Casual dining in efficient style

Restaurant profile

Howard Live

July 15, 2004|By Lisa Kawata | Lisa Kawata,SPECIAL TO SUN

Alumni of the University of Maryland welcomed the arrival of a familiar pizza and pasta haven when Three Brothers Italian Restaurant opened its doors last month in the former Piccolo's Restaurant in Columbia.

With its newest restaurant in a chain of 14 "fast-casual" dining establishments that began with a small pizzeria in Greenbelt in 1976, Three Brothers wants its Howard County customers to get a "good quality meal and not have to wait an hour," said Brendan Skelly, manager of the Columbia location.

"This is our nicest restaurant. We wanted it to really shine," Skelly added.

Patrons have three choices: eating in the main dining area, sitting in the enclosed bar, where smoking is allowed, or ordering carryout. Upon entering the main dining area, customers are greeted, given menus and invited to select a table or booth. The daily specials are posted on a white board at the entrance. Customers place orders and pay for them at the counter in the center of the restaurant and are then given a number on a metal stand that they place on their table. Food runners bring the meals to the table and bussers clean up afterward. Drinks, such as soda, lemonade and iced tea, are available at a self-serve beverage bar.

The enclosed bar has additional tables and can be entered from the main dining area or the parking lot. Diners in the bar receive table service and choose from the same menu, with a few added seafood selections such as a raw bar and the restaurant's well-known "Skipper" meal - a half-pound each of steamed crab legs and shrimp.

"Columbia is upscale. We wanted to compete a little so we decided to add the separate bar," Skelly said.

In addition, the restaurant houses a New York-style deli with finer deli meats and cheeses freshly sliced and grated when ordered. Packaged pasta, Italian cookies and bottles of olive oil line the high shelves behind the counter and are stacked next to the register and the dessert case.

Traditional desserts, such as cheesecake, tiramisu, cakes and pies are presliced in single servings and kept fresh in clear plastic cases. Three Brothers also offers its line of New York-style Italian ices, which can also be made into floats.

On a mid-weekday evening, young families, groups of teenagers and senior citizens sitting at tables and booths, as well as carryout customers, made for steady business but with no wait for seating. The main dining area is bright and open with high ceilings, Tuscan yellow walls and terra cotta-tiled floors. There's plenty of walking space between the tables and booths for diners and food runners. Three ceiling-mounted televisions hang in the corners of the main dining room. The bar has two in its corners and a wide-screen television high over the bar.

"Basically, we gutted the interior of Piccolo's," said Gregg Repole, general manager of the Columbia restaurant and son of Peter Repole, one of the three original brothers (the other two are Mike and Mario) who immigrated to the United States with their parents in the 1960s. It was Mario who branched out from the family's pizzeria in New York to expand into Maryland with a small pizza parlor in Beltway Plaza, near the University of Maryland, College Park.

"All of the old University of Maryland students know us," said Repole, wearing an apron and taking a quick break from the kitchen. His grandmother, Maria Repole, still makes the sauce and eggplant parmesan fresh every day for the Greenbelt location.

"We all work," said Gregg Repole of his family. "We haven't gotten the knack for getting out of the kitchen yet."

All the Three Brothers' restaurants make their sauce fresh on location every day using Maria Repole's recipe. The menu includes the chain's pizza, whole or by the slice, traditional pasta dishes, with or without meat or seafood, seven specialty salads, vegetarian options and a selection of "lite fare" entrees, which come without pasta or bread. Hot and cold subs, calzones and Three Brothers' trademark Guidos and Boats, its versions of stuffed pocket sandwiches baked fresh daily, and a small children's menu complete the selections.

Three Brothers Italian Restaurant, 7090 Deepage Drive, Columbia, 410-309-5944, is open Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (bar until 11 p.m.) and Friday and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (bar until 1 a.m.). Dinner entrees, which are served with tossed salad and warm bread, are priced from $6.49 to $12.99. Major credit cards are accepted. Three Brothers also provides full-service catering. The Web sites are: threebrotherspizza.com and threebrotherscaterers. com.

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