Ask anyone in Portland where to get the best pizza in the area and chances are Otto will pop up in the conversation. Call it conditioning, perhaps; Otto’s first slice bar paved the way for better pizza after many years of having no notable options in the area, and the pies are consistent across locations and often delicious.
Lazzari deserves the crown here in terms of sheer quality, but when it comes to a quick slice, I think we can all agree that Otto does a pretty good job.
Speaking of that slice, it’s the central component to a happy hour that has unfortunately seen better days (but may still be worth your time).
Real talk: The happy hour at Otto used to be one of the best-kept secrets in town. All drafts for $4, $5 wines and a free slice of your choice with each drink meant dinner and a light buzz for $10 – practically nonexistent anywhere else on the peninsula. Perhaps this should have been a sign, as happy hour at all Otto locations soon started limiting patrons to one free slice and later, the draft special mutated into $1.50 a featured beer of the month, which on my recent visit to the Congress Street location downtown happened to be Austin Street’s Patina Pale Ale ($8.50). Lively, with notes of pulpy mango and bittersweet citrus, Patina is an excellent beer (and paired nicely with a slice of lemon, ricotta, asparagus and red onion pie), but also one that typically can be found around town for around $6.50-7 at other area bars. Getting it on special for $7 is hardly an enticing deal – free slice or not.
Up toward Munjoy Hill, Otto’s newly renovated second location at 225 Congress St. is doing things a little differently. The same beer and wine stipulations apply, with the difference being the addition of a list of five specialty cocktails, all for $10. Behind the bar sits a limited supply of rations to make Moscow mules, Manhattans, margaritas and more, clearly framing this as an experiment in whether it works for the local chain. Depending upon the results, it’s unclear whether other locations will follow suit; right now, the East End Otto is the only one to offer liquor.
Also diverging from the other locations, 225 Congress is selling a number of new menu items, including falafel sliders, mac and cheese and buffalo-dusted fries. Also on the new menu is Detroit-style pizza, a cross between Chicago deep dish and Sicilian sfincione (made famous locally by chef Stephen Lanzalotta, first at Micucci’s, then down the road at Slab). It’s a confusing contrast to the style of pizza that has fueled Otto’s success story. That said, a giant slice of pepperoni alongside a glass of Montepulciano ($5 for happy hour) was surprisingly tasty, showcasing a bright, juicy sauce that somehow cut the mountain of dough beneath enough to warrant each next bite, until the entire thing was gone.
Next summer, Otto will mark the 10-year anniversary of opening its first slice shop at 576 Congress St. Today, the company operates 12 locations across Maine and Massachusetts, and what once felt like a restaurant unique to Portland has lost a bit of its charm in the process. The renovations and menu experimentation (particularly at the East End location) suggest forward motion, however, despite a happy hour that never seems to want to sit still.
WHERE: 225 & 576 Congress St., Portland (and multiple other locations in Maine and Massachusetts)
PHONE: 225 Congress, 207-358-7870; 576 Congress, 207-358-7090
HOURS: Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday (all locations); 225 Congress: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 576 Congress: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
AMENITIES: Beer and wine (some liquor at 225 Congress St.), table service, take-out slice bar, casual atmosphere, family-friendly
BOTTOM LINE: Happy hour at Otto isn’t what it used to be, but the on-the-house slice means it’s still worth a look.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes