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Defonte's-To hell with Quiznos, Subway and Blimpie

We all had real Italian hero/deli places growing up. In the 70's near Stuyvesant High School was DiBella Bros. whose antipasta heros made from the leftover scraps of proscuitto, soppressata, provolone, peppers, etc., etc. made the crappiest day in high school heaven. In the 80s down on Wall Street where I got a crappy job as a stockbroker's cold caller during college there was Rosario's where the capicolla (pronounced "gabbagoul") was legend. Nowadays the iconoclasts of Italian heros, namely Quiznos, Subway and Blimpies have all but destroyed those happy memories. Until now. I've never been to Defonte's in Red Hook over the last 87 years-my loss, but the new Manhattan branch has brought that old NYC Italian love on a roll with them. The roast beef was sliced to order and my request for rare was unnecessary as it came off looking like beef carpaccio. The fried eggplant gave it a slight crunch and just the right vegetable counterpoint to the nearly raw meat. The mozzarella (pronounced "mutz") was fresh and made in house. The au jus gave it the french dip component while the hot peppers and the soft baked humongous garlic bread complemented the whole thing. Not to mention the love spilling out of it. I looked longingly at the fried shrimp (only available on fridays and saturdays) and the owner tossed a few on my plate. They'd stand up to the best shrimp po' boy I've had in New Orleans, another city where the Italian amore still exists. Look, we still have Alidoro, Faicco's, Biellese, Mike's and Mama's (thank God), but Defonte's has restored my faith in NYC. As for Quiznos, Subway and Blimpie...fuggedaboudit.

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    1. I'm so glad to see this report, guttergourmet. After reading the other thread, I was beginning to worry that we were in for another 3rd Av. in the 20's disappointment (referring, of course, to the dreaded, avoid-at-all-costs Pizza Pub). I, too, have never been to the Brooklyn Defonte's but am now looking forward to only having to walk a few blocks to the Manhattan branch, which I will be doing asap.

      1. Hmm ... I'm heading over to a hospital nearby and may give this a try ... another culinary confession ... I've never eaten a hero!

        1. oh holy smoke. dibella brothers!!!!

          moved here in the early 80s and got turned in to the place by a stuy alum. the pepperoni, ricotta salata and olive salad was the closest thing to readymade hangover cure cold pizza i ever tasted.

          thanks for the memory :)

          1. thanks.. i think i'll check it out tomorrow. as a fellow rosario's mourner, could you opine on which place best replicates that experience?

            i still have dreams about my regular (and somewhat atypical) order there: chicken cutlet, hot capicolla, prosciutto, fresh mozz, black pepper, and pesto spread on a sesame hero. it's up there as one of my all-time favorite meals.

            1. Where is Defonte's in Manhattan?

              1 Reply
              1. A few weeks back, I was asking the Red Hook proprietor about whether he thinks the Manhattan store will bear up by comparison. He responded, "I hope so."Good to hear that they're maintaining their high standards; the flagship serves up the best roast beef hero I've tasted in many a moon. They're also good people, a class act.

                Here's the all-important question: Does the Manhattan branch carry Brooklyn's own Manhattan Special, the wonderful coffee expresso drink that was born and bread on Manhattan Avenue?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Polecat

                  they have the manhattan special.

                  if you're ever there for breakfast, they make a great cheap egg & cheese sandwich too. it's not on the menu, but they'll cook it to order.

                2. Try to respond to everyone: "gabbagoul" is cappicolla. MMRuth-you can ease into the hero by ordering the Joey Bishop-Virginia ham, provolone, roasted peppers, balsamic and EVOO or jump in with both feet and get a Nicky Special-ham, gabbagoul, salami, fried eggplant, provolone, hot pepper salad, marinated mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar. Chet- try the Italian Stallion-proscuitto, mutz, fried eggplant and roasted peppers or make your own (?). Polecat- had a Boylan black cherry, didn't notice if they had the Manhattan Special espresso soda. Chef June- 21st and 3rd.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: guttergourmet

                    Thanks - we ended up going to Mercadito - the smaller one. How huge are these sandwiches? My friend whose partner is in the hospital nearby said the roast beef one was excellent, and particularly liked that they ask you how you want your roast beef - rare, medium, etc.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      It was enormous. Don't forget to ask for the garlic bread.

                      1. re: guttergourmet

                        Thanks - this sounds like maybe a two person trip!

                  2. I just went to the Red Hook stop for the first time yesterday...AMAZING. I'm from Philly originally and am picky about my "hoagies" and man, these rate right up there with the best I've ever had.

                    1. I wish they were open on Sunday!

                      1. had the pleasure of sampling a bunch of their sandwiches cuz we ordered for work recently. overall, really nice! the ingredients were very fresh, cut and prepared with care. we also order from lamazou pretty often; the sandwiches are very different and the quality of ingredients pretty much equal. the sandwiches could also use a dash of salt.

                        nicky special - this is rightly the special; the marinated salad was great, and anything with fried eggplant (their sig. topping?) killed.

                        italian stallion - basically prosc. with mozz. and . . . surprise, fried eggplant. yummy.

                        fresh mozzarella - the caprese on a sandwich. needs salt. but good cheese.

                        hot turkey - very nice sandwich actually, in particular because . . . . of the fried eggplant!

                        joey bishop - don't think I actually ate this one, but seems pretty basic ham n' cheese

                        deli king - like a reuben. bland corned beef tho! but tasty.

                        cuban - pretty alright; nowhere near a latin place's, but, the ingredients are there.

                        Ya, these are monsters; we cut them into 4s and it was more than enough of a sampling, per. I'd definitely hit this place again, split a sandwich, try some of the other stuff but definitely, the fried eggplant saves the day, and that italian marinated veg mix is great too.

                        1. Had the Dino (meatball parm) last weekend. Gargantuan.