Perpetual Pizza Boom
The Underground Gourmet’s favorite new pizza can be found in hipster Greenpoint at Paulie Gee’s (60 Greenpoint Ave., nr. West St.; 347-987-3747), the midlife career reinvention of Paul Giannone—until last March, a Neapolitan pizzaiolo trapped in the body of a disgruntled New Jersey software-quality-assurance engineer. His story is as inspirational as his pie: In recent years, fantasizing about living a better, pizza-centric life and maybe even opening his own pizzeria, Giannone built an oven in his suburban backyard, perfected his dough-stretching technique, and, for reasons known only to him, started inviting food bloggers over for dinner. Finally, encouraged by the ecstatic response, he found a restaurant location and made the leap to full-time pie man, and it’s not too much to say that the software-quality-assurance industry’s loss is the pizza world’s gain. Light and airy with a fine, fleeting microlayer of crispness, Paulie Gee’s pizza (starting at $11) is in the same pristine Neapolitan class as the pies he idolized at Kesté, Motorino, and the late Una Pizza Napoletana. The man also has a healthy obsession with high-quality ingredients and a Jim (Co.) Lahey–like genius for toppings, most apparent, perhaps, in a rotating roster of seasonal specials like the U.G.’s current favorite: sweet Italian sausage mingled with fresh mozzarella and kale that Giannone buys from Greenpoint’s Rooftop Farm ($17).
If you think that’s too much to spend for a ball of dough, search between the cushions of your couch and then head over to the new East Village Motorino outpost in the old Una Pizza Napoletana space for lunch (349 E. 12th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-777-2644). From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, a pizza (Margherita, marinara, Brussels sprouts, or soppressata piccante), plus your choice of salad or dessert, will run you just $12. You’ll find another bargain a few blocks away at Totale Pizza (36 St. Marks Pl., nr. Second Ave.; 212-254-0180), the somewhat baffling collaboration between former Una Pizza Napoletana understudy Gregory Ryzhkov and an owner of the $1 slice specialist 2 Bros. Pizza down the block. Why should this merger befuddle the U.G.? Because if you remember anything about Ryzhkov’s old UPN boss Anthony Mangieri—as uncompromising a pizzaiolo as ever turned a pie around the oven’s hot spot—it’s hard to imagine a trusted former associate of his divulging trade secrets to the enemy. It’s like a Peter Luger waiter going into business with the owner of Tad’s Steaks. Of course, when all is said and done, all you need to know is that the Naples-style pizza here is well charred, nicely balanced, and made with good—presumably non–2 Bros.—ingredients, although it does suffer slightly from a crust that’s too stiff and unyielding. Still, with prices that range from $7 to $13 per pie, compared with the former UPN’s $21, who’s complaining?
Uptown in Hell’s Kitchen, at the streamlined Zigolinis Pizza Bar (675A Ninth Ave., nr. 47th St.; 212-333-3900), the U.G. has tracked down two more finely pedigreed pizzaioli. Here you’ll find executive pie man Luigi Olivella, whose commendable Neapolitan work you may know from No. 28, L’asso, and the late Isabella’s Oven. At his side, on occasion, is Giuseppe Paciullo, who once manned the pizza station with equal parts apparent boredom and technical wizardry at the excellent Zero Otto Nove in the Bronx. The $12 Margherita pie is soft and supple, charred and chewy, with discrete puddles of sweet mozzarella and a judicious swirl of tomato sauce.
And let’s not forget Totonno’s in Coney Island (1524 Neptune Ave., nr. W. 16th St.; 718-372-8606), not exactly new, having shoveled its first load of coal into the oven some 86 years ago, but back in the game after being sidelined by a fire for nearly a year, and run once more with an iron fist by Louise “Cookie” Ciminieri, granddaughter of the restaurant’s Neapolitan immigrant founder.