust that’s offered with all but one pizza on the menu. (The exception is the three-cheese tortellini.) A friend who steers clear of gluten tried a Margherita ($12) with the special crust. While the toppings are excellent – Otto’s tomato sauce is tart and fresh tasting, and the cheeses on top are good quality – the crust was thin to the point of translucent and absent any memorable feature but for chewiness. It was a marathon for the molars and ultimately a disappointment.


If you have a problem with wheat protein, order one of Otto’s salads instead. Unlike the pizzas, they’re basic and traditional: house ($5), Caesar ($6), spinach ($7) and tomato ($7), but the greens are fresh and the dressings are bracing. I particularly liked the Caesar (cool romaine blanketed with Parmesan shavings) but the spinach was also good: a big plate of baby spinach leaves with bacon, red onion and a house-made tomato vinaigrette.

The best pie on the menu turned out to be chicken and basil ($12), with chunks of white breast meat and ribbons of fresh basil dotting a tomato base. The same tomato sauce that elevated the gluten-free crust really shined here (it’s made with “the freshest California crushed tomatoes we could source,” says marketing director Eric Shepherd.) Though we sat down for dinner in the middle of yet another snowstorm, the sauce tasted like summer and the chicken was a standout. Some of the pizzas at Otto are just fine; others, like the mashed potato and meatloaf with herbs and pickled onions, are filling; but the chicken and basil is downright delicious. If you have room for only one, this is the pie to try.

Otto, which has five locations in Massachusetts, now has four locations in Maine, where the company started: on Cottage Road, two stores on Congress Street and one practically invisible storefront on a side street near the Maine Mall. (The staffer who answered the phone there told me to “drive past the bingo near Clark’s Pond movie theater and look for an innocuous office park on the left. That’s us.”

The interior of each store is different: While the former filling station has black-and-white photos of vintage autos and a gas pump nozzle holding up a shelf near the entrance, the store at Clark’s Pond has an AstroTurf bocce ball court and a selection of picnic tables.

One warning about the location on Cottage Road should you plan to go before the snow melts. Because of those roll-up overhead doors, seats near the front can be distinctly chilly. On the night we visited, several patrons took off then put back on their winter coats. If you like a toastier table, ask for one against the wall of the kitchen.

There’s no dessert menu at Otto, but you can order house-made cannoli ($4.50), either chocolate or pistachio. Unfortunately, ours was served way too cold. (Note to the young and kind staff: A cannoli that can’t be cut with a fork needs to spend some time resting on the counter.) Sure, the ricotta-filled pastry will satisfy a craving for sugar, but I’d skip it and nurse a glass of Allagash White, a Belgian wheat beer ($6), instead. The beer is refreshing and fruity with a pleasantly sweet aftertaste, a cool complement to any steaming slice.

At Otto, you can dine in or take out, and while the take-out pizzas are slid into boxes atop a black plastic grid meant to preserve crunch, that’s only half successful. To experience the crust in all its noisy glory, sit down in the restaurant. Or drive over to collect your order and bite into that crust the moment you get into the car. I won’t tell.

James H. Schwartz has covered food, travel and architecture for The Washington Post, Down East, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines for more than 30 years. Long a commuter between Portland and Washington, D.C., he retired from his job as vice president at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2013 and relocated to Maine.

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