My first few visits to Defonte’s of Brooklyn came shortly after the Manhattan branch opened, and, as previously mentioned, there were a number of issues with those initial visits. After a long hiatus, I returned to Defonte’s to see if the food, and the service, had improved. Thankfully, both have, as the sandwich makers now know exactly what’s going on your sandwich without consulting the board.

JOEY BISHOP

On my first return trip I decided on the Joey Bishop (Virginia ham, provolone, roasted peppers, balsamic vinaigrette, and EVO), and I was more than pleased with my decision. Even though I’m not a big fan of warm (or hot) hot sandwiches, this sandwich is exceptionally good and filling. There’s a healthy amount of ham, so much so that it’s hanging over all of the sides of the bread. Same goes for the large slices of provolone. This abundance of meat and cheese gives the sandwich the appearance that it’s much bigger than it actually is. But it’s the taste that I was most pleased with. Everything goes together. This is one of those sandwiches with the perfect mix of ingredients. You might get too much provolone in one bite and too much roasted peppers in another, but the ham brings it all together. You’d think the flavor of the sandwich would come from the EVO, but that’s not the case. It comes from the roasted peppers is where the real juice of the sandwich comes from.

My lone problem with the sandwich is the bread. It’s too small for a sandwich this size. I like when the meat and cheese are falling over the sides, but this was a bit too much. A large loaf of bread would have been able to better handle this sandwich.

DEFONTE’S CUBAN

I can’t recall ever having a Cuban before, so I don’t know what makes Defonte’s Cuban different from a regular Cuban (Sounds like I have a case of the “Too Lazy To Google”s). Their Cuban features roast pork, Virginia ham, Swiss, and pickles on garlic bread. I don’t know what it is about sandwiches with two types of meats that I like so much. Not every sandwich likes this is perfect (I’ve learned that roast beef and turkey does not go well together), but when it works, it’s a sandwich to order frequently. And this Cuban is one of those sandwiches where two meats work. The pork and ham paired well together, and it created a flavor I would like to experience more often. But, to be honest, I rarely tasted the pickle. It seemed like another case of something that’s better next to a sandwich rather than on one. I don’t know if pickles are on the sandwich out of the tradition or to enhance the flavor, but it definitely didn’t do the latter. I’ll have to seek out a traditional Cuban to find out the difference, but if it’s anything like this, I’m fairly certain I will find myself liking it.

SHRIMP PARM

I was very excited about the shrimp parm sandwich because I haven’t seen it on a menu in years. This shrimp pram is minimalist: fried shrimp, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella, and marinara sauce. That is all.

Part of the sandwich is made in the front of the store and then it disappears into the back of the store. I’d love to say that’s where the magic happens, but it doesn’t. This is not a magically tasty sandwich; it’s actually quite bland. The shrimp is fried to the point where lost its flavor; they taste like any piece of fried food you’d purchase as an appetizer at a sports bar. I could have used a lot more mozzarella, because the amount I was given was non-existent. Maybe some additional spices, or even not breading and frying the shrimp, would add to the flavor.

I was hoping for so much when I ordered this sandwich, and I received so little when I ate it. For now, this is one special I want to see removed from the board.

CONCLUSION

Of the three, I find myself constantly going back for the Joey Bishop. It’s a well-made, tasty sandwich that can fulfill any sandwich craving.

Although I’m still not a fan of the fried eggplant that they have on nearly every sandwich, I’ve learned how to navigate around it. I’m also not a fan of the cutesy names you need to use to order a sandwich, but I’ll take a quality sandwich with an embarrassing name over a crappy sandwich anyway.

Defonte’s of Brooklyn is located at 261 3rd Ave (www.defontesofbrooklyn.com/)

Defonte’s of Brooklyn

April 23, 2010

Defonte’s of Brooklyn, a long-standing sandwich institution hailing from Red Hook, has finally branched out to Manhattan, specifically Gramercy. After eating two sandwiches, I’ve found that it was not worth the wait.

Shortly after the Grand Opening, the first sandwich I tried was the Joey Bishop. (Some sandwiches are named after the Italian members of the Rat Pack). I knew I was in the trouble shortly after ordering as my sandwich maker had no idea what sandwich I wanted. After ordering by number (27), he seemed to have a better idea of what sandwich he was just asked to make. I thought I was in good hands, until I saw him consult a piece of paper taped to the wall. It was the ingredients list. I understand there are a lot of sandwich combinations to memorize. However, the Bishop was one of the basics (ham, provolone, roasted peppers, balsamic, and extra virgin olive oil). I could barely taste the balsamic or the EVO and the roasted peppers slowly slid out of my sandwich making a nice pile on my plate. I wanted the peppers on my sandwich, not my plate. Thus, my sandwich quickly became ham and provolone, something I could have made on my own. And made better.

Being a glutton for punishment, I went back a few weeks later for a second sandwich. This time I decided on a plain old chicken parm hero (a.ka. # 32). This sandwich maker knew what I wanted without having to tell her the number. Good sign. But then, to my horror, she took each chicken cutlet and dipped in marinara sauce that was currently marinating the meatballs. Three times she did this. Three times I gave her a “What are you doing?” look. Is it that hard to have the marinara sauce sitting in a pan by itself? She then sprinkled on some parmesan and took the sandwich to the back, where mozzarella was added and baked on.

The chicken was over cooked. After the first bite it was obvious that the chicken had been sitting out all day, slowly turning into coasters. The sauce was non-existent. The mozzarella seemed to disappear after one bite. By the time I was done, there was two large, meatless butts of bread on my plate. I felt like asking “Where’s the Beef?” I’m sticking with the local pizzerias for chicken parm sandwiches from here on out.

Defontes also offers a host of sides that seem more suitable for a family gathering than lunch for one. The potato salad should be called onion and mayonaisse salad because, after two bites, you’re all out of potato and onion and mayo are all you have left. The others sides are your standard barbeque sides all of which look like they have mayo as the main ingredient.

A quick scan of their menu revealed that fried eggplant is one of their favorite ingredients (it’s featured on 7 out of 20 sandwiches). I’ve never put this on a sandwich, nor do I know anyone that has. I didn’t try to order off menu, so I don’t know if they’ll create sandwiches on demand. However, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The space itself is ridiculously tight. If you’re there during peak hours, it will get a little confusing as to who is ordering what to which sandwich maker. There’s no room to eat in store, unless you want a stranger standing over you as you eat.

Due to the lack of quality sandwich shops in the Gramercy area, a new sandwich shop was much needed and was welcomed with open arms. (It also helps that the store is located right around the corner from my apartment). However, after trying two sandwiches and being unhappy with both a third visit is out of the question. Perhaps I was asking for too much going to a shop with over 87 years of sandwich making experience.

An edited version of this “review” appeared on http://openpalatenyc.wordpress.com/ in June of 2009.

Defnote’s of Brooklyn is located at 261 3rd Ave (on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 21st St.)