This week’s sandwich came heavily recommended from various readers, Twitterers, and my friend Brad, who works near the shop in question. I appreciate sandwich recommendations so please keep them coming. I know there is no shortage of delicious sandwiches in this fine city, so if you’ve got one you love, I’m down to, you know, eat it. Especially if it’s within a reasonable subway haul from Rockefeller Plaza or a reasonable drive from Central Westchester, and especially if it’s something of an offbeat sandwich, since there are only so many things I can say about burgers.
(I don’t mean that. I can’t say enough about burgers. I’m sorry I even suggested otherwise, ground beef. I love you.)
The sandwich: Hot roast beef from Defonte’s of Brooklyn, 21st and 3rd Ave., Manhattan (also apparently in Red Hook, but good luck tearing yourself away from the taco trucks).
The construction: House-made Italian bread with roast beef, fresh mozzarella, fried eggplant and au jus.
Important background info: I probably should’ve ordered the hot roast beef to stay — especially considering the wonderful smell at Defonte’s — but it was a nice day and I passed Gramercy Park on my way, so I figured I’d take it out and go sit on a park bench with my sandwich. Somewhere deep in my head I’m sure I knew that Gramercy Park is closed to the public and accessible only via key to residents of specific area buildings, but it slipped my mind on Friday, focused as I was on this much-hyped sandwich.
I walked a full lap of the park looking for an open entrance, panicking, knowing that my sandwich — with that au jus on it — was growing soggy. When I figured out I wasn’t allowed in, my head filled up with anti-capitalist angst as I hauled ass toward Union Square. Dammit, this city has so little green space, what exists should be for everyone! Those sons of bitches have a lot of nerve, locking people out. Damn-near shameful.
I eventually found a suitable bench on the northeast side of Union Square park. But soon after I opened my sandwich, a lady sat right across from me and started feeding squirrels, and I could see the little bastards eying my roast beef. That’s mine! Away from my sandwich, rodents! Move on, Willard-woman, please let me eat in peace. Next some panhandlers came by with cardboard signs and guilt trips. Man, isn’t there some way to make this park more exclusive?
What it looks like:
How it tastes: A bit soggy, as I feared, but still really, really tasty.
My particular mound of roast beef came from near the end of the roast, but it was still rare, moist and tender. This was a huge thing for customers at the deli — there were a lot of people who just didn’t want roast beef until it was cut from the center and rarest part of the meat. I always thought the rareness factor was at least a tiny bit overrated, but obviously I recognize that the butt-end of a roast beef is usually dry and unappetizing. Not the case at Defonte’s (though this wasn’t quite the very end), at all. Helps that they’ve got it soaking in jus, of course.
Speaking of: Something in this sandwich was quite garlicky, and I’m guessing it was that jus. Which is good. Garlicky is good. Every time I lifted my hand near my mouth for the rest of the day I smelt buttery garlic and remembered the sandwich, a nice little reminder of a delicious sandwich past.
And when I got good bites of the fried eggplant — when it was crispy — it perfectly complemented the roast beef and added some crunchiness to the sandwich. It was soggy a bit too often, unfortunately, which was a shame because it’s clearly what makes this sandwich especially notable. That’s not Defonte’s fault, of course; blame me for taking the thing to go and the people of the Gramercy area for locking their park (and that woman inside for not coming over and opening the gate for me when she saw me standing there, pathetic, obviously eager to eat a sandwich).
My one quibble would be the amount of fresh mozzarella. I should probably mention that this is a complaint I have with every food item in the world that’s not a massive hunk of fresh mozzarella, but on the hot roast beef the delicious cheese got overwhelmed a bit by the huge amount of meat. No disrespect to meat, obviously, but if I were constructing this sandwich myself, I’d probably substitute another layer of mozzarella for the last few slices of roast beef to balance out the proportions a little bit.
What it’s worth: Sandwich cost about $10, plus two rides on the subway and about 10 minutes of walking for me. But look at that damn thing; there’s enough there for two meals. Good luck trying to stop eating it after the first half, though.
How it rates: Please excuse me for avoiding a proper rating for the second straight week. As I enjoyed it, this sandwich still merits a rating in the mid-to-high 80s: delicious. But due to the potential here and all the vehement recommendations, I suspect that under the proper conditions this might very well have been a Hall of Fame sandwich. I guess think of it like the Tony Conigliaro of sandwiches: An Italian stud on a Hall of Fame trajectory but sidetracked by misfortune. Only obviously the story of the hot roast beef is far less tragic, since it will end with me eating another.