Paulie Gee's offers delicious wood-fired pizzas in what feels like a hometown haunt.
At one point, Paulie Gee’s Short North would have felt like a portal to Brooklyn. Wafts of aromatics filling the air, giant photos of artisans on the walls and, of course, fixie bicycle parking for employees. Open in Columbus since 2016, the New York-based pizzeria now feels like a born-and-bred Ohio concept; a keen eye will recognize Rockmill Brewery’s Matthew Barbee and Lucky Penny Farm’s Abbe Turner (from Portage County) in two of those oversize portraits. Central to the restaurant is a beautifully tiled Stefano Ferrara Neapolitan pizza oven that brings back memories of a much-beloved but now-shuttered local pizzeria, Bono Pizza.
Unlike Bono (which was often housed in odd, retrofitted buildings), Paulie Gee’s feels like a natural place to spend time, with plenty of seating, a warm and inviting atmosphere and background music that is enjoyable but not too loud for conversation. And the service is undeniably Midwestern. During one visit, a server admitted that the beer menu above the bar was difficult to read and offered to list the offerings. On a second visit, a server was insistent that my group of six order before a 20-top party arrived. She wanted to ensure we wouldn’t have to wait for the other table to be served. Best yet—and increasingly abnormal for the neighborhood—it’s easy to walk in and grab a table. Even for a group. Even on a Saturday night.
While the basis for the pizza comes from the original location in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the chef has taken liberty in personalizing the menu for Columbus, with references and ingredients from local favorites like Ray Ray’s Hog Pit and Katzinger’s Deli. The Neapolitan-style pizzas are 12 inches and six slices each, and are available in flights of three for $20 during happy hour 5–7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The super-thin pizzas are served with serrated knives, and slices can be easily folded in half. (Paulie Gee’s attempt at thick-crust, Detroit-style pizza will reportedly arrive in the Short North soon.)
The full bar features a variety of local craft beers and Ohio-made spirits as well as several cocktails. The house Manhattan ($9) features black walnut bitters, leaving behind a smooth and almost oily finish.
While pizzas are an obvious main course, don’t skip over the menu of starters and salads. The Out Together salad ($12) came highly recommended and would make a satisfying main course, but also served six as a starter. It arrives at the table with the undeniable aroma of hot bacon-like guanciale (an Italian cured meat) and gets better from there, with perfectly dressed greens sprinkled with Parmesan and topped with white onion, cucumbers, red peppers, tomatoes, leeks, ditalini pasta and chickpeas. Bits of salt and fat from the guanciale helped ensure that every bite of the salad is decadent.
The Brisket Marmalade ($7) appetizer is essentially a bowl of hot Ray Ray’s beef brisket with spikes of crisp crostini from Laughlin’s Bakery forming a crown around its sides. The menu mentioned microgreens, which were absent, but not crucial to the dish. While Paulie Gee’s does little to the brisket, it’s nice to enjoy Ray Ray’s barbecue sans plastic cutlery.
The pizzas are a mix of traditional and adventurous (vegan options are available). The Mootz ($14) is one of the simpler offerings, allowing diners to experience the crust without distraction. The charred bits and bubbles that pepper the thin, wood-fired crust are proof that one bonus to growing up is pizza for adults. Topped with rich mozzarella, slices of garlic, a wallpaper of basil leaves and olive oil in every bite, it’s a fine introduction to what makes Paulie Gee’s work. Eating quickly is essential, as the crust gets soggier by the minute.
The Supreme ($17) brings reveries of Pizza Hut, but in a good way. Green peppers, onion, spicy sausage and pepperoni slices that crisp at the edges are joined with real tomato sauce and are layered beneath and above fresh mozzarella. Again, there’s a little liquid to every bite, and the pie could use a little more onion.
Meanwhile, the Swellboy ($17) was a hit at my table. Hot, sweet and goopy, this pizza showcases Paulie Gee’s commitment to combining sweet and savory flavors. In this case, it’s the bright Peppadew peppers and orange blossom honey that complement crispy and salty pepperoni-like soppressata and tangy goat cheese and mozzarella.
While pizza is always enjoyable the next morning for breakfast, the Monte Cristo ($16) is something that is best eaten directly from the oven. Copious pools of Ohio maple syrup and thinly sliced Canadian bacon offer tastes generally reserved for the first meal of the day. At the cusp of cloying, this pie would benefit from a little more salt to balance its flavors.
An homage to Paulie Gee’s roots, the Greenpointer ($15) is a salad on a pizza. The lemon juice and olive oil dressing, poured atop a mound of arugula and shaved Parmesan, brings a bright flavor to the dish at first, but it’s a little overdressed.
With a nice atmosphere, consistent pies and a strong drink menu, Paulie Gee’s is a solid Short North dining choice. One can’t help but be concerned over the lack of hometown buzz around this Brooklyn-based gem. One too many easy-to-snag tables on a Saturday night, and it may go the way of Bono.