The brick pizza oven Paulie Gee built in his backyard

This story is presented in five parts, read Part I and Part II.

 

Part III: Backyard Pizza Tastings

From day one Paulie Gee made his own fresh mozzarella. He also made his own Limoncello. And he kept experimenting with different dough recipes and different types of pies. “I started inviting people over to my house to practice on them,” he says. “I was desperate to get people over to my house so I could try this new pie out and I’d do it about every two weeks.”

Paulie Gee’s pizza tasting parties have since become a legend unto themselves among the pizza enthusiast community: about eight people would gather in Paulie’s backyard, listening to music, enjoying Limoncello, as the pizzas were prepped in the kitchen and fired in the backyard oven. Paulie remembers the tastings fondly, though one difficulty was that with the prep area inside and the oven outside, he couldn’t work the oven and make the pizza. “The oven had to be 1,000 degrees,” Paulie explains. “So I always had to enlist the help of someone else to work the fire. And there were various degrees of success that those people had, mostly based on their attitude, ok? My son was a tremendous oven master. A lot of times people come in, they work the fire, they go sit down and watch the Mets game, usually the Met game, the Yankee fans stay out there and they really work that thing, but Mets fans they go in and sit down. Then I go out with the pizza looking for a hot oven, and ‘Uh-oh!’ So I learned it was Yankee fans that I wanted to have, this is a true story!”

If you couldn’t guess, Paulie Gee is a Yankees fan: pizza enthusiast first, but nonetheless a Yankees fan. And he’s also an avid reader of food blogs, some of which he followed quite closely. “I wanted the bloggers to come to have my pizza,” Paulie says. “But I didn’t want to make them, so I kinda held back. I got this one guy to come, he had this blog called GoodEater.org, and he did this piece on a chili farm in South Africa. He was a graduate student at NYU and went there to help local farmers fight off big agriculture, ya know, survive. And this one guy had a chili farm with a pizza oven on it and he was cooking pizzas for everyone and the blogger said if you know anyone else who has a pizza oven lifestyle let me know. So I wrote him in the comments, ‘Josh, we gotta talk.’ And we went back and forth, I showed him pictures, and then we had a pizza tasting. And really my goal was to get people to come. I would feed them Limoncello on an empty stomach, I’d make pizza for them, eat for free, and, I knew that no one was gonna write anything bad about me, it was my safety zone.”

Paulie Gee wearing a custom-made P.S. 179 Brooklyn hat, a gift from a friend to rep their public school in Kensington.

But someone Paulie wanted to come have his pizza more than anyone else was Adam Kuban, the founder of Slice.com. Luckily, Adam read Josh’s raving review of Paulie’s pizza tasting on GoodEater.org and reposted it on Slice. “And the first paragraph he wrote,” Paulie says. “’Josh scored a pizza tasting at Paulie Gee’s house.’ And I said, ‘Ok, so he’s curious about this.’ And eventually I got him to come.”

The pizza tasting for Adam from Slice was set for Saturday, April, 11th, 2009, the day before Easter, which is also Paulie’s son Michael’s birthday. Naturally, Paulie wanted his best oven master on site for the special tasting so he called Michael at the Air Force Academy and invited him to come home for Easter and his birthday. “Because I wanted that oven hot!” says Paulie. “So I booked him a flight.”

Meanwhile, Paulie Gee had started looking at commercial real estate, scouting potential locations for his pizzeria. Initially, he looked in New Jersey with a man named Dan Richer who had a pizzeria, Arturo’s in Maplewood Village. “We were gonna do something together,” explains Paulie. “And all of a sudden I wanted to be closer to New York and I wasn’t really feeling having a partner. I always knew you don’t want a partner. I’ve heard many guys say, ‘Believe me, you don’t want a partner.’”

Searching on his own, Paulie focused on Jersey City. “I thought it was a great idea,” he says. “My original plan was to keep a safety net, working during the day at my geek job – I was in Parsippany at the time – but it didn’t feel right. Jersey City could’ve been done, I tried to convince myself it was the sixth borough, but I emailed Amanda [Kludt] at Eater: ‘If I were to open up a pizzeria in Jersey City, would you write about me, would you cover it?’ And she said, ‘Eh, probably not.’ So now I’m itching to get into New York City.”

 

 

Part IV: Location, Location, Location will be published here on Wednesday.

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