Flying High at the Portland Flatbread Company
It makes perfect sense that the Flatbread Company off Commercial Street should be flying high with pizza partisans from lunchtime to last call at 10 PM. Straight out of a 1960s whole-earth manifesto, Flatbread is the modern-day poster child for politically correct pizza I’m not talking about trophy food or the terroir where connoisseurs tread. But rather this is the common man’s slice on a culinary fast track.
The leader of the unofficial Portland pizza wars has decidedly been Otto Pizza with its distinctive cracker-thin crust hosting toppings that are perhaps just too clever. But after a recent visit to the Flatbread Company, which I haven’t been to in years, I know whose pie I’ll back without hesitation.
With lines often out the door, this is one helluva haunt for whole pies and good cheer.
The huge wood-beamed room is as lively as a barn-floor dance hall, decorated with hanging banners broadcasting hokey sayings that sizzle with sophomoric nonsense. Adding to this establishment’s popularity is its playful perch on Portland Harbor, with a bird’s eye view and waterfront dining deck that are rare among city restaurants.
Flatbread is artisanal pizza to the hilt. The dough is made from organically milled flour that’s baked in a wood-fired clay oven, imparting incredible taste and texture to the crust. What’s more, toppings of cheese, vegetables, herbs and meats are locally sourced giving these pies an organic pedigree.
The crust, which is not ultra thin, reveals a level of complex texture and robust flavor that I haven’t had elsewhere. The rich crust is fluffy and airy with just enough crispness to satisfy thin-crust pundits.
Flatbread as a dining facility, though, is far from perfect. You can’t breeze in and expect a table immediately. It’s definitely cheap-date territory and family-night heaven where table turnover is slow--and the noise level could blow the roof off.
On a recent Friday night we waited for nearly 45 minutes before we were shown to a huge booth that could have held six. I was grateful for the space but couldn’t understand why it wasn’t used for a larger group. I didn’t complain.
All that aside, I loved the food. We ordered a farm salad chock full of local greens, beets and a goat cheese from Sunset Acres in Brooksville. The restaurant has a good selection of local beers, and our waitress, who was terrific, steered us to Spring Peeper, a Maine Beer Company offering that was a light, pleasantly fruity brew.
The wait staff is great, but the kitchen is slow. It took another 30 minutes before our pie arrived.. There’s only one oven for all those orders to fit into (capacity of 12 at a time). But there’s a new second oven in the works, which I was told would be fired up eventually.
The menu offers 10 pizzas and daily specials. Prices range from about $10 for an 8-inch pie that’s plenty for one or the large pie at about $17 that easily serves two people. Pie styles are either tomato sauce based (homemade) or without.
I ordered the Coevolution Pie, which does not have a sauce but was very moist with a luscious mélange of Kalamata olives, organic rosemary, fire-roasted red peppers, local goat cheese from Sunset Acres, whole milk mozzarella , house made garlic oil and organically grown herbs.
My pizza mate had the daily special, which had smoked Atlantic salmon as its main ingredient. The toppings were an intriguing blend of organic red onions, horseradish, Havarti, dill, mozzarella, Parmesan and organic herbs.
For dessert we shared a whopping portion of Barbara’s Homemade Brownie Sundae, a towering confection that is warmed in the wood oven before it’s topped with Annabelle’s vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and fresh whipped cream flavored with maple syrup. Sweet? You bet.
The Portland Flatbread Company belongs to a chain of 10 restaurants mostly in New England and an outpost in Maui. Each location has slightly different menus, and the dining rooms are all architecturally distinctive.
Flatbread definitely has its shortcomings and strengths, but the food is terrific, the vibes are great and I know I’ll be back for more.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinions. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org