Monte’s Fine Foods in Portland sells imported foods and local products, as well as a wide array of pizza and sandwiches. Photo by Meredith Goad

Be afraid, Otto. Be very afraid.

All the best pizza joints in Portland have some new, very stiff competition, and it’s on the corner of Washington and Ocean avenues. Monte’s Fine Foods has been open for about a month now, and it’s putting out some of the best pizza in the city. I hesitate to say the best because I haven’t tried the other new kid in town, Coals on Preble Street, and I’ve heard it’s quite good as well.

Monte’s, owned by longtime Portland chef Steve Quattrucci, is an Italian market filled with imported pastas and olive oils, as well as local products such as croissants from Standard Baking Co. A huge cooler section is filled with drinks, including beers, teas, kombuchas, canned cocktails and just about anything else you can think of, much of it locally produced. Wine displays are scattered around the store, and there’s a coffee station in one corner. Another cooler is filled with to-go foods such as hummus and vegetarian pad Thai. Heading to a dinner party? The place even sells bouquets of flowers.

Monte’s is very close to my neighborhood, so I was thrilled to learn about it when Quattrucci first announced his plans over a year ago. It is a work in progress, constantly adding items such as a new selection of vegan deli products. Quattruccci also plans to offer more produce and grab-and-go meals, but says the same staffing issues that plague every restaurateur in the city have been slowing things down. For now, I’ve noticed, many customers dropping in are there for the pizza and sandwiches.

A Roman-style pepperoni pizza at Monte’s Fine Foods in Portland. Photo by Meredith Goad

Monte’s serves two kinds of pizza. The Roman-style pizza al taglio is on display as you walk up to the counter. It’s baked in a rectangular tray, has a rustic crust and quality toppings, and is sold by the pound at $14 per pound. Just tell the staff what you want, and they’ll cut it into pieces for you with scissors. But be careful: This is one of those situations where you don’t want to go in too hungry or you’ll overdo it. (I wanted to sample different slices and have plenty of leftovers, but I still probably could have cut my order in half.) I tried the pepperoni, a simple pie topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, a variety of cheeses, a little thinly sliced onion and green pepper, and fresh basil. I also sampled a sausage pizza that had a white sauce and came with mushrooms, green peppers and onion.  The thinner parts of the dough had developed a satisfying crunch, yet the crust was still strong enough to hold a generous amount of toppings. I was struck by both the freshness of the toppings and the great flavor of the pizza as a whole.

The market also sells pinsa-style, multigrain pizzas sold in 14-inch pies. There’s nearly a dozen to choose from, including pepperoni, carbonara, sopressata and Maine clam. These pies range from $11 for a simple tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil pie to $21 for the calabrian chicken, made with smoked mozzarella, grilled chicken, hot sauce, gorgonzola, Reggiano, and green onion.

Sandwiches range from $9 to $15 and come wrapped in a housemade rustic bread or in a bowl with extra greens. So far I’ve tried two of the seven on the menu. If you like a sandwich that’s a little spicy, try the chicken cutlet, which has lots of pepperoncinis spread across the top, and comes with dark greens and cherry tomatoes. The Italian was even better (and I’ve never been a particularly great fan of Italians), generously stuffed with grilled ham, provolone, tomato, bell pepper, onion and pickles. A line of black olives covered the top of the sandwich.

Monte’s has about a dozen seats lining the front window, facing Washington Avenue, if you want to eat in, and there are about a half-dozen tables for two on the patio. The place is also now listed on 2DineIn.com, so I have a feeling their deliveries are about to soar, even with a branch of Otto just a few blocks away on Read Street.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this place develops. For now it’s a quality, convenient place to stop on the way home from work to pick up dinner. Welcome to the neighborhood, Monte’s.


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