“Now I can worry about the product and the execution, and not the City of Miami,” Weisberg said Friday while standing outside the front doors as diners trickled in. “I’m done with the obstacles that one faces when doing a massive rehab.”
Paulie Gee’s has been under construction since the summer of 2015, when fencing and other paraphernalia surrounded the former China Palace as the transformation began. Weisberg, a native New Yorker and understudy of Paulie Gee himself, spent the past 18 months traveling back and forth between New York and Miami while preparing not only the restaurant but also a move for his family.
Inside, the thrum of diners enjoying the pies from the Neapolitan wood-burning oven bounced off the concrete floors and mingled with the classic rock pumping through the speakers. Although Paulie Gee’s doesn’t yet have a liquor license, bottles of wine and beer brought by friends, family, and eager pizza-lovers were popped at the bar, paired with bottles of water and other soft drinks currently available for purchase.
As for the menu, the same quirky toppings that made the restaurant a hit in Brooklyn were on display at each table. The Hellboy, a house favorite, came topped with soppressata, fresh mozzarella, and Mike’s Hot Honey, all on a perfectly charred dough that had been aged for three days. Off the vegan menu, the In Ricotta da Vegan — topped with house-made cashew ricotta, vegan fennel sausage, and loads of fresh arugula — surprised with potent flavors that made the absence of meat or milk-based cheese enjoyable. Other pies come topped with everything from brisket and barbecue sauce to Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and dill pickles.
“I want people to get something they can’t get anywhere else in South Florida and a true appreciation for the art and love we put into our dough,” Weisberg said. “We deliver nuanced flavors. We use very high-quality products and toppings for the price point. We want to be a reach for some people, and we want neighborhood people who want good-quality food.”
Aside from pizza, guests will find oven-baked appetizers and salads, as well as a small selection of desserts. Once the permits have been approved, Paulie Gee’s will serve a rotating selection of local craft beers, as well as international bottled beers and wines. For now, guests are encouraged to bring their own alcoholic beverages.
Given the packed parking lot all weekend despite the rain, the year-plus wait was worth it for diners eager to have another solid neighborhood restaurant to round out the 79th Street district. Remnants of the original China Palace remain, from broken plaster and uncovered walls to the plastic Asian-inspired plates that pay homage to the space’s origin. If opening weekend was any indication, a humble, quirky pizzeria with no signage and a simple interior could be another step in the right direction as Miami looks to deliver more substance and less flash.
Paulie Gee's is open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. The restaurant is closed Tuesday.