Takeout dining review: Paulie Gee's pies still deliver as carry-out
I bet you haven’t been hanging out much in the Short North lately. This guess is based on the slackened traffic — both automotive and on foot — I’ve encountered recently in the trendy neighborhood flush with prominent restaurants and bars struggling through slowdowns and closures related to the coronavirus pandemic.
I keep telling myself that a time will come when I’ll never have to reference COVID-19 in a food story again. That day cannot arrive soon enough. In the meantime, here’s a suggestion to help ease you through this long-running season of pandemic-induced tedium, anxiety and melancholia: Treat yourself to pizza from Paulie Gee’s in the Short North, where on recent multiple visits, I easily found parking in a lot just south of the restaurant.
Not only does Paulie Gee’s make outstanding pizzas — its smoke-scented Neapolitan-style crusts are among the best around and its toppings are excellent, too — but the little Brooklyn-based chain currently honors a hard-to-beat deal: On Wednesdays and Thursdays, $30 buys three pies (most pizzas are regularly priced between $15 and $18).
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Paulie Gee’s previously declined to offer takeout, but in a sign of the times, it currently offers only takeout. The fashionable pizzeria spaces out scheduled customer visits, so to hedge against a lengthy wait and have dinner ready when you want it, I advise phoning shortly after the restaurant opens at 4 p.m. and requesting your desired pick-up time.
The pizzas you’ll receive will be photogenic beauties that taste as good as they look. Given the thin crusts, I was pleasantly surprised how well they survived the 15-minute journey from the restaurant to my hastily fetched dinner plates.
Purists should sample the Regina ($15). Essentially a Margherita pizza — Margherita was an Italian queen; “regina” means “queen” in Italian — this is a triumph of simplicity, ingredients and technique.
Characteristically for the superior pizzeria, it’s rapidly baked by expert pizzaioli at around 1,000 degrees in a fancy, wood-burning oven produced in Naples, Italy. The restrained but delicious toppings — lively crushed Italian tomatoes; milky fresh mozzarella; bold pecorino romano; extra-virgin olive oil; and a single fresh basil leaf on each slice — are great for showcasing the place's lovely crust.
Subtract the basil and add zesty, crisp, oversized pepperoni, plus a touch of spicy honey — the latter is a much-copied Paulie Gee’s innovation — and you have the trademark and terrific Hellboy pizza ($17). The likewise inhalable Swellboy ($17) is a weightier variation of the lusty pie distinguished by mild goat cheese, orange-blossom honey and fruity-yet-zippy peppadew peppers.
More than 25 pizza combinations are advertised; several successfully team nontraditional toppings. For example, the funky but inspired Cherry Jones ($18) uses fresh mozzarella and orange-blossom honey to mitigate the play of salty and earthy gorgonzola and prosciutto di Parma off tart-sweet dried cherries.
Collaborations with Columbus all-stars have resulted in some compelling thin-crusted pizzas — the zingy Hog Pit Brisket ($18) with cubes of smoky beef, pickled onions and barbecue sauce from Ray Ray’s Hog Pit BBQ; and The Katzingers 83 ($18), a reuben-sandwich pie named after the celebrated deli.
A partnership with local oven-maven Dan the Baker has yielded superb game-changing pizzas called “squares” (not included in the three for $30 bargain) with thick, focaccia-like Detroit-style crusts offering cheese-singed edges resembling the Italian fried-cheese treat called frico.
I highly recommend pairing the somehow not-messy Carnivore Square — zesty sausage, pepperoni, ricotta, spicy honey, mozzarella and more ($20; serves two) — with the impressive Out Together salad ($14) embellished with crunchy guanciale, chickpeas, ditalini pasta, roasted red peppers, leeks and a mustardy Caesar-style dressing. For a few transporting moments, this memorable meal might help you forget about the bygone pleasures of pre-pandemic dining out.
Paulie Gee's Short North
1195 N High St., Short North