A Night at Paulie Gee's:
The Pieman's Apprentice
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,
new pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that we've mentioned previously.
Cary commented too, asking Paulie if he needed another apprentice (evidence
Within minutes (fourteen minutes, to be exact), we got an email from
Paulie: Serious? Can
you stretch dough?
a thread of back-and-forth emails, Cary explained that he's not that
good yet, but that working with Paulie would, in fact, be a
dream-come-true. The ever gracious Paulie Gee agreed to let
help out one evening.
It was a Tuesday, and Cary was grateful for a slow night. The pizzas at
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Paulie's still waiting for his license to sell beer, wine and
liquor, but until that gets there, 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
Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222 - (347) 987-3747
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