Hampden's Paulie Gee's eases into business

Oh, Paulie Gee's (3535 Chestnut Ave., pauliegee.com/hampden), what took you so long? For months—nay, years—Hampden has been waiting for your wood-burning ovens, your Cinderella-like makeover of the Hampden Republican Club, and yes, your pizza. We wondered, Would you ever be ready for hungry guests? Would we ever have the opportunity to sample Greenpointers and Hellboys a la your Brooklyn birthplace? And when you softly, quietly opened the doors, allowing us in for a little nosh, a little sip, we continued to anticipate, hoping more was still to come.

Well, the wait is over—kinda. After nearly four years of promises of "coming soon" and over a month of a whispery soft opening, Paulie Gee's is open for business. Given the challenges to getting this restaurant ready for diners—our server tells us about the wood-burning ovens that got damaged en route from Naples to Baltimore, the total renovation of the space on Chestnut Avenue—we are long past the question of "was it worth the wait?" and have moved into straightforward "should I go?" territory. And the answer is yes. The space belongs to the post-industrial school of exposed brick and ductwork (albeit feeling slightly cold and very noisy). Servers are on the ball (the restaurant is under the management of the elegant Lisa Heckman, former co-owner of Mount Vernon's Iggie's). And if you love a chewy pizza crust that boasts bubbled, charred spots like dark polka dots and that gently yields to the bite, you will be smitten.

I visited Paulie Gee's once during its soft opening, and the menu has not expanded much between then and my recent visit. There are two salads on offer: the Grape to Meetcha ($9), a nicely salty and citrusy dressed mound of fresh arugula tossed with grape tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Salad #1 ($9), a mix of baby spinach, strawberries, goat cheese, and toasted pecans. Both are shareable, and at this point, are the only other edible menu options aside from pizza.

That said, Paulie Gee's is making a lot of pizzas—15 the night we dined, plus five vegan options. And, as the newly minted teenager at our table pointed out, the pizza menu caters to a broad array of tastes, ranging from more recognizable styles (I'm looking at you, Regina ($13), with your deceptively simple combination of fresh mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil) to the downright unexpected (that's you, Go Fig Yourself ($17), all Black Mission Figs and prosciutto and no tomatoes and you, too, Stinger Bell ($15), a delightful surprise of lemon slices, smoked mozzarella, basil, and Mike's Hot Honey).

If you're not a fan of sweet (and on pizza, that could legitimately be many of us), you have to pick a little carefully. Mike's Hot Honey shows up on a fair number of pies, bringing a subtle, sweet burn. We liked it best on the Hellboy ($17), one of the more traditional tomato and cheese-based offerings with the addition of thin slices of Berkshire soppressata picante, pepperoni with a kick. House-pickled red onions—on the Red, White, and Greenberg ($16) with arugula, guanciale, and mozzarella, for example—yield the same sweet-spicy flavor combo. I liked them best on the pie dressed with local Blue Pit Brisket ($17), which I enjoyed even more the next day for lunch when it was the only pizza competing for my attention.

Paulie Gee's menu requests no substitutions or additions, though certain pies offer the option of adding guanciale or prosciutto, for example. Vegan pies are garnished with house-made cashew ricotta and vegan sausage. Vinho verde, verdejo, and valpolicella grace a mostly Mediterranean (and very affordable) wine list. Beers are canned, many of them local (there are still plans for draft beer in the future), and there are roughly a dozen cocktails on offer.

One word of warning, however. For reasons unexplained to us by a restaurant hostess, the phone number found on all of Paulie Gee's material, both virtual and hard copy, is incorrect (we found out the hard way when we tried to call the restaurant several times on a Saturday night and could get no answer or recording.). And as of this writing, the website still advertises that the restaurant is open for "sneak peeks." The night we dined, however, we were assured that the wait was over, and that this incarnation of Paulie Gee's was the real deal. Welcome to Hampden, hon.

Paulie Gee's is open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

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