It’s rare I have a hero craving, but when I do, my two go-to places are Defonte’s of Brooklyn and Faicco’s Italian Specialties. If you were wondering, this isn’t a Bite vs Bite. It would be hard to compare since both are good in different ways. Whether I go to one or the other really depends on my mood…
For example, when craving something substantial but not so heavy-feeling, I’ll go to Defonte’s for a Nicky Special ($11.50), Italian hero bread layered with ham, capocollo, salami, fried eggplant, provolone, hot salad, marinated mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes, and a sprinkling of oil and vinegar. I know what you’re thinking. How the hell is this monstrosity light? Well, it has to do with the hot salad and the marinated mushrooms. There’s a good amount of meat, but not a crazy amount, and in exchange you get mushrooms and Nicky’s Famous Hot Salad (vegetables vary, but cauliflower and onions are usually present). Slightly pickled and packing a gentle heat, the vegetables add a nice brightness. I also like the fried eggplant, which — although isn’t crunchy since it’s pre-made — is very tasty in an “oil sponge” kind of way. Sometimes the Nicky Special can be a tad on the bland side, as can the other sandwiches at Defonte’s, but other times it’s absolutely perfect. If the former happens to you, the problem is quickly solved with a few shakes of salt.
And going back to the lightness factor of the Nicky Special, to welcome my brother back home after an emergency appendectomy this summer, I ordered a hero spread from Defonte’s. For the record, despite my mother’s fear he would pop his stitches, my brother had no problem scarfing down half a hero.
Had I ordered the Italian Special ($10) from Faicco’s, that would have been a different story. Piled high with prosciutto, hot capocollo, Genoa salami, soppressata (spicy or sweet), fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes, the only thing preventing it from toppling over is the fact that the bread innards are cleverly gutted out. A drizzle of olive oil and a bit of raw garlic melds everything together. It’s pure genius in construction and taste. (If you want to get more old-school, ask them to skip the lettuce and tomatoes. And for those who don’t like red peppers, you can substitute sun-dried tomatoes.) For a classic Italian-American hero with all the meat, and all the salt, Faicco’s has been doing it right since 1900.
Not that Defonte’s is exactly a newbie. Established in 1922, both are standing the test of time.
Faicco’s Italian Specialties
260 Bleecker Street (b/n Morton & Leroy St; map)
New York, NY 10014