If the Three Brothers pizzeria were located in Manhattan, or even in the far reaches of Long Island, you might not give it a second thought. But in suburban Maryland, a restaurant-carryout that serves authentic New York-style pizza is still a rarity. (The situation is improving, but gradually -- lots of places that claim to serve the authentic product really don't.)
What distinguishes the real thing, of course, is the crust. Baked directly on a hearth instead of on a screen (or worse yet, in a pan), a New York-style crust has a characteristic mottled-brown color, and often has been dusted with cornmeal to keep it from sticking. But it's the inimitable texture that really sets it apart: crisp at the bottom, then gradually chewier toward the top. And if it's rolled out generously, there should be a big, puffy edge all around the perimeter.
Except for being too crackery-thin near the middle, the Three Brothers crust fills the bill. The rest of the pizza deserves high marks, too -- acceptably fruity tomato sauce, good mozzarella that nicely strings out, and an assertive but not overwhelming amount of garlic and oregano. Toppings are very good, too, especially the fennel-scented sausage. Even better than the regular pizza is the deep-dish Sicilian variety, with an extraordinarily good crust -- about an inch thick, crisp at the bottom, wonderfully yeasty and airy above.
Just as lovable are the Italian boats. To construct these sturdy vessels, they fold and pinch a hefty disk of pizza dough until it's the shape of a football with an open top. Inside goes mozzarella and tomato sauce, along with mushrooms; sweet, still-lively onions; dense, tasty meatballs, and slices of fragrant sausage. A boat will serve two people of normal capacity for only $4.25.
Calzone is similar to the boats, except that the top is closed and the cheese consists of a mixture of mozzarella and ricotta. Perhaps because there's no place for moisture to escape, or because of the moist ricotta in the filling, the calzone crust tends to be rather damp and limp compared with the boats. Definitely a second choice.
True to form, the sandwiches are called "heroes," in the New York parlance, not "subs." The name notwithstanding, these fall short of excellence because of the rolls. They are soft, pan-baked ones that are better than the awful, economy blobs most local sub shops use, but they aren't nearly as good as real, hearth-baked Italian rolls.
The best fillings for the heroes are the meatballs and sausage, but be sure to specify "easy on the sauce" or you may get a sandwich practically drowned in tomato sauce.
If you want a salad to balance all those carbohydrates, aim for the giardiniera, a generous portion of olives, Tuscan peppers and pickled vegetables over a bed of lettuce. And if you want a beer to wash things down, don't overlook Moretti, an Italian brew of considerable flavor and mellowness.