We’ll start, like an egg cream should, with the syrup. With all due respect to Milton Hershey, the classic New York Egg Cream starts off with only one type of syrup: Fox’s U-bet Chocolate Syrup.
When you think of classic New York City food and drinks, your mind may not go to the egg cream right away. In fact, I think it’s kind of a dying piece of the city’s culinary history. I’ve actually found that most New Yorkers who I’ve asked have no idea what this drink is. There’s usually questions about how many eggs are in it (zero), what it tastes like (magic), and then confusion when they find out it’s actually a beverage.
But the egg cream is famous! It was even featured on The West Wing:
Bartlet: Toby, I'm drinking the most fantastic thing I've ever tasted in my life: chocolate syrup, cold milk, and seltzer. I know it sounds terrible, but trust me, I don't know where this has been all my life.
Toby: It's called an egg cream, Mr. President. We invented it in Brooklyn.
Bartlet: In Brooklyn.
Toby: Yes, sir.
Bartlet: Not New England?
Toby: There are some good things in this world not from New England, sir.
Bartlet: Toby, don't ever let me hear you say that again.
The New York Egg Cream has a pretty debated past, because that’s how we treat our classic foods here in New York City. There’s several alleged inventors, but the true history of the egg cream has been tragically lost to time. One person says the name was translated wrong from Yiddish, while food historian Andrew Smith wrote that during the 1880s the drink was made with chocolate syrup, cream, and raw eggs mixed with soda water. In poorer neighborhoods (where you couldn’t afford eggs or cream), the drink was made without.
Origins aside, today’s egg cream is found in many New York eateries and pretty much all of the old school ice cream fountain shops in the city. While the ingredients are simple (syrup, milk, and seltzer), there are so many things that can go wrong, and it’s a true art to make an egg cream the “right way.” This is why it’s kind of difficult to rank “best of” spots - get someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, and you have a flat drink.
The debate goes beyond “what is an egg cream and why is it called that?” and covers something New Yorkers like to argue about on a daily basis: Which borough did it first, and which borough does it best? Brooklynites typically lay claim to the drink, though many will argue it originated on the Lower East Side. To truly complete the test (and because I just enjoy egg creams), I went to both spots.
Growing up, my mom (born in Williamsburg and raised in Ozone Park) would make eggs creams for us as a special treat. She, as you should be, was a stickler for making it the right way. A layer of Fox-s U-bet (never Hershey’s), cold milk (always whole), and the freshest and coldest seltzer you could get. Suffice it to say, the egg creams in New York had a lot to live up to.
I started at Ray’s Candy Store across from Tompkins Square Park on a super hot summer day. If you’ve never been to Ray’s, you’re missing out on an amazing New York City candy shop. They have everything - shakes, fried candy bars, fried Oreos, and egg creams.
Ray’s Candy Store is also pretty famous for being one of the last spots visited by Anthony Bourdain on Parts Unknown.
The egg cream at Ray’s had great flavor (I went with chocolate, as you always should), but the drink itself was pretty flat. Heartbreak all around, though I’ll definitely give them another shot because Ray’s is basically my idea of Food Heaven on Earth.
To Brooklyn we went, a borough that takes pride in being “the first place to serve an egg cream.” After consulting the good people of Reddit, I was led to Brooklyn Farmacy to try out their egg cream.
Brooklyn Farmacy is a cute little ice cream fountain housed in a 1920s apothecary. Located in Carroll Gardens, the Farmacy features homemade ice cream, a full menu of sandwiches, and lots of other tasty treats. But more importantly, they take their egg creams seriously, as the place is decked out with egg cream signage and Fox’s u-Bet bottles
I ordered the “grumble, grumble” special, which gets you a grilled cheese, tomato soup, and an egg cream. The grilled cheese and soup were fantastic.
The egg cream? Well, I had a pretty alarmed look on my face, since the soda jerk started with the milk and added the syrup. The horror.
Technique aside, this was perfect in every sense of the word. It had the perfect chocolate to milk ratio, it was super cold, and it was just the right amount of fizzy. I’m actually really mad (but kind of relieved) I live so far from this place, because I would be there all the time loading up on egg creams and ice cream.
Brooklyn takes this round of The Great Egg Cream Battle. But make no mistake - you can find a great egg cream in so many places in the city. Next time you see it on the menu, order it! You may just find your favorite new treat.
Just make sure you start with the syrup.