Scratch that title. Make it: Exclusive Pizza FEAST at Paulie Gee's. And thank God it was a feast because on the drive out to Jersey, packed in the Honda that reeks of dog were Erik, Carrie, Angie, myself and a very hungry and cranky Rocco. And the only thing that makes this cursing curmudgeon happy in life these days is food, and lots of it.
So why were we so lucky to be invited to this special feast? After I met Paulie at a Pizzalicious Meet-Up at Roberta's in October and learned that he was opening his own authentic Neapolitan Pizza joint in Greenpoint (so close!) and that he would soon be retiring the outdoor oven in his backyard, I begged and begged to come over for a tasting. And when I want something bad, well I make it hard to say no.
When we arrived, Paulie and his pooch graciously greeted us on the porch of his quaint country house. We were in NJ, and if you grew up in Queens, unless you are in Newark, its the country. The minute we got out of the car we could smell that beautiful wood burning oven. It was a crisp night and we were ready to warm up with some delicious pizza.
But first, Paulie likes to get the party started with a little of his homemade limoncello. Sweet and strong, two good qualities for basically anything.
A toast, the fire was ready, and we started in on the menu, which was 12 pies! B-R-I-N-G I-T O-N!
While we were planning days prior, Paulie was concerned about the number of people coming because he wanted to make sure we had enough food for everyone. Now I can smell an Italian when I smell one and this food anxiety is a totally Italian trait. He kept stressing the number 8, and I kept saying, "don't worry Paulie; there will be plenty of food." I even brought a big salad (arugula, toasted pecans and pomegranate seeds) to calm him down plus two desserts. I didn't realize that he cuts the pies into 8 slices in order for everyone to taste each one. Nuh Duh!
It didn't matter because I threw in some other monkey wrenches. After inviting myself and seven friends over, among the guests was a vegan (who is pregnant and hungry) and a vegetarian (who is tall and hungry)! Let's see... first pizza: Margherita with Prosciutto di Parma. Uh? Yeah, thats meat and cheese. This just went to show what an awesome and flexible guy Paulie is.
Why is Paulie awesome? First, he's decided that his dream is to open a pizza place and he is doing it. Anyone who follows through on their dreams is truly an inspiration. Next, he is super open to new ideas, which will make his pizza place thrive. Instead of hanging a sign outside the door of his house that said, "No Vegans!" he challenged his assistant Alex, a "Godsend" as Paulie calls him, to come up with some ideas for vegan pizza. There is something to be said about letting off the reigns a little and letting other people get creative. Its just shows how confident you are in your own craft and how laid back and cool you are. Alex hooked up two amazing vegan pies. I was truly impressed as was the rest of the table.
But let's get down to business, or as Rocco pronounces, "biz-a-neece." PIZZA!
Exclusive Paulie Gee Pizza Feast Menu:
Margherita with Prosciutto di Parma
Marinara - San Marzano Tomatoes, Chopped Fresh Garlic and Coarse Sicilian Sea Salt
Bianco with Baby Arugula, Fresh Lemon Juice, Olive Oil and Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
Vegan Pie #1 - Mixed mushrooms, garlic, shallots, tomato, tofu cream sauce, shaved collard greens
Margherita with Sopressata Picante and Parmigiano Reggiano
Bianco with Baby Arugula, Fresh Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Prosciutto di Parma and Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
Margherita with Speck, Pecorino Romano and Sliced Sweet Onion
Bianco with Chopped Fresh Garlic, Pecorino Romano and Fresh Basil
Vegan #2 - Homemade Vegan Sausage, peppers, onions, basil and black sulfur salt
Bianco with Speck, Parmigiano Reggiano and Sunnyside Up Eggs
Bianco with Chopped Fresh Garlic, Cherry Tomato Medley, Fresh Basil and Coarse Sicilian Sea Salt
Margherita with Sopressata Picante and Parmigiano Reggiano
I was blown away by each and every pie. The crust was perfect. The sauce was perfect. His choice of toppings was perfect. And he cooked them in that outdoor oven to perfection. Each pie took about 90 seconds in the oven, and we devoured them all in less than that time.
My favorite was the Margherita with Sopressata Picante and Parmigiano Reggiano. I was such an Una Pizza gal for so long, (which means no pepperoni!) that I didn't realize how much I missed eating hot sopressata on my pizza. The way the edges curl up and get crispy makes my mouth water. And the heat was just right. I went back for seconds on this baby. See, bringing vegetarians wasn't a bad idea afterall.
Next favorite, to my surprise was the Marinara. That means no cheese, which is normally not my first choice when there is cheese to be eaten, but Paulie put fresh chopped garlic on top and I LOVE GARLIC!!! This was such a fantastic touch. To hell with the cheese. Everyone loved this one, especially those hungry veggie people.
A huge "crowd pleaser," as Paulie called it was the Bianco. Thats just cheese and basil, no sauce. The way the basil crisps up under the fire gives it a new life and flavor. This one melts in your mouth.
Everyone went nuts over the Bianco with Baby Arugula, Fresh Lemon Juice, Olive Oil and Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, then when Paulie brought out a second, this time with Prosciutto di Parma under the arugula, everyone went nutser. Rocco was really delighted by the lemon flavor on the pizza. Nice touch, Paulie.
The Speck and Sweet Onions made such a winning combo. Speck is very bacony, almost like beef jerky in a high class kind of way. When he served it with the sunnyside up egg I was really excited. There was an egg sliding mishap in the oven that I am sure is Jerry's fault, but it still had such a phenomenal flavor. It was like delicious breakfast on pizza. I always get the Margherita with an Egg on top at Roberta's. I think if I beg hard enough that Paulie will do this for me at his joint then I don't need to go to Roberta's at all. Egg on pizza equals genius, period.
Onto the vegan pies. Great job, Alex! The crusts were good. They had a nuttiness to them. I liked all the fresh ingredients. The slivers of collard greens gave a nice crunch and the tofu creme was really rich and tasty. Even the homemade sausage was really interesting, filled with nice spicy flavors, like fennel and mustard seeds. Compared to the non-vegan pies, I'd say the vegan pies were all about the combination of flavors leaving you wondering what deliciousness you were eating, while Paulie's non-vegan pies were much simpler, in which each component complimented each other but never took over the whole pie so you really could appreciate each ingredient on its own.
I would like to take a moment to focus not only on the exquisite pies, but also on the great company. Thats what its all about and Paulie knows this and his warmth and hospitality, his funny stories and his passion for each pie made the mood fun and cheerful. And Rocco and Paulie, now thats a combination, let me tell you! To get these two in the same room was priceless.After 10 pies, we were stuffed. That where my old friend Jerry came in. Not only did Jerry bring delicious home brewed Bock beer that had a nice sweet coffee flavor, but he also was in charge of the fire. When we were kids, Jerry worked at the infamous Prima Pizza on Hillside Ave in Queens Village, where they sold $1 slices, so I was very confident he could work that fire. He did a great job except for the egg fiasco, ah-hem. But Jerry's most important job, and why I adore him so, is that he is a food vacuum. Any leftovers, Jerry gladly eats. So he was key, because we were all so so full and he just shrugged his shoulders and shoveled it in. Gotta love it!
After a short recovery period, we did my favorite thing in the world after a great meal, we double desserted! I brought two cakes, a Chocolate Almond Torte and a Vegan German Apple Cake, and everyone had a slice of each. I love that!
What a wonderful evening it turned out to be. Lovely company and outstanding pizza that Greenpoint will be blown away by. Yes, Paulie, I will pay for that pizza! And on the ride home, Mr. Rocco was stuffed like a goose and a very happy camper. I know because he was singing about the dog, a good sign and cursing less. He even said, and I quote, "that Paulie, he's a really nice guy. I want to be friends with him. If we have him over for Pasta with Sardines, he will be our friend forever!" Diddo. Soon Paulie, very soon.
Stay tuned for Paulie Gee's Pizza joint to be opening soon in Greenpoint, on Franklin and Greenpoint Aves.
And if you want to read more about Paulie follow these links:
Paulie's Flickr (below: Paulie's pizza photos - yum!)
Thanks again, Paulie for an unforgettable evening! You're a classy dude and a downright excellent pizzaiuolo. I can hardly wait for your pizza joint to open.