• 379 Columbia Street
• Brooklyn, NY 11231
• (718)625-8052 •

If I ask you to think about Red Hook, Brooklyn, the odds are that you're going to think about the Fairway and its immediate area. Little shops, a winery, some restaurants, artists, and rowhomes that sell for way more than you'd expect given that this is a flood zone. In the summer, girls in sundresses ride bicycles with baskets as people wander the cobblestone lanes eating frozen key lime pie pops, enjoying the sweet smell of the ocean. But there is a second Red Hook just a few blocks away towards the BQE. Housing projects, taxi repair depots, and a liquor store whose Yelp review states, without a hint of sarcasm: "Out of all the bulletproof liquor stores I've ever been to in Brooklyn this is by far the cleanest..." This is pre-gentrification Red Hook and this is where Defonte's exists; on the ground floor of what would otherwise look like a cutseyfied abandoned brownstone.

Inside Defonte's, the vintage theme remains as you walk back in time, but if the exterior hasn't clued you in, there's nothing cozy about it. There are no tables. You can either eat on that ledge with the napkin holder or someplace else. They could care less either way, as long as you don't block the other customers, of which there will be plenty. No, they don't take credit cards. See the sign? Cash only. No cash? There's an ATM. Don't be late because they close at 4PM and when they run out of something for the day, they don't make more. I arrived at 3:30 once and they were stripped nakeder than a Trader Joe's on the eve of a hurricane. "We have whatever is in these six trays" the guy told said. I told him I was thinking about getting roast beef. His reply? "Think about something else."

When you've been around for nearly a century, you're clearly doing something right. Despite being featured on the Food Network and in just about every tour guide, there's clearly a good chunk of regulars that stop by for lunch. The staff's Brooklyn accents are un-ironic but friendly. Even the wiseguy with the roast beef comment said it in a chipper way.

I ended up, that fateful day getting an Eggplant Parmesan sandwich, something I'd never have ordered on my own. But it was off the charts good. I cannot describe how good it was. A couple big slabs of roast eggplant covered in a sweet marinara that one hesitates to describe because it'll only do it an injustice, and coated in layers of cheese. No, it's not healthy and, as I stood on the curb using the hood of my car as a table to take a test bite, I realized that this is not the kind of sandwich you put off eating because first, it will get cold and it's at its best hot, and second because the bread will turn into mush under all the sauce. Of course, it's not the kind of sandwich you eat on the road unless you want to wind up having red stains all over your clothing

In subsequent trips (they're on the way to Ikea) I picked up a Cuban sandwich and I had to try their Red Hook sandwich, since that's where they are. The Cuban sandwich adds about an inch of roast pork to the traditional ham, Swiss cheese, and pickle. It was delicious, but I would have liked a bit more cheese and the pork was a little dry. Not overly so, but a tiny bit. No regrets though. And bonus? You can eat it in the car. The Red Hook sandwich is a breaded chicken cutlet with bacon, ham, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. It's greasier than the Cuban, but fantastic. There are a hundred more sandwiches to go. Luckily, I seem to be going to Ikea weekly.

One thing that separates these sandwiches from just about anywhere else is the bread. No, it's not some artisinal roll made from organic, free range wheat. It's just good. The bread is sweet and perfect to bite into. It's firm, but not crumbly and crusty; soft, but not chewy. You don't fight the bread trying to take a bite and it doesn't bite you back with mouth slicing splinters. It just gets the job done well.

Iconic NYC restaurants run the gamut of prices. The Lemon Ice King of Corona is very cheap. Peter Lugers is not. The Second Avenue Deli isn't "expensive" but it is outrageously overpriced. Defonte's is none of these. They make sandwiches that aren't gimmicky, so they aren't going to put you in the poorhouse, but the sandwiches will can be $12 for a small. But the small is about ten inches long. You can get a larger one for a few bucks more, or go to town with a 6-footer for $140.

By the way, there is a second Defonte's on Staten Island. There used to be a Defonte's in Manhattan in the Gramercy Park area, but the building is going to be knocked down, so it's gone. 

DeFonte's of Red Hook Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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