There's no telling how many pizzerias have opened in the Triangle since 1980, when brothers Antonio and Ciupriano Marrone opened Italian Pizzeria III on the west end of Franklin Street. Well over a hundred, for sure. A handful of those relative newcomers can turn out a crust that rivals that of IP3, as it is affectionately referred to by UNC students and longtime fans. A few can even match the veteran restaurant's claim to a homemade sauce made from a family recipe. But all of them are missing the key ingredient that makes IP3 special: Angelo and Vincenzo Marrone.
The sons of Antonio Marrone, the young brothers worked in the restaurant before taking over its operation in 2000. It is their boisterous banter in Italian that you hear from behind the counter when you walk in, as thick in the air as the yeasty smell of rising pizza dough. Close your eyes, and you could easily imagine yourself in Brooklyn, or even the Marrones' native Naples.
The brothers' apprenticeship in the family business is evident in their pizzas, which come as close to the New York style ideal as you'll find hereabouts. The thin, hand-tossed Neapolitan crust is a little chewy and a little crisp on the bottom, but not so crisp that you can't fold a slice and eat it as it's commonly consumed as a snack on the streets of New York. The sauce, which the Marrone brothers still make the way their mom taught them, is classic: rich in tomato flavor and not too sweet. The sauce and toppings are applied in just the right amount, too, complementing the crust without overwhelming it.
True to New York pizzeria tradition, you can buy a whole pie or just a slice. A thicker Sicilian style crust is also available, as well as Italian subs and a modest assortment of pastas. But the restaurant's solid reputation is built on a thin crust foundation.
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The collection of UNC sports memorabilia on IP3's walls has grown over the years, and soccer fans can now watch matches on a plasma screen. But, as the Marrone brothers will proudly tell you, the Spartan tables and linoleum tile floors haven't changed since the restaurant opened nearly 30 years ago. Thankfully, neither has the pizza.