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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: September 1, 2016

Bill’s Pizza in the Old Port offers quick, old-style slices and pies

Written by: Ray Routhier
A fresh from the oven pepperoni pizza is cut into slices. Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

A fresh from the oven pepperoni pizza is cut into slices.
Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Sometimes you want pizza that stretches the boundaries of culinary curiosity, something with a puree of Brussels sprouts and smoked salmon.

But sometimes you want, as my daughter Sophie calls it, “pizza” pizza. We’re talking about good, basic, time-tested pizza. You know, the kind where the crust is not too thick and not too thin, the sauce is red and the cheese is abundant.

Bill’s Pizza, a venerable pizza place on Commercial Street in Portland, sells exactly that kind of pizza.

Located on the waterfront in the Old Port, Bill’s is within walking distance of lots of trendier eateries and shops. But Bill’s, founded in 1949, is more about finding something that works and sticking with it.

Inside, the place is a classic casual pizza joint with booths and tables lined up and an open counter area with pizza makers behind it. The menu is basic, making for quick and easy ordering. You can get a 10-inch pie for $6 or a 17-inch pie for $15.50. Toppings are $1 each for a small pie, $2.25 each for the larger one.

Meat toppings include pepperoni, hamburger, sausage, bacon, chicken, ham, salami, meatball, steak and chili. The veggie toppings include onion, green pepper, mushroom, spinach, tomato, pineapple, jalapeños, black olives and Greek olives.

Besides pizza, Bill’s offers French fries, garlic bread, salads and soup. They also sell pizza by the slice.

Slice of veggie pizza at Bill's Pizza. Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Slice of veggie pizza at Bill’s Pizza.
Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

The day that I went to Bill’s for lunch, I got a small pizza with mushrooms, meatballs and green pepper. The veggies had slight char marks and were tender, the chunks of meatballs were moist inside and mild in flavor, not spicy.

The cheese touted by Bill’s is provolone, not the traditional mozzarella. It melted evenly and wasn’t stringy, like some pizza cheese can be.

The folks at Bill’s say their dough is “sweet,” as opposed to sourdough, I guess. The crust was golden and perfectly rounded. It was a little buttery and crisp on the outside, soft and moist on the inside. I liked that the bottom of the pizza was also lightly browned, and not greasy.

In fact, Bill’s goes to some length to make sure your pizza isn’t greasy or soggy when you get it home, or where ever you’re going. My pizza sat on a sheet of waxed paper that was on top of a cardboard plate, and the plate was inside a pizza box, so I got three layers of protection.

I was impressed that, when I ordered my pizza over the phone, I was told it would take only five minutes. So, I walked right down from my office. It was indeed ready and not even a little undercooked. I also tried some of Bill’s fries, which were cut into wedges with ridges and seasoned with sea salt. I liked that I got a separate small box for the fries, making them easier to carry.

I took my two boxes across Commercial Street, walked down the wharf and took a seat on a bench overlooking the harbor. I watched tour boats pulling in and out while the sun sparkled on the water. It was a simply beautiful day, perfect for enjoying a simple slice of “pizza” pizza.

BILL’S PIZZA

WHERE: 177 Commercial St., Portland, 774-6166 or billspizzaoldport.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
WAIT: About five minutes
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No

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