If you were anywhere near New York on Saturday, I hope you were holed up somewhere warm and dry, shielding yourself from the sheets of rain that pounded the area all day. That’s what I should have done, except that Jim and I had decided we needed to have sandwiches for lunch. Not just any old sandwiches—sandwiches from DeFonte’s, the old-school Italian sandwich shop located in Red Hook near the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
Somehow we had never visited this storied home of the Italian hero, even though it’s just a few blocks from our apartment. DeFonte’s has been around for ages, ever since longshoremen roamed the streets of Red Hook. Jim and I wouldn’t let a major rainstorm keep us from our lunch; we’d been talking about going there all week. I put on my knee-high rubber boots, grabbed an umbrella, and bravely headed out the front door. Who’s afraid of a little rain?
After traversing numerous muddy puddles and getting splashed by several passing cars, we stumbled, breathless, into DeFonte’s. A long counter dominates the left side of the shop, with lunch meats, salads, and fried eggplant on display. Special sandwich combinations are listed on the wall behind the counter while a formidable team of sandwich makers takes orders. Besides a small table without chairs where I saw one patron devouring his sandwich, seating is not available. So we stuffed our heroes into my massive purse and headed back out into the rain, towards our dry apartment.
After draping our wet jeans and coats over the radiators, we sat down to eat while the rain fell with renewed vigor outside. I had ordered the Valentina combination, which included fried eggplant, provolone, and peppers on 1/3 of a roll ($7.75). Sandwiches come in 1/3 and 1/2 sizes, and even though I went for the smallest option, it was still massive. As I bit into my monster hero, I immediately noticed that this was no generic, mealy roll. The crust was appropriately sturdy and crunchy, the interior soft and chewy. The fried eggplant and cheese provided the hefty “meat” of my sandwich, while the peppers in tomato sauce added a slightly spicy crunch.
Jim, always a risk-taker, had designed his own sandwich, putting together sopresata, swiss cheese, peppers, lettuce, tomato, olive oil, and vinegar ($7.75). I snagged the next-to-late bite and was pleasantly surprised by the refreshing mix of salty sopresata, light, crunchy vegetables, and tangy vinegar.
I’ve been reading that DeFonte’s signature sandwich is a combination of roast beef, fried eggplant, and fresh mozzarella, so I’ll have to stroll back across Hamilton Avenue very soon to try it. DeFonte’s is so close to our apartment, and the sandwiches are so good, there’s really no excuse to let much time pass before my next visit. But I do think I’ll wait for a sunny day.
DeFonte’s Sandwich Shop, 379 Columbia Street at Luquer Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn T: 718-855-6982