Saturday, February 21, 2009
Someone Else's Cooking: Defonte's in Gramercy
Despite being in the 40s, it's a very spring-like day in NYC. And walking through the Union Square Green market, it's clear spring is on its way...but not quite here yet. My haul today consisted of a bag of onions from Mignorelli and two loaves of sourdough from Our Daily Bread (my contribution to an Oscars party tomorrow night. Sourdough = San Francisco = tribute to best picture nominee Milk, get it?). But having $7.50 worth of bread in my shopping bag didn't stop me from popping into Defonte's during their soft opening this afternoon. The Defonte's of Brooklyn in Gramercy is an outpost of the famous Italian deli located in Red Hook, Brooklyn. And it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood, given the past tenant in the location was a very skeevy Blimpies. For the soft opening, all sandwiches were priced at $5, which is a pretty nice discount compared to the official menu (let's just say they don't sell $5 foot longs). They were out of most ingredients for cold heros, so I ordered two hot sandwiches to try -- the #23 The Jerry Lewis (mozzarella, fried eggplant, and tomato) and #28 Deli King (corn beef, swiss, coleslaw, mustard). Why those two? No idea. It was a madhouse so I just ordered the first things that caught my eye. #23 (which I received sans tomato) was thin and crispy. The fried eggplant, which Defonte's is supposed to be famous for, was more about the "fried" and less about the eggplant. Sliced very thin lengthwise, the eggplant was most likely dredged in egg and some kind of flour mixture before cooked. My great uncle used to make zucchini this way, so I know it can be delicious, but in this case, the eggplant had practically vaporized in the fryer. All that was left was the crispy coating and a few seeds to prove that the vegetable had actually once been there -- but no eggplant taste. My take: treat the fried eggplant as a topping for one of the meat heroes or as a side dish. In fact, I picked the eggplant off the bread and ate it plain. The #28 was visually more impressive - a towering pile of fresh sliced corn beef with spicy brown mustard and the house coleslaw. But although it was marketed as a hot sub, by the time I got home (and I live really close) it was cool, so I heated in in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese. The combination of flavors was nice, although the corn beef was slightly chewy (I don't think Katz's has to worry). All in all, pretty good for a soft opening, and props to the staff for staying cool given the unfamiliar menu and hungry crowds. I will definitely be back to try a cold hero. So maybe it's for the best that spring is still a few weeks away -- more time to work off lunches like these!