The Pizza Rossa at Quanto Basta, Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Stick your finger into the air, and you’ll feel it coming. That faint, transatlantic breeze? It’s pizza-scented. As I write this, the fifth review this year of a restaurant conceived (mostly) around crust, cheese and sauce, it’s becoming clearer to me that we’ll probably look back on 2023 as the year when Maine officially became a pizza state.

It’s not as if we haven’t had decent pizza here for years, but lately, it’s been hard to ignore the plurality of terrific pies, especially in the southern part of the state: Detroit-style, Grandma, strict Neopolitan, cracker-crusted Roman-style, pinza and now, at Quanto Basta, something new.

Fiero Forni, the celebrated New York-based commercial pizza-oven manufacturer, has a term for this particular category of nonstandard, locally informed pizza-baking – “neo-Neapolitan” – but I prefer Betsy English’s description of the intensely personal genre of pizza she has created.

“My mother was born in southern Italy, in a town in Campagna that’s close to Naples, and I’m a baker who likes to work with sourdough, local grains and naturally leavened products,” she said. “I’m careful about how I describe my pizza, because I never want to claim it’s Neapolitan, exactly. It’s Neapolitan-esque.”

English pushes category boundaries with toppings, as on the phenomenal Limone ($17) pie, a springy-crusted pizza that layers garlic confit, Sicilian capers, flat-leaf parsley, buffalo mozzarella and crescents of thinly sliced Meyer lemon — peel, pith and all. The brightness of this pie and its unexpected, yet familiar flavors make a thrilling combo. Start here.

Quanto Basta owner/chef Betsy English sprinkles a Sicilian sea salt onto a plate of Bresaola E Rucola. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

I don’t mean that in the strictest sense. If you’re in the mood for an appetizer before your pizza, by all means, order one. Quanto Basta serves a few nostalgic Roman and Northern Italian classics as starters. Of these, my favorite is a plate of shaved bresaola and a nest of simple greens tossed with a fragrant vinaigrette English makes using house-cured preserved Meyer lemons ($14).


Another excellent choice is the bagna cauda ($12), Quanto Basta’s funky, sharing-friendly take on crudité. Here, a plate of raw cauliflower, fennel bulb and radicchio arrives with its own bespoke piece of pottery. “We had these ‘fujot’ dishes specially made for us by Nathan Finberg, a local potter. They hold a candle and are designed to keep the bagna cauda warm,” English said. As for the ultra-savory dip itself, “It’s a ton of anchovies and garlic, a little butter. And it’s been this big evolution because we’ve also realized over time that, ‘Whoa! This is awesome with pizza.’ So we said, let’s serve it on the side ($6). We’ve turned a lot of nervous people on to anchovies.”

On the appetizer side of the menu, I was a bit let down by the supplì ($10), essentially quenelle-shaped arancini made from risotto balls stuffed with gorgonzola dolce. Double-dunked in pizza-crust “breadcrumbs” and deep-fried, Quanto Basta’s version were dark (too dark) and needed another flavor (acid, sweetness) to balance out the salt.

Personally, I’d love to eat crunchy, lava-hot rice balls with a ramekin of the thick, raw tomato sauce that comprises the base for the Pizza Rossa ($12), where intertwined aromas of parsley, garlic and marjoram (oregano’s well-to-do cousin) cavort across a blistered, bouncy sourdough crust. You could order a ball of burrata ($10) as a topper for this otherwise vegan pie, but it isn’t necessary.

A slice of Pizza Rossa dunked in bagna cauda on the other hand, is transcendent, especially when you have a glass of one of Quanto Basta’s more robust reds at hand. Something like dry, brambly Verha Rosso ($16), an Aglianico with plenty of structure and tang.

Another satisfying pizza-pairing is one of the four spritzes that make up the foundation of the restaurant’s drink menu. “Spritzes and organic or low-intervention wines were always something I wanted to do, so my buddies Nick (Coffin) and Arvid (Brown), who own Room for Improvement, sat down with me, and together we developed a beverage program where all the drinks go with pizza,” English said.

One especially exciting matchup starts with a Boulevardier ($18) based on brown-butter-washed bourbon (try saying that 10 times fast). Sipped alongside bites of Salsiccia ($16) – Quanto Basta’s riff on the classic pizza pairing of Italian sausage and broccolini – the combo makes a compelling, self-contained argument for why cocktails do, indeed, belong at the dinner table.


When the crucifer of choice is out of season, English swaps in a twice-cooked “ripassata” of Tuscan kale to go with homemade, uncased Italian sausage made from Oxbow Brewing’s pork – a substitution that, for better or worse, eliminates broccolini’s bitterness. My dinner guest and I enjoyed this particular restyling, but if you’re a fan of broccolini’s astringent bite, never fear, the Campari in the Boulevardier achieves the same end. Any spritz would do the same.

English readies a pizza for the oven. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Only one pie on my two recent visits to Quanto Basta disappointed, and not because of the toppings. I chose an Amatriciana pie ($15, a weekly special listed on the menu as “La Stagione”) because, like English herself, I’m a big fan of salsa amatriciana, the old-school, onion-and-cured-pork pasta sauce. To convert this slow-simmered sauce into a pizza base, the kitchen renders domestic guanciale from New York’s La Salumina and lets it bubble away with tomato water, black pepper and pecorino cheese. Ladled onto a freshly shaped pizza “blank” and topped with grated cow’s milk mozzarella, what could go wrong?

Well, a few extra seconds in the blast furnace of an oven, it turns out. When you’re working with a heat source that tops out at 900 degrees F, it only takes an instant to turn pizza dough into a blackened frisbee. Everyone has a bad day or a bad shift sometimes, so I like to think that the other, beautifully blistered Amatriciana pizzas I saw that night were more representative than the one I ate in Quanto Basta’s off-white, Marie-Kondo-level minimalist dining room. Indeed, when the couple at the table next to mine caught me eyeing their Amatriciana pies (two of them!), they urged me to order another.

“We felt bad when we saw yours was so dark,” one said to me. “But we live down the street, and we eat here every weekend now. We’ve never had a burned pizza. You should try again. Trust us.”

Nursing an affogato ($6) made with fruity Veronese espresso poured over a delicate scoop of house-made bay-leaf gelato, I nodded. Five years ago, I might not have taken my table-mates seriously, but these days, it’s pretty obvious to me: Mainers know their pizza.

Quanto Basta on a recent December evening. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

RATING: ****


WHERE: 249 Congress St., Portland. (no phone)

SERVING: 4 – 9 p.m Monday, 4 – 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $6-14, Pizzas: $12-17

NOISE LEVEL: Soft rock, but still rock

VEGETARIAN: Some dishes



BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails


BOTTOM LINE: Betsy English made a name for herself locally through her Quanto Basta pizza truck, a converted Morris Minor with barely enough room for a person and two portable pizza ovens. “When you see that cream-colored jalopy on the Eastern Prom,” one of my friends told me once last year, “You go.” English’s truck is still fully operational, but since taking over the former LB Kitchen space in Munjoy Hill this July, she has been serving Neapolitan-esque pizzas, appetizers and amaro-fueled spritzes from Quanto Basta’s more permanent digs. Pizza toppings are locally inspired and seasonal, but the true star of each pie is the airy, chewy sourdough crust. When it’s baked to blistered perfection (as it usually is), English’s pizzas are superb. Don’t miss the bright, savory, olive-and-lemon-peel-topped Limone or the remarkably light Pizza Rossa, a vegan pie with an herby, sweet, raw tomato base. Appetizers like raw vegetables with bagna cauda, and lean bresaola topped with greens tossed in an insanely tasty preserved lemon vinaigrette are also worth ordering, especially with a glass of wine from the moderately priced, all-Italian list. For dessert, opt for an affogato made with homemade gelato, and while you’re here, snag a bag of English’s Nocciola Granola ($12) for later.

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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