Editors Note: This page was written in 2010. Paulie Gee’s is still there, and Paulie has partnered with champion pizza enthusiasts to open four more locations: Columbus OH, Baltimore MD, Chicago IL, and Miami FL. We wish he’d open one in Pasadena, Eagle Rock, or even Highland Park CA. We’re hungry out here, Paul!
The Pieman’s Apprentice
It started with a comment. We were reading an article on Slice, when we learned from the Comments section that filmmaker and pizza blogger Brooks Jones (Pizzacommander) was spending a lot of time at Paulie Gee’s, the new pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that we’ve mentioned previously. Cary commented too, asking Paulie if he needed another apprentice (evidence here).
Within minutes (fourteen minutes, to be exact), we got an email from Paulie: Serious? Can you stretch dough?
In a thread of back-and-forth emails, Cary explained that he wasn’t that good yet, but that working with Paulie would, in fact, be a dream-come-true. The ever gracious Paulie Gee agreed to let Cary help out one evening.
It was a Tuesday, and Cary was grateful for a slow night. The pizzas atPaulie Gee’s are round, while Cary’s pizzas tend to be more ‘freeform’, or ‘sloppy.’ This would be a great opportunity to learn style, and a little more discipline.
Cary: I got to Paulie Gee’s around four in the afternoon. The oven was lit and Paulie was coming in with groceries. I met his son Derek, who became my dough-stretching teacher for the evening.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Paulie Gee, Paul Gianonne has not spent a lifetime in a pizzeria. He made pizzas in his backyard oven, perfecting his technique and serving pies to family and friends. Then he started to have ‘tastings’ in his home.
He opened Paulie Gee’s as a labor of love, the fulfillment of a dream, leaving a career as an IT consultant (I discovered that we had, at different points in time, been employed by the same company), to start this “Greenpoint Pizza Joint.”
The decor of Paulie Gee’s is, for lack of a better word, striking. It’s at once familiar and magical – rustic, but not from any countryside we’ve ever been to. Imagine a pizzeria where Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo might order a couple of pies, and you’ve almost got it. He hired the same team that designed the Manhattan Inn to create the look. Paulie is very into the way his place is lit and abhors flash photography, which is why I don’t have any good shots of the interior and why I wish I’d gotten there earlier. The folks over at Slice have put together a pretty nice slideshow featuring the look and a few of Paulie’s signature pies. The music’s a little loud for my tastes, but the sound system at Paulie’s features some fine tunes from our common era – late sixties, early seventies.
Paulie’s oven is a fascinating thing. Built in Naples by Stefano Ferrara, it’s a fire-breathing dome that commands attention and, like all wood-fired pizza ovens, demands attention (and more wood) from the stick man (Derek Gee).
Paulie told me that at first he wanted to make all the pies himself, but his place has too many seats for that, and those seats are often filled. So Derek works the oven and other crew people do various tasks under Paulie’s watchful eye. He’s obviously proud of his son: “He’s amazing,” Paulie said, even as he tells Derek that the oven’s not hot enough, or that he’s using too much bacon marmalade on one of the specialty pies.
I got to taste that one before Paulie Gee’s opened for the evening: bacon marmalade, red onion, fresh mozzarella – you wouldn’t believe how good something like that can be.
Derek showed me how the dough gets stretched at Paulie Gee’s – I tried it. I tore it. He showed me again, I tried again. My dough looked like a map of Wisconsin. We tried again. And again. Father and son encouraged me, and I felt like an apprentice, with a sense of wonder and disbelief that I was being allowed to do this among good people and wonderful pizza.
I made one saleable pizza that night – the right size, the right shape. Once Lillian arrived, I made another one, from start to finish. I brought it over to Paulie. “Did I pass?” I asked. He paused – maybe deciding between truth and kindness. He went for both. Kindness in the smile and the words: “Perfectly round, just a little small. Keep practicing.”
Lillian loved the pie.
All I had done was push Paulie’s dough around and use his delicious toppings. His is excellent pizza dough. Paulie talked to me about his yeast experiments and he sounded as unsatisfied with his work as any artist, but his pizzas are terrifically flavorful and balanced. You know that for Lil and me, the dough’s the thing, and what they do at Paulie Gee’s with flour, water, yeast and salt is marvelous.
Paulie’s tomatoes are becoming legendary – he uses one brand and keeps the brand he uses a secret. I swear, I never saw a label. About halfway through the evening, he asked me if I’d tasted the tomatoes. I said, only on a pizza. “Get a fork,” he said. I tasted a forkful of the uncooked sauce. I could have eaten them right out of the can – bright and delicious. The fior de latte mozzarella hit just the right note. All his ingredients are delightful, and they go to a lot of trouble to balance them so that each pizza has just the right amount of whatever toppings are on it.
Derek made us a Nutella pizza with fruit. We tend to be pizza traditionalists, and had never tasted a dessert pizza before.
As our daughters would say, OMG.
Standing in front of a 900 degree oven is thirsty work. I drank a lot of ice water, but Paulie Gee’s also serves Mexican Coca-Cola (made with cane sugar, not corn syrup) which is a treat, and Lil got me one. Yum. Guests who know about such things are enjoying the soda from south of the border.
I stretched dough for a few more pizzas – tore a couple, got better on some of them. Mostly, I stood in awe of what goes on behind the counter and in front of the oven in a place that makes great pizzas. Does Paulie think they’re great? “I see the flaws more than the customers do,” Paulie told me. He strives for perfection, as any artist does, and we can enjoy his work even if he’s not satisfied.
Okay, Lil and I tend to gush a little about our pizza heroes. Well, if I need to offer a disclaimer, here it is: I like Paulie Gee. I would like him if his pizza wasn’t good, but it happens to be a heckuva lot better than good. I’m telling you: if you’re anywhere near Greenpoint, you owe it to yourself to taste what Paulie and son are doing at Paulie Gee’s.
Paulie Gee’s, 60 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222 – (347) 987-3747