Cambridge, Massachusetts: Otto
The Maine-based mini-chain Otto has opened a tiny storefront shop right in the heart of Harvard Square. In keeping with the space's diminutive size, the focus here is on slices (mainly for take out, given the single stool that sits almost mockingly in the front window).
Otto offers a printed menu, but don't bother perusing it unless you want to wait for your own pie. The idea here is that you just ask the guy behind the counter what's just come out of the ovens. While there are always cheese slices, don't expect to find the one-topping pepperoni or spinach slices that are standard fare at other slice joints. At Otto, the remaining seven or so pies available could be any one of the 24 thin-crust pies they offer, based upon the whim of the pizza cooks or on what's most popular that day.
The cheese slice bore a tangy mixture of Asiago and whole-milk mozzarella over a simple and brightly flavored crushed-plum-tomato based sauce. The cheese was applied patchily, leaving spots of exposed sauce, which concentrated slightly in the oven's heat, providing nice textural and visual contrast to the slice.
The mashed potato, scallion, and bacon slice was much lighter than the ones we ate at Bar in New Haven last month. The soft mashed potatoes were, thankfully, applied sparingly, along with a generous helping of chewy, hickory-smoked bacon to help mitigate the starchiness, and a little mozzarella to tie it all together. The quality of the ingredients used at Otto seem quite high.
I typically turn my nose up at California-style style exotic combination pizzas, but I must admit that I rather enjoyed the roasted butternut squash, ricotta, and dried cranberry slice. The dollops of savory-sweet squash and smattering of tart berries elevated the simple white pie, and as with the other slices we had, toppings were applied with a light touch.
The weakest part of Otto's slices was the crust. While it was flavorful and had some char, it was not as tender as it might have been. Where protected by an insulating layer of topping and cheese, it remained crisp beneath and moist within, but the naked endcrust was dry and too tough to really enjoy.
Even though its crust left something to be desired, the pizza at Otto was rescued by the quality of the toppings and was overall still pretty satisfying. I'd say that Otto is a welcome addition to the local pizza lineup, and certainly worth keeping in mind when you're in Harvard Square and in need of a quick slice or three.