Defonte’s Sandwich Shop & Restaurant in Broklyn Review

Defonte’s Sandwich Shop & Restaurant in Broklyn Review


Defonte’s Sandwich Shop & Restaurant, a culinary institution nestled in the heart of Brooklyn, has been serving up hearty, authentic Italian-American sandwiches since its establishment in 1922. Renowned for its oversized portions and the use of fresh, high-quality ingredients, Defonte’s has maintained a loyal following among both locals and visitors for over a century. The shop’s ambiance, characterized by its no-frills decor and friendly service, transports patrons back to a simpler time, making every visit a nostalgic experience. From classic heroes to unique creations, Defonte’s menu offers a wide variety of options, ensuring there’s something to satisfy every craving. This beloved Brooklyn gem stands as a testament to the enduring appeal of traditional sandwich craftsmanship.

Defonte’s: A Century of Sandwich Mastery

Defonte’s Sandwich Shop, a cornerstone of Italian-American cuisine in Brooklyn, boasts a story that intertwines with the fabric of New York City’s history, dating back to its origin in 1922. This tale begins in the bustling docks of Red Hook, where Nick Defonte, originally a dockworker himself, stepped into the shoes of a local shop owner known affectionately as Brooklyn. In a twist of fate, Brooklyn approached Defonte in desperate need of assistance to evade trouble with local mobsters, offering to sell him the shop for a mere $100 to $300—a transaction that would lay the foundation for Defonte’s legacy.

Nick Defonte, seizing this unexpected opportunity, inadvertently created the first Defonte’s sandwich—a simple yet satisfying ham and cheese, adorned with lettuce and tomato, but notably sans mayonnaise, opting instead for a generous drizzle of olive oil. This choice reflected Nick’s culinary philosophy: simplicity and quality above all, a principle that resonated deeply in a year marked by the Teapot Dome scandal, the introduction of the radio to the White House by President Warren G. Harding, and the birth of actress Betty White. Meanwhile, the construction of Yankee Stadium was underway, signaling a period of growth and change.

Defonte’s sandwiches quickly became a staple for the dockworkers, encapsulating the essence of a hard day’s work with their generous portions and robust flavors. As the shop’s fame grew, so did its menu, evolving to include innovative offerings like the layered egg, cheese, and potato combination, and the lightly battered fried eggplants that became a fixture in many sandwiches, including the beloved Nicky Special.

The backdrop of Red Hook, known for its crime and corruption in the early to mid-20th century, and immortalized by figures such as Al Capone and movies like “On the Waterfront,” did little to deter customers. Instead, Defonte’s became a beacon of culinary excellence, its sandwiches a symbol of resilience and hard work.

The Defonte family ethos, characterized by perseverance and a no-excuses work ethic, was instrumental in the shop’s continued success. Nicky Defonte, reflecting on the discipline instilled by early mornings and long hours, acknowledged the challenges but also the satisfaction of building upon his family’s legacy. Despite the temptation of leisurely days at the beach, the family’s dedication to their craft ensured that each dollar earned was a testament to their commitment.

Over the years, Defonte’s has not only preserved its foundational recipes and traditions but has also embraced innovation, propelling the family business to new heights without compromising the integrity and values at its core. The shop’s enduring popularity, from its humble beginnings as a bodega-like establishment to a celebrated culinary landmark, is a tribute to the Defonte family’s unwavering dedication to quality, community, and the timeless appeal of a well-crafted sandwich.

Defonte’s: A Celebrity Favorite with Universal Appeal

Defonte’s Sandwich Shop & Restaurant has not only captured the hearts of locals and food enthusiasts but has also become a favored spot among celebrities, drawing in notable figures from the worlds of entertainment, sports, and beyond. Its authentic, oversized sandwiches and the charm of its Brooklyn locale have made it a must-visit for stars seeking a taste of classic New York cuisine. Although the specific names of celebrities who have visited Defonte’s are not widely publicized, establishments with such a rich history and acclaim typically attract a variety of high-profile patrons. The shop’s fame and reputation for quality have likely welcomed actors, musicians, and athletes alike, all seeking to experience the legendary sandwiches that have made Defonte’s a beloved institution in New York’s culinary scene.

Defonte’s prides itself on its straightforward, no-nonsense atmosphere, with the only hint of glamour coming from the wall opposite the counter. This wall is adorned with autographed photos of Italian-American celebrities who have patronized the shop, from Al Pacino to various cast members of «The Sopranos.» Nick Defonte emphasizes the diverse clientele that the shop attracts, from sanitation workers to police officers, lawyers, and FBI agents, highlighting the establishment’s broad appeal. According to Defonte, serving a wide spectrum of customers is key, and their success is not dependent on any single demographic.

Defonte’s: Where Tradition Meets Taste

In an era where Brooklyn’s corners are increasingly dotted with trendy, new-age eateries, Defonte’s Sandwich Shop stands out as a bastion of timeless, unpretentious culinary tradition, holding firm to its roots in the rich tapestry of Italian-American cuisine.

Defonte’s menu transcends the typical deli offerings of cold cuts, venturing into a realm where trays of parmigiana and house-brined meats become the norm, allowing patrons the unique opportunity to enjoy varied meals throughout the day without encountering the same flavor twice. The culinary journey at Defonte’s can start with a breakfast of egg and potato on a sesame seed roll, a delightful blend between a scramble and a frittata, followed by an Italian combo sandwich with extra hot peppers for lunch, culminating in a dinner sandwich of eggplant parm that encapsulates the essence of traditional Italian cooking.

The deli’s food rundown is a testament to its commitment to quality and authenticity. The turkey sandwich with turkey gravy, for example, stands out, featuring hand-carved, homemade turkey generously topped with gravy—a sandwich that garners nods of approval rather than raised eyebrows. Similarly, the pastrami with pastrami gravy continues this tradition of indulgence. Other highlights include the eggplant parm, which, despite its messy nature, remains a must-try, and the meatball hero, which is a staple for any red sauce aficionado. The Giuseppe Special, a heroic combination of eggplant and meatball parm, epitomizes the deli’s innovative spirit while staying true to its roots.

Defonte’s is more than a deli; it’s a culinary landmark that continues to serve up hearty, soul-satisfying meals to a diverse clientele. Its commitment to homemade ingredients and substantial servings ensures that each visit is not just a meal, but a homage to a bygone era of New York City dining, making Defonte’s a cherished institution in Brooklyn’s ever-evolving food landscape.

Defonte’s: Tradition Amidst Brooklyn’s Evolution

Defonte’s Sandwich Shop, perched on the corner of Columbia and Luquer Streets in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is more than just a culinary establishment; it’s a living museum of Italian-American heritage, a beacon of consistency in an ever-evolving neighborhood. As it celebrated its centennial in 2022, Defonte’s remains a testament to the enduring appeal of tradition in a borough characterized by rapid gentrification. The shop’s façade, a homage to the Italian flag with its green and red colors, stands as a bold statement of identity amidst the changing tides of the neighborhood.

Inside, the sensation of stepping into a time capsule is palpable. The same tiles, counter, and recipes that have been the backbone of Defonte’s for decades continue to offer a culinary experience that transcends time. The shop’s dedication to maintaining the original flavors and ambiance speaks volumes about its commitment to heritage and quality. This unwavering consistency has been possible, in part, due to longstanding relationships with suppliers like Kings Highway Bakery, ensuring that the essence of Defonte’s remains untouched by time.

Under the watchful guidance of the current family leader, the shop maintains the high standards set by previous generations. The notion that quality and attention to detail cannot be compromised is a mantra that has been passed down through the family. This philosophy extends to the treatment of their employees, many of whom have become as much a part of the Defonte’s family as the blood relatives who have steered the ship through its hundred-year journey. The impressive longevity of staff at Defonte’s stands out in today’s rapidly changing environment, highlighting a work culture deeply rooted in respect, loyalty, and shared appreciation.

In the face of tempting offers from developers, the Defonte family has consistently prioritized their team and the heritage of their business. Choosing to honor human relationships above potential profits demonstrates a commitment to values that have significantly aided the shop’s enduring success.

The Defonte family views the future with cautious optimism, despite its uncertainties. With Vinny residing on Staten Island and less engaged in daily tasks, and his siblings following their own careers, the issue of who will take over is significant. However, a shared belief in taking their time with important decisions dominates their perspective. The shop continues to thrive, a beacon of tradition and quality in a neighborhood that has seen its fair share of change.

Defonte’s stands as a symbol of resilience, a reminder that in the heart of a rapidly changing Brooklyn, there are still places where time seems to stand still, where the flavors of the past are preserved, and where the community and connections built over decades remain strong. As Defonte’s moves into its next century, it carries with it the legacy of a family’s dedication to their craft, their employees, and the community that has grown around them. This enduring legacy, coupled with a loyal customer base that spans generations, ensures that Defonte’s will continue to be a cherished part of Brooklyn’s culinary landscape for years to come.


As Defonte’s Sandwich Shop & Restaurant marks its centennial, it stands as a beacon of tradition and resilience in the ever-changing landscape of Brooklyn. This review has traversed the journey of a humble sandwich shop that has grown to become a culinary landmark, cherished not only by the locals of Red Hook but by a wide array of patrons from celebrities to everyday New Yorkers. Defonte’s has managed to maintain the authenticity and quality of its offerings through decades, a testament to the family’s dedication and the loyalty of its staff, some of whom have been with the shop for over a quarter of a century.

The shop’s resistance to modern culinary trends and real estate pressures highlights a commitment to its roots and community that is rare in today’s fast-paced world. As Defonte’s looks to the future, it faces the challenge of maintaining its legacy while navigating the uncertainties of succession and the evolving tastes of its clientele. Yet, the principles that have guided it for a hundred years—quality ingredients, timeless recipes, and a deep connection to the community—suggest that Defonte’s will continue to serve its beloved sandwiches for generations to come.

In conclusion, Defonte’s Sandwich Shop & Restaurant embodies the spirit of Brooklyn’s past, present, and future. It serves not just meals, but a slice of history, preserving the flavors and traditions of Italian-American cuisine amidst the borough’s continual transformation. As it enters its next century, Defonte’s remains a symbol of endurance, a place where the past is celebrated, the present is savored, and the future is embraced with hope and optimism.