Paulie's: Classic Italian Cooking in the Heart of Houston's Montrose District

Paulie's: Classic Italian Cooking in the Heart of Houston's Montrose District

by Paul Petronella


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626344686
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 02/13/2018
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 340,772
Product dimensions: 10.10(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Paul Petronella is the namesake and operator of his family’s restaurant, Paulie’s (, where he has dedicated his life to help make Paulie’s the best it can be to its guests and staff. He is a noted restaurateur, cook, and philanthropist with a lifetime of experience in independent restaurant life.

In 2015, Houston Press named Paulie’s “Best Montrose Neighborhood Restaurant.” Petronella was added to the Houston Chronicle’s “Most Interesting Men,” a listing of Houston’s most influential  entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and professional athletes. Tiffany and Co. also named him a Houston influencer for their new CT60 Watch Collection.

Paul is passionate about the food and beverage industry in Houston and how it affects lives of guests and restaurant workers. Through multiple leadership roles at OKRA Charity Saloon, he has helped fund and launch charitable programs throughout the city of Houston by donating over $1 million to 60 different local charitable organizations, and counting. 

Paul has a BBA from Texas State University, and received his MBA through onsite restaurant life. He’s an AAU youth basketball coach and lives in Houston’s Heights community. 

Read an Excerpt


Under the Feet of Greatness

For as long as I can remember, my family has been in the restaurant business. In the late 1970s, my uncle Charles teamed up with his cousins Nash D'Amico and Damian Mandola to open their own place. This was D'Amico's, located on Westheimer Road, near Kirby Drive, in my hometown of Houston, Texas. As I remember it, D'Amico's was a bit progressive for Houston at that time. It was definitely one of Houston's fanciest spots for Italian food.

My father, Bernard, my aunt Mary, my uncle Frank, and my uncle Ronald, along with a gaggle of cousins, all worked at D'Amico's. When I was only about four years old and about three feet tall, I was already running around the kitchen, weaving in and out of line cooks, trying to stay out of the way, yet hoping to be in the action. I spent more time ducking under counters and dodging quick-moving kitchen staff than I ever did on a playground. Maybe that's why I prefer to be in the kitchen.

One of my favorite memories of D'Amico's is of one-time Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. He visited the restaurant whenever the Dodgers were playing the Astros. I was a huge baseball nut growing up, and I'd always ask if he was coming in. One day, a package arrived at the door of our home from Tommy addressed to my father. It was a box full of autographed photos of the 1981 World Champion LA Dodgers. I held on to that box all the way to early adulthood; I wish I could tell you where it is now.

At D'Amico's, and later at my uncle Charles's restaurant, Rocco's, I spent nights sleeping in the restaurant office or snuggled up to the bar with a Cherry Coke and a mouthful of cocktail vegetables. Even at an early age, I was being conditioned to the irregular restaurant schedule. I was often covered with the scents of garlic, tomato sauce, and smoke, and I grew to love those smells. They represent my childhood. I once enjoyed a wine at the Terroir wine bar in New York that tasted and smelled exactly like canned pizza sauce. It was incredibly nostalgic. I have been looking for that bottle ever since.

At D'Amico's, we made all of the classic Italian-American sauces and dishes that I still love, such as clam sauce, veal parmigiana, picatta, scampi, vodka sauce, lobster ravioli, saltimbocca, and puttanesca. These foods have so much flavor, usually contributed to by heavy doses of garlic and love. My favorites were always a simple scampi with fettuccini, pasta with red sauce, and lobster ravioli.

As a small child, a busy restaurant was always exciting. There was always such contrast among the kitchen, where there was organized yelling between the cooks; the dining room, where the ambiance and the people were calm and sophisticated; and the bar, where most of the patrons were inebriated but always interested in knowing who the roaming child was.

The restaurant employees worked hard and played hard, and they spent money just as fast as they made it. It was a fast-paced, rock-star lifestyle. At D'Amico's, the Petronellas tried out for the game show Family Feud. They made the cut and actually won their episode in a wild upset, the other family having led for most of the episode. The show was filmed in Los Angeles, and they left all of their winnings there that night.

I was intrigued by tableside preparations at D'Amico's, such as Caesar salad and spaghetti carbonara, and the mysterious fried ice cream. If I had to compare D'Amico's to a restaurant today, it would be Carbone, in New York City. The food is classic and well executed, and the service is topnotch. Carbone pays respect to the old-school Italian-American restaurants from my childhood.

Fettuccini Scampi

In Italy, the term scampi usually refers to langoustines, prawns, or large shrimp. When found on an Italian-American menu, it usually refers to a dish that includes shrimp cooked in garlic, butter, and lemon. At Paulie's, we do something similar, but of course we incorporate pasta.

» This recipe will serve two.


1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. I like to salt my water with 2 tablespoons for a large pot. Once water is boiling, add pasta. Cook until al dente. At the restaurant, we make our own pasta, which cooks in 4–5 minutes. Dry pasta will take 15–20 minutes.

2. Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a sauté pan. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Shake off any excess flour.

3. Add shrimp to the pan of heated oil and sauté until firm, approximately 2 minutes. Add onion and garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Carefully discard oil and deglaze pan with wine.

4. Add lemon juice and butter. Simmer until sauce thickens. Remove pan from heat and add pasta. Toss well and transfer to two serving bowls. Enjoy!

Paulie's Marinara

Our marinara has become our mother sauce. It's great simply mixed with pasta, or tossed with sausage and pickled vegetables. It's not spicy, but has a perfect acidity from the tomatoes. We use three types of tomatoes: ground, peeled strips, and roasted. The ground and peeled strips can be store bought in a can. Roasting tomatoes removes some of their liquid, intensifying their flavor. If you don't want to take the time, I like Mez-zetta brand sauces, especially Calabrian Chili & Garlic. They are in most major grocery stores.

» This is a batch recipe, so it should last at least a few meals.


1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-low heat in large saucepan or stockpot. Add onions and black pepper. As onions soften, add garlic and cook until onions become clear.

2. Add the ground tomatoes and the peeled tomatoes. Stir well to combine. Add salt, oregano, and the roasted tomato purée.

3. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.

4. Remove from heat to cool and purée marinara thoroughly.

Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients 2–3 lb Roma tomatoes ½ cup olive oil ¼ cup dry basil ¼ cup ground black pepper Directions 1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice Roma tomatoes in half, and remove guts with a spoon (seeds and pulp).

2. Lay skin down on lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper and dry basil.

3. "Bake" for about 25–30 minutes, or until dryness and shrinkage appear. You want to excrete some water, but don't leave the tomatoes completely dried out. Lay out to cool. These can be covered and refrigerated for several days. These are also great on sandwiches!

Creste di Gallo with Marinara and Sausage Creste di gallo is one of my favorite pasta shapes; it means "rooster crest." As cool as it looks, it's also quite functional, as sauce is able to seep into its hollow ridges. A former employee, Sarah Troxell, developed this particular recipe. Thank you, chef!

» This will serve two.

For the Pickled Onion

This is a quick and easy way to quickly pickle thinly sliced onions. Make this your first step in the recipe, and they may be ready by the time you finish cooking the other components of the dish. You can also start this earlier in the day if you want the flavor of the onions to be more acidic.

1. Using a mandoline, thinly slice the onion, then drench with champagne vinegar and sprinkle with salt. Mix well and cover. Because the slices are thin, it shouldn't take long for the onion to absorb the vinegar. You will have some left over for future use or for other dishes that need a little acidity.

Creste di Gallo with Marinara and Sausage

1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop pasta in and cook until al dente.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat marinara over low heat. Add sausage, red pepper flakes, basil, and pickled onions.

3. Add pasta to marinara and mix well. Transfer to two serving bowls and top with grated Parmesan.

Lobster Ravioli

The sugarosa makes this dish very rich and decadent. You may substitute Paulie's Marinara alone, instead of cream sauce, for a cleaner taste. It reminds me of the old-school Italian white-tablecloth restaurants. I use parsley in this recipe because of its nutritional value, and it doesn't have a strong fragrance that will get lost or cover up other ingredients. I also like it for the added color.

» This will serve two.

Ravioli Filling

1. Bring large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.

2. Cut through the top of the lobster shell lengthwise. Pull the shells slightly apart from the meat. This will let the meat expand when cooking.

3. Cook tails for about 3–4 minutes, making sure they are submerged. To check for doneness, cut into bottom of shell. If the meat is solid white with no opaqueness, they're done. If it seems a little opaque, let the tails cook another minute. It's important not to overcook, because they will continue to cook in the ravioli. Let tails cool, then remove meat and chop into small pieces.

4. Place ½ stick butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk the butter until browning appears, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat immediately and continue to whisk for another 30 seconds. Whisk in the garlic, and then stir in the chopped lobster.

5. Transfer to mixing bowl. Add chopped parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Add the ricotta cheese and mix well. Set the filling aside.

Ravioli 1. Roll out pasta dough per instructions all the way through #6 setting (see page 136). Lay out one sheet on well-floured surface.

2. Spoon quarter-sized dollops about 2 inches apart down the center of the sheet. Dip a pastry brush (or your finger) into water and make wet squares around each dollop. Lay a second sheet over your first sheet. Make sure to seal by pressing lightly along the wet areas. Also, make sure to squeeze out any air before completely sealing.

3. With a pasta cutter or pizza wheel, as evenly as possible, cut out your ravioli. Make sure to keep the surface and the ravioli lightly floured to prevent sticking. Before dropping the ravioli into boiling water, I like to brush off any of the excess flour. Remember, practice makes perfect!

4. Cook in lightly salted boiling water for about 2 minutes, or until they rise to the top and become firm. Remove with slotted spoon and plate when ready.


My great-grandmother made sugarosa, which means "pink sauce," when I was a kid. To make it, we re going to add a bit of Paulie's Marinara to Alfredo sauce until we reach a rich pink color.

Make Alfredo, add a bit of marinara, and you get sugarosa.

1. Add heavy cream and rest of butter to sauté pan. Heat over medium heat until butter melts. Add Parmesan and stir until sauce thickens. Stir in marinara a little bit at a time until you reach a light pink color.

2. Plate the ravioli individually on serving plates and ladle sugarosa sauce over ravioli. Finish with freshly ground black pepper and parsley sprigs.

Veal Saltimbocca

Saltimbocca is a dish that originated in Rome, addressed as Saltimbocca alla Romana. It has been around for hundreds of years, with different variations and components. For this recipe, we will be using thin, tender veal. It can also be prepared with a thinly pounded chicken breast.

» This recipe serves one.


1. Heat olive oil in sauté pan over medium-low heat.

2. Salt and pepper both sides of veal (or chicken) and dredge in flour.

3. Lay the prosciutto on top of the veal, then lay sage leaves on top of the prosciutto. Secure with a toothpick.

4. Sauté in oil, veal side down, until 3/4 done. Be careful with veal, as it is easy to overcook.

5. Drain off oil. Add Marsala to pan to deglaze. Add chicken stock, garlic, and lemon juice.

6. Place fresh mozzarella on top of prosciutto, trying not to touch the pan. Add butter to pan to thicken sauce.

7. Once sauce thickens, plate and remove toothpick, then pour sauce over. You can remove the veal and plate while sauce is still thickening to prevent overcooking.


There are a couple of different stories behind the origin of Puttanesca. The most interesting story is that it originated from prostitutes trying to lure in clients with the pungent aromas of the ingredients. The ladies of the night would open a window to let the smells of the garlic and anchovy roam the streets and catch a sailor's nose. This dish definitely has strong flavors and is not for the faint of heart. I personally love it. A former employee, Sarah Troxell, developed the recipe we serve at Paulie's. Thank you, chef!

» This will serve two.


1. Bring pot of lightly salted water to boil. Drop pasta in and cook until al dente. Keep about cup of pasta water.

2. In sauté pan, heat oil over medium-low heat.

Add garlic, onion, and capers. Cook about 2 minutes. Deglaze with white wine.

3. Add tomatoes and anchovy, then reduce.

Add olives, oregano, and basil.

4. Add pasta and about ¼ cup pasta water. Reduce further. The starch in the pasta water will help emulsify the sauce.

5. Separate into two serving bowls. Finish with crumbled ricotta salata.


Excerpted from "Paulie's"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Paul Petronella.
Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments, xi,
Introduction, 1,
CHAPTER 1: Under the Feet of Greatness, 3,
CHAPTER 2: Italian-American Italian, 27,
CHAPTER 3: Opening Paulie's, 57,
CHAPTER 4: Career Change, 91,
CHAPTER 5: Back to Basics, 125,
CHAPTER 6: Opening Camerata, 159,
CHAPTER 7: The Future of Paulie's, 169,
Index, 185,
About the Author, 195,

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