Red Hook, along with the rest of latter-day South Brooklyn, continues to be dragged upward (hello, Fairway?), but vestiges do remain of a not-so-distant past when longshoremen outnumbered loft conversions. On a forlorn stretch of Columbia Street between the Red Hook Houses and the Battery Tunnel toll plaza, red and green block letters above an otherwise unadorned storefront advertise DeFonte’s Sandwich Shop. The breakfast-and-lunch counter is now in its eighth decade and run by the third generation of its namesake family. Step into a welcoming, if utilitarian, wood-paneled interior, and bring a dockworker’s appetite. The standard sizes are one-third and one-half of a long hero loaf—which roughly translate to large and extra-large. Offerings include what just might be the ultimate breakfast sandwich: a truck stop’s worth of ham and steaming scrambled eggs (with potatoes or peppers) piled into a hero. Only slightly less monolithic are the roast beef and roast pork—thinly sliced from slabs soaking in lakes of pan juice. If you like, they’ll dip in and ladle some gravy onto the crowning piece of bread. Add fresh mozzarella and fried eggplant for a sopping heap of rich, full-flavored meatiness. For a more elaborate combination, there’s the Nicky Special: Along with the typical provolone, lettuce and tomato, this absurdly tall stack features four kinds of cold cuts (ham, salami, copocollo and prosciuttini), fried eggplant, mushrooms and marinated vegetables—hot pepper, celery, carrot, even the occasional cauliflower—for a great mix of salty, tangy, spicy, chewy and crunchy. Grab lunch with both hands, hike over to the pier and watch the boats chug by before you finish your sandwich.
DeFonte’s, 379 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, Monday to Saturday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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