Coletti’s Pizza Factory is located in a former house in Biddeford. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Pulling into the parking lot outside the white suburban home, its mismatched shutter pattern and rambling wheelchair ramp the lone sparks of visual interest along this busy stretch of Route 1, I caught a glimpse of my future.

Or at least, I understood in that moment that after reviewing Coletti’s Pizza Factory in Biddeford, I’d have some pushback to contend with – some of it from the restaurant’s ardent fans, and probably a little from chef/owner Francesco “Frank” Coletti, himself. I’m OK with that. It’s what I signed up for when I accepted this job. But before I go any further, I’ll emphasize that I think Coletti is a talented pizzaiolo working under conditions that are, to put it gently, less than ideal.

In part, the boxy, aesthetically challenged makeshift space that gave me pause was never supposed to house a business with an overclocked pizza oven from 1934, capable of baking hundreds of pies a day. It was, and still remains, a house. Coletti still refers to interior spaces at the restaurant as “bedrooms,” even after seven years.

“I think it used to be an insurance agency before I got here, but I’m not sure. There’s always been an apartment above, like there is now. But it’s just a little house with a bunch of bedrooms,” he said. “The first kitchen I put in was in this tiny bedroom, like 100 square feet. It got so hot, we couldn’t even cook in there, so after a year of that, we moved into another one of the little bedrooms. That one was about 14-by-14. Then finally, about four or five years ago, we renovated the kitchen and moved the new, New York-style pizza oven back there. It’s better.”

Judging by the quality of crust alone, I suspect he’s right. The shift to a newer-vintage, higher-powered oven that reaches 650 degrees gives the base of his yeast-leavened dough plenty of “leoparding,” or little speckles of char that imprint the crust with a pattern reminiscent of an animal print.

Coletti’s double-crusted Volcano Shape pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, eggplant, ham and basil. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

On a double-crusted pizza like the Volcano Shape ($20) (a calzone by any other name), those leopard spots cover every surface, creating an impossible-to-solve, connect-the-dots puzzle colored in with tomato sauce, roasted eggplant, fresh basil and ricotta cheese. It’s Coletti’s most balanced, universally appealing pie: the milk fat and natural milk sugars in the ricotta and mozzarella prevent more savory toppings like Parma ham from overwhelming the pie.


Customers can request the pie well-done, and I recommend this option, especially because calzones retain water, regardless of what you call them. That’s not a snipe at Coletti. I get the logic behind his quirky nomenclature. Coletti wants customers to understand that he sells two things: pizza and wine. (Well, plus a few Italian beers.) New menu categories might alter customer expectations, might create tensions similar to the ones at the pizzeria Coletti opened 20 years ago in Niles, Ohio, where too much choice led his former business in a direction he never intended it to go.

Owner Frank Coletti puts toppings on a pizza in the kitchen at Coletti’s Pizza Factory in Biddeford. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I had to do my switch and get out of there, just offer my partner the building, the equipment. After 10 years, I wouldn’t touch the food we were selling. Fried food, chicken, (terrible) all-you-can-eat stuff, and (terrible) pizza. I had my own little kitchen and my own dough, and I wouldn’t touch the food I was selling. I wouldn’t eat it myself,” he said. “Now for me, it’s pizza, only pizza, and people know about that. But after the renovation, it’s been pizza and also wine, and we still have to get the word out.”

Let me help with that: Coletti’s wine list deserves your attention. Just shy of 30 bottles, selections reflect his time as a wine merchant back in Italy. Sturdy, intense reds (Botromagno Primitivo for $21, Stemmari Nero d’Avola for $21) and crisp, floral whites (Oliana’s Vermentino for $22, Librandi Ciro Bianco for $32) are well represented on the mostly Italian list.

Wines are also reasonably priced. Coletti’s bottles start at $21 and top out at $32, like the relatively rare (for Maine) Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso: a dry, medium-bodied red made from 100% Piedirosso grapes. Priced at an unheard-of markup of about 50% over retail – most restaurant wine clocks in at 200-300% over retail – this bottle is a bargain … a bargain that goes especially well with pizza.

Coletti chats with customers in the dining room after serving them his pizza at Coletti’s Pizza Factory in Biddeford. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Coletti’s Pizza Factory gets away with affordable pricing because most customers order their wine to go, just as most customers do with pizza. Spend more than a few minutes under the dining room’s harsh white overhead lights, and it’s easy to see why. Despite the two dozen seats, this space still feels like a converted garage workshop or a medical waiting room, even with new flooring and a fresh coat of off-white on the walls. What’s missing is coziness, soft edges, a little warmth.

I’d love to see Frank Coletti tackle this, the final design project in a slow-spooling remodel, because his pizza demands it. Some pies simply taste better when they’re eaten right from the oven, and without an inviting, appealing space to relax for an hour, they’ll never be eaten as intended. Putting them in a box seems unfair at best, sacrilegious at worst.


Coletti’s Special, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, wild broccoli rabe, peppers, eggplant. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Take the Coletti’s Special ($21), where roasted eggplant and tomato sauce play a supporting role to spears of tender, sautéed broccoli rabe. “I get broccoli rabe by the case every week. It’s funny, because back in Naples, poor people like us used to say things like, ‘We don’t need money when we have broccoli rabe.’ So I cook it using my momma’s recipe, with just extra-virgin olive oil and garlic. It’s important to me. That’s why it’s the Coletti’s ‘Special’,” he said.

Indeed, this pie is something special. Yet the balance between savory cheese and bitter brassica only works when the pie is hot. Let it sit in your trunk for 15 minutes, and it skitters out of its delicate orbit, descending instead into something a lot less tasty.

The same goes for the Chef’s Creation ($22), a sauce-free pie made with thin slices of prosciutto, mozzarella and a towering mound of arugula and sliced cherry tomatoes.

Coletti says his Chef’s Creation – with mozzarella, Parma prosciutto, arugula, cherry tomato and Parmigiano – is “like going to therapy.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“That pizza is almost like going to therapy. It’s like going to the health food store where you can get a cherry tomato salad and organic balsamic. What’s better than the whole Mediterranean Diet on a pizza?” Coletti said with a laugh.

As long as you’re able to eat it when the pile of oil-slicked greens is fresh, you’ll understand Coletti’s intentions. Reminiscent of a classic Neopolitan pizza (a category Coletti considers too hide-bound and over-specified to fit his loose, improvisational cooking), this pie does indeed taste superb and doesn’t leave you feeling bloated and overindulged.

Just don’t take it home. In your car (or your delivery person’s car), that arugula will collapse into a sloppy green mess. I can’t speak for everyone, but a wilted salad never appeals to me, even on a pizza.


For me, the most remarkable part of the Coletti’s Pizza Factory story is how the business has attracted so much attention, especially from away. This, despite no advertising and a rudimentary social media presence. Awarded with a top-40 position in Yelp’s algorithm-driven, national 100 Best Pizza Shops list, Coletti’s keeps chugging away in its less-than-optimal digs. And Coletti, to his credit, understands that he and his pizza deserve even better.

“Because of the building, we’re in this (terrible) category where people call up and they just ask, ‘Can you throw a couple pizzas on and we’ll be over?’ or they get mad if we have to take extra time because our handmade dough is slow because of the weather, and I’m not going to open if the dough isn’t right, and I’m not going to say sorry for that,” he said. “People read about me and they know I’m a funny guy who’s gonna stand up for myself and my pizza. If you talk about some stupid stuff or go online to give me a one-star rating, I’m going to lose my temper and go off on them. It has taken five years to build, but that’s OK because of this: I know what I’m doing, and I know that it is good.”

RATING: ***1/2
WHERE: 497 Elm St., Biddeford; 207-571-4476,
SERVING: Noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1-7 p.m. Sunday
PRICE RANGE: Pizzas: $12.50-$22
NOISE LEVEL: Lawnmower repair shop
VEGETARIAN: Some dishes
BAR: Wine and beer
BOTTOM LINE: There’s an old saw about how restrictions and obstacles make art better. Boundaries reveal tensions and limitations, and creativity helps a craftsperson overcome them. Frank Coletti has certainly confronted his share of stumbling blocks at his (mostly) one-person restaurant, Coletti’s Pizza Factory in Biddeford. Seven years after opening, with little press, little social media presence, and a space that still looks and feels like the ramshackle residence it once was, people are starting to talk about chef/owner Frank Coletti’s thin-crust, not-quite-Neapolitan pizza. Dough is Coletti’s strongest suit, and whether you opt for a single-crusted, arugula-and-cherry-tomato-topped Chef’s Creation pie or a double-crusted, calzone-like Volcano Shape pie, it’s the nutty, airy, well-speckled dough that elevates these pizzas over many others. Commercial real-estate investors take notice: Get this man into a well-appointed kitchen and dining room, and he’s likely to walk away with a national award or two.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):

* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of seven recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at:
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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