Down East 2013 ©
Whatever crimes of culinary misdemeanors that I may have formerly laid on poor unsuspecting Otto Pizza , I felt it deserved a return, if you will, to the scene of the crime. After all, Otto’s seems to have such an avid following of pizza purists in Portland that perhaps I inadvertently failed to find its charms.
What I’ve discovered during many visits is that there’s a big difference between the Congress Street downtown eatery in the Art’s District and its East End outpost below Munjoy Hill.
The downtown space is a small and poorly outfitted spot where at best you can find a stool to sit on. Next door, through a separate street entrance, is their dining room where diners go to order whole pies. I hear it’s a very popular nightspot after events where a full wine bar is offered, too.
The East End branch by comparison is in a vintage space that’s been very charmingly outfitted with a bar and dining room, table service, and a self-service space next to the pizza station.
I went back to the downtown branch a few times and basically had slices of pizza that weren’t up to snuff. Pizza without pizzazz is no fun.
At the East End, much more care and consistency goes into the preparation of these pies.
The question remains if this is the extraordinary pizza all the hype suggests? Well, folks, let’s not forget it’s just pizza, but there are highs of excellence even for pizza. For one, the type of oven, especially in the thin crust realm, can make a big difference. Otto uses the standard pizza oven whereas places like Flatbread and Bonobo,  whose toppings are more complex and have doughs made from organic flour, employ wood fired brick or stone ovens. Cooking in a wood-fired oven imparts a beautifully crisp crust to the pie. Still, an Otto slice at three bucks is a delicious value.
Pepperoni is pepperoni. In this case on a nice cheesy base, it was a bit oily.
The Margherita with slices of fresh tomato baked on the pie should be terrific when seasonable tomatoes are available. It works well enough now, but a good dose of colorful heirloom varietiest would make this pie sing for its supper.
The eggplant, ricotta and basil slice was excellent, though the eggplant at this time of year didn’t convey much flavor and the ricotta saved the day.
The three-cheese tortellini atop the tomato base is a good idea, but the tortellini itself got lost in the works.
The last time I was there I sat next to a couple who had just been served a whole pie that looked so good I wanted to invite myself over. They must have seen me staring and salivating and proceeded to invite me over to sample a slice. Totally embarrassed I declined. But the next time I’m at Otto I will definitely order the chicken, mushroom, and fontina whole pie.