As much as I pretend to act like it, I am no working class hero. True, I've done a number of blue collar jobs. But that hardly makes me a member of the proletariat. My mom was a teacher and is now a counselor. My dad was a professor, then a high level government official, and is now a lobbyist. And they paid for my undergraduate degree at NYU. No matter how long I drive a cab, I'll never really be working class.
My dad, on the other hand, really did start out honest-to-goodness blue collar. His father ran a convenience store on the North Side of Chicago. My dad sold tube socks on the corner because he had to. I sold pickles on the sidewalk because it was my idea of a dream job. He drove a bus because it was a steady job. I drove a bread truck to get free, fresh rye bread. He vended lemonade at Wrigley Field and Comisky Park because that was how to make money at his age in Chicago. I vended hot dogs at the ball park in Coney Island because it was fun.
Although my dad successfully clawed his way out of the working class (he never imagined his second born would find it enthralling or interesting to claw back into it), the man can still enjoy blue collar cuisine. And I do believe that there is such a thing. I've never seen any other former Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Controls devour a Chicago hot dog or an Italian beef sandwich or a deep dish pie with as much pleasure and comfort as my dad does. It's like watching an old teamster at a truck stop on Route 66. He is in his element. Even though he became a Republican and moved to Potomac, Maryland, he never forgot his working class roots.
And even though I could never pass myself off as anything close to a real blue collar guy, I've read that taste buds are genetic. And I've always loved to eat the working man's lunch. That's probably a big part of the reason I fell in love with Defonte's Sandwich Shop in Red Hook the moment I took my first bite of their signature sandwich.
Homemade roast beef, fried eggplant, and fresh mozzarella on a big, long hero is exactly what my dad would have loved had he grown up in Brooklyn rather than Chicago. The sandwich is messy and gigantic, meant to satisfy your hunger quickly and your taste buds thoroughly without worrying about presentation.
Defonte's, at the edge of Red Hook near the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, has been serving the working class denizens of Red Hook since the days when the neighborhood was bustling with longshoremen. When I went, there was a truck driver double parked outside chowing down on his sandwich before hitting the BQE. There were a couple of construction workers inside waiting in their hard hats for their orders to come up. And I know there was at least one cab driver in there. But that sandwich was so good I wouldn't have been surprised to see an Under Secretary walk through the door.
379 Columbia Street at Luquer St., Red Hook, Brooklyn 718-625-8052