I have a good friend in Charlotte who once reacted with shock, when, on a Friday, I told her I had gone for a run that morning. “Fridays are not for working out,” she informed me, a horrified expression on her face. In her mind, Fridays are for sliding into the weekend, relaxing with a post-work drink at 1900 Mexican Grill, rewarding yourself for a long week of hard work and good habits by shirking those good habits just a bit. She is also one of the healthiest people I know, and I mean that in every sense of the word – she exercises, yes, and eats healthfully – but she’s also very balanced and self-aware. She’s not afraid of a little indulgence at the end of the work week. And so I think she’d approve of my next assertion: Fridays are for pizza.
There are many, many reasons I believe Fridays are for pizza. First, how many of us really get jazzed to go home and cook dinner after five days of work? I know I don’t. In fact, I rarely cook on Fridays. That’s not to say we have takeout or restaurant pizza every Friday, but I typically meal plan the week so whatever I make on Thursday, there are delicious leftovers for Friday (lasagna, soup, casserole, etc.). However, in the event that my meal planning has not been executed as intended, pizza is my number one back-up plan (and sometimes it is the only plan). In Charlotte, that typically meant Riccio’s – a good little Italian place right in our neighborhood (Touchstone). In Macon, that means Ingleside Village Pizza. Sadly, they don’t deliver – but it’s a testament to how outstanding the pizza is that we a) spend much more money than Papa John’s or Domino’s to have it and b) we hold off on the beer or wine consumption in order to go pick it up.
If you have the good fortune to live in the Portland, Maine area (and in certain parts of NH and MA), you have two great, local choices – OTTO Pizza and Portland Pie Company. Let’s handle these one at a time – besides both being local joints and offering really good pizza, I feel they’re pretty different.
During my recent trip home, I visited the Portland Pie location on York Street (I had previously been to Portland Pie in Westbrook). It was a Friday (naturally), and my mom, my sister, and I met my cousin and her family there for dinner. Despite our early arrival time of 5pm, they were already very full and pretty noisy, but pleasantly so – the type of noisy that tells you families are enjoying themselves, young professionals are kicking back at the end of the week, and that you’re in a bustling place of business. Portland Pie’s major differentiator is that it’s all about the dough – and they say so on their website. Their signature flavored pizza doughs stand out from the crowd – Basil, Wheat, Garlic, and Beer. I ordered a Shipyard Delight (vegetarian pizza with spinach, broccoli, and more) on a garlic crust and enjoyed every bite. While I’m a sauce girl (the more red sauce, the better), the flavored crust only elevated that experience, and the fresh veggies enabled me to pretend I wasn’t indulging. My sister got the ‘Roni, which was also great (she let me steal a piece – it’s amazing they didn’t have to roll me out of there). To sum it up, if you like traditional pizza with a twist, and lots of options, Portland Pie is the place for you.
Switching gears, I found the experience at OTTO to be a strong contrast. OTTO Pizza was recently voted the best pizza in the state, and I don’t disagree. We visited the 225 Congress Street location on a Saturday night, and what struck me upon first walking in was that I could have been walking into another type of restaurant – perhaps a gastro pub – or something slightly upscale with a foodies-would-go-wild-for-this feel. The OTTO Pizza menu is shorter than Portland Pie, but certainly not less appealing. It’s actually a good thing it isn’t longer – it was hard enough to choose as is. Their menu is inventive, creative, and completely unique. In its way, it hardly feels like pizza. This is a pizza place a guy could take a date to before she’s officially his girlfriend. My mom and I decided to split two pies – we ordered the Mashed Potato, Bacon, and Scallion (who can say no to that, after all?) and the Eggplant, Ricotta, and Basil (’cause I had to have my red sauce).
The OTTO crust is thin – almost acting as a mere vessel for the spectacular combination of ingredients atop it. Both pizzas were delicious – I still can’t choose a favorite even in reflection, which is saying something. The dining experience at OTTO was rounded out by good service and an enjoyable, adult atmosphere. And judging by the constant takeout parade of people and pizza boxes, they’re doing a brisk business, too.
Happy Friday to all… I hope yours includes pizza and beer. I know mine will.