An untopped pizza is a blank canvas. You can go minimalist, sticking to sauce, cheese, and staples like pepperoni or mushrooms. Or, you can get abstract, throwing together whatever seems right — even toppings that constitute a meal in themselves —and running with it.
Otto Pizza in Cambridge dabbles in the former, and indulges in the latter.
The Portland, Maine–born eatery is for the down-home gourmands among us. They offer a menu that bridges the foldable and the fancy — a gourmet pie house packed into the boho digs of a tiny corner shop in Harvard Square.
Otto's hours bump up against 2 am on weekends, and 11 pm during the week, acknowledging the late-night mandate that comes with making damn good pizza.
Inside the cramped quarters of Otto, you'll find a jovial crew who seem to be enjoying the hell out of making pizza. The flaky-crusted pies rest on raised, outward-facing shelves behind the counter, displayed like portraits.
What's best is that a slice will only put you back $3.50, while pies run at $9 for a 12-inch small ($1 per additional topping) and $15 for a 16-inch large ($2 per additional topping). Not much to ask, considering what you get.
Some creations hit hard. The pulled-pork and mango pizza ($11/small; $19/large) pits smoky pork — heavy on the pepper — against sweet mango slices barely buried beneath a thin layer of cheese. And if it's fromage you desire, check out the three-cheese tortellini pizza ($10/small; $17/large) — a tomato-based pie topped with tortellini and packed with flavor.
The butternut squash, ricotta, and cranberry pie ($12/small; $21/large), however, illustrates the failings of the pizza-as-edible-plate approach to topping. Sure, butternut squash makes a fine soup, and ricotta steals the show in many a dish. But put the two on a white pizza, as Otto does, and the only real kick comes from the chewy dried cranberries sprinkled amongst them. The squash and ricotta are too bland and similar in soft, creamy texture to call any sort of attention to themselves.
Standards like pepperoni ($10/small; $17/large) or plain cheese are available and don't disappoint, but why not opt for something with a little more personality? Perhaps a slice of mashed potato, bacon, and scallion ($12/small; $21/large)?
Otto has a pizza-for-the-people vibe — provided the people in question are casual foodies with well-developed palates and a penchant for indie dining. Thankfully, this is Cambridge.
And if it's any indication of their success so far, walking down the street holding one of Otto's colorful slices drew more than a few head-turns, and even elicited an "Ooooh, Otto Pizza," uttered quietly in envy by the dude pitching credit cards outside Bank of America.
Otto Pizza, located at 1432 Mass Ave, Cambridge, is open Sunday–Thursday, 11:30 am–11 pm, and Friday–Saturday, 11:30 am–2 am. Call 617.499.3352.