An Evening with Paulie Gee, Pizza Madman
Regular readers will recognize the name Paulie Gee from his many comments here on Slice and from his extensive collection of pizza photos on Flickr. Paulie is the consummate pizza lover--he eats it, lives it, breathes it, and, this past Saturday, he made it. For me!
And for his family and some guests.
Paulie holds occasional pizza tastings at his place in Warren, New Jersey, where he's built a small wood-fired oven in his yard. You might have seen the Goodeater post about Paulie or the story Lois Heyman wrote about him in the Bridgewater Courier-News. After re-reading those pieces, I knew I was in for something special.
And the evening at Paulie's was just that. The entire Gee household was there for this tasting--Paulie's wife, Mary Ann; his younger son, Derek; and his older son, Michael, who had flown in for the weekend from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Nonfamily pizza-eaters included Michael's friend Andrew; Scott "Pizza Tours" Wiener; the aforementioned Lois Heyman, food writer for the Bridgewater Courier-News and the East Brunswick Home News Tribune; and, of course, yours truly.
Paulie's pizza was very good--even though he was making noise about not being satisfied with some aspect of the dough. But that's the way of any first-rate pizzaiolo--the constant struggle for not just great but sublime pizza.
And the company rivaled the pizza in terms of quality. Paulie has an amazing family. His wife seems at once exasperated by and in awe of his pizza mania. Rolling her eyes one moment, the next she's declaring, "In the 30 years we've been together, I've never been bored"--all while enabling her husband's pizza addiction by serving as sous chef. (Note to Mary Ann: That salad was delicious.)
Paulie's sons have been indoctrinated into the madness as well, with Michael (who seems to have really caught the pizza bug) stoking the fire in the oven and Derek shuttling dough pans and pizza peels to Paulie.
Mr. Gee usually makes about ten pizzas at a tasting and creates a menu beforehand that he hangs above his prep table (a portable dishwasher with wooden work surface). We deviated a bit from it due to crowd reaction (the hot soppressata pie proved wildly popular and we all called for an encore)--and because, last-minute, I brought some hot Italian sausage from Salumeria Biellese that needed to find its way onto a pie.
The tastings usually start with an aperitivo of Paulie's homemade limoncello--Everclear infused with plenty of lemon zest (recipe here)--a liqueur he uses to butter up various pizza-makers in New York City (it has reportedly found its way to Jay-Z's lips via Mark Iacono of Lucali). After a small glass, Paulie begins the pizza-making.
Paulie uses Italian tipo "00" flour, following a version of Peter Reinhart's Neapolitan pizza dough recipe, which calls for a refrigerated slow rise. For this purpose, he's got a refrigerator in the garage (above), where his dough balls sit for two days in proofing pans. Looks like he also uses that fridge to chill wine.
His sauce recipe is a closely guarded secret--actually, his tomato source is closely guarded. The sauce, he says, is simply good tomatoes and a little sea salt. The cheese you see above? Homemade cow's milk fior di latte that Paulie made that morning.
The crusts on Paulie's pizzas were flavorful, crisp, and chewy. He was a bit dismayed that they didn't have the super airy hole structure of the Kesté pizza he and Michael had sampled the night before (it was their first stop after leaving the airport), but it was easily better than many highly rated pizzerias I've been to.
You may notice there are no upskirts here. I was forbidden from taking them--though I did entertain the notion of trying to sneak one anyway and then abandoned it out of respect for my host.
By far everyone's favorite pizza of the night was the Margherita with Sopressata Picante and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Paulie declared that he would never put pepperoni on one of his pizzas, and, after eating this pie, I think he's got a point. This combo is now running neck and neck with hot Italian sausage and onion as my favorite topping duo.
Another great pie was the Bianco with Sweet Sausage, Kale, and Sicilian Sea Salt. It was one of Paulie's new pizzas, inspired by the "Good Girl" pie at Roberta's, a favorite pizzeria of his. The kale was brined in a sea salt–and–olive oil marinade throughout the day and made for an interesting topping.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite images of the night (above). I've never seen a pie steam like that--mostly because it was a little chilly outside by this point and because this was the first time I've eaten pizza from an outdoor pizza oven. It was truly a memorable night.
Mr. Gee, who works as a quality assurance engineer, dreams of retiring and then pursuing pizza full-time. He has threatened to open a pizzeria of his own. I hope he makes good on that threat.
Another dream of Paulie Gee's is to eventually be mentioned in the same breath as such pizza heavyweights as Chris Bianco and Anthony Mangieri. Let's see what we can do about that. Everyone reading this post read the previous sentence aloud. There you go, Paulie!