While there are plenty of pizza purveyors around town these days, few get it just right. One place’s crust is too toothsome, another’s too flimsy. And ovens that are perfectly capable of generating the immense energy that a properly blistered and charred crust necessitates are often set at a pedestrian 500 degrees.
Enter Paulie Gee’s. The Hampden location was originally slated to be the first franchise of the original restaurant in Brooklyn, but the opening was pushed back for a few (painful) years to this past summer, and it is now the fifth outpost of the pizza palace. At the Hampden location—the cavernous building that once housed the Hampden Republican Club—two ovens serve as the restaurant’s centerpiece, with dark wood paneling all around. (And with the exception of two salads, pizza dominates the menu.) Seating consists of a mix of long communal tables and bistro tables, with a spacious, lounge-y bar located in the rear.
The aforementioned ovens are fed a steady stream of logs, stacked high and contributing a pervasive campfire whiff to the air. Coal proponents can rest easier knowing that cooking temperatures hover around 900 degrees, right in the money zone for pizzas to develop leopard spots in 90 seconds or so of cooking time. This ripping heat is kept at a safe distance from the pizzaiolo via extra long peels used to rhythmically rotate the pies, which are ultimately swung around in a graceful pirouette onto the counter, where finishing touches are dotingly added before being served.
The other critical component to good char is, of course, the dough, and the dough here is the real deal. It’s the right mix of good flour and water to respond well to intense heat, it’s tender with chewiness, it has the right amount of bubbly poofiness and savory flavor indicative of a slow, steady rise, and it’s sturdy enough to support the toppings even while cardstock-thin.
Whatever pizza you pick (there are 22 varieties in all), toppings are all high quality. We’re talking excellent fresh mozzarella, Berkshire guanciale, simple slices of lemon, and brisket supplied from Blue Pit BBQ. Toppings are paired thoughtfully and applied with deliberate precision, balanced in both arrangement and flavor. Judicious applications of honey or hot chili oil provide provocative punctuation. Yet the outstanding crust is never overdressed. This is the faithful, skillful expression of this style of pizza that we’ve been waiting for.
›› Paulie Gee’s 3535 Chestnut Ave., 410-889-1048. Hours: Tue.-Thu., Sun. 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Prices: $9-18.