Being a native of Philadelphia, I like to think I know a thing or two about giant Italian sandwiches. Whether you call them hoagies, subs or grinders, a heaping sandwich by any other name would taste just as delicious. Being a general food-enthusiast (I hate the word foodie), I thought I knew all the places in town with cult followings, but somehow I only discovered the neighborhood favorite, Defonte’s only recently. Having been in business since 1922, I’d say being behind the curve is a gross understatement.
Since the only thing that usually brings me to Red Hook is cheap furniture and key lime pies, I didn’t get a taste of Defonte’s until they opened up their Manhattan outpost on Third Avenue. Even if you don’t work in the area, it’s well worth the trip. Just a quick walk from Union Square, this sandwich shop knows a thing or two about filling you up on the cheap. Most of their sandwiches cost $10 or less and include a generous helping of meat stacked high with all kinds of fixin’s. Before you get all up in arms about a sandwich costing $10, keep in mind these things are huge. They are Hungry Man dinner sized, and can easily be split in half for sharing or stretching for two meals.
They’ve got the traditional Italian essentials: cured meat, every kind of roasted vegetable, and a delicious long roll that never gets soggy and I swear they carve it out just to fill it up with mayo or mustard. Skimpy Subway sandwich bullshit this is not. It doesn’t take a “sandwich artist” to know how to make the perfect sub. Their menu is vast so be prepared to make some tough decisions. I changed my order three times before settling on the appropriately named “Deli King” complete with corned beef, swiss, mustard and cole slaw. Usually I’m skeptically when it comes to slaw, the name alone suggests it’s the laziest and white-trashiest of all the condiments/sides, but oddly enough the combination worked perfectly.
And what kind of Italian sub shop would they be without honoring their fellow Italian-Americans with tribute subs like the “Vinnie Barbarino” or the “Joey Bishop”, both which looked awesome. They also offer daily rotating specials and salads for those whose idea of “eating light” includes greens piled high with salami, capocolla, and prosciutto. And for the people who always say New York aint cheap, point them in the direction of Defonte’s and they’ll be eating their words, literally.
Defonte’s of Brooklyn
261 Third Ave at 21st St [Gramercy]
Photo courtesy of: Serious Eats