Beyond the chess tables lining Ocean Parkway, past the rabbinically-overseen pizzerias in nearby Borough Park (one of the largest orthodox Jewish populations outside Israel), you’d be forgiven on any given Saturday for thinking the area surrounding classic Bensonhurst slice joint J & V Pizzeria is a ghost town. But across from a 7-Eleven and the old-school Italian Bari Pork Store on the corner of 64th Street and 18th Avenue, the smell of cheese grease and dough drifts out the doors of “The Home of the Jojo.”
J & V stands for John and Vinny — John Mortillaro and Vincent DeGrezia — two friends who founded it when this was a much more Italian Bensonhurst in 1950. These days, you’re more likely to hear Chinese and Polish, but more than 60 years of pizza tradition continues. Its namesakes were from Sicily (John) and Naples (Vincent), geography responsible for its square and round pies. J & V also claims to be among the first pizzerias to sell by the slice.
Brooklyn’s newest pizza drama is playing out in Greenpoint, just blocks from Metropolitan, in a space that was previously a restaurant of a former Top Chef contestant. The new chef is someone with considerably less airtime, a guy from Jersey named Paul Giannone — Paulie Gee.
Until weeks ago, Paulie’s pizza-making was mostly confined to the oven he built in his yard. Now pizza-lovers and aficionados are gathering to see if this former software quality assurance engineer can pull off dreams of joining the City’s elite pizzaiolos. It’s the kind of New York— er— Brooklyn story you can literally sink your teeth into. To learn more about his story, check out this interview.
You do your best every day to realize your dreams. But how many people get to see their dreams come true? And if and when they come true, how does what was dreamed measure up to reality? There’s man in Brooklyn making pizza who may be best suited to answer these questions, Paul Giannone. Or as New Yorkers are starting to know him, Paulie Gee.
As recently as February 2009, Paulie was profiled by MyCentralJersey.com talking about a pizzeria as a ways off. Last week he broke from making Neapolitan pies to discuss Paulie Gee’s, his pizzeria in Greenpoint.
Paulie, you’re living a dream here, aren’t you? How did this come to be?
: I always loved to cook, I’d invite people over my house just so I could cook for them. You know, for the past 25 years, people have been encouraging me to open a restaurant. What I did for a living wasn’t what I really enjoyed. But opening a real restaurant always seemed daunting.
About 15 years ago I become a pizza enthusiast after visiting Totonno’s. Me and my sons started going on quests for good coal-oven pizza. You know, pizza is very challenging to make, but it’s also very simple. And I started to realize that serving it to people could be very simple.
How did you go from pizza-questing to pizza-making?
Up until about three years ago, I didn’t take it very seriously. Then I built an oven. I started in September 2007, I was going to buy one, and then I saw that I could build one for one-tenth the cost, and I went out and took one of the steps that was the point of no return: I bought a couple of hundred dollars worth of bricks.