I recall the first time I was down south, and it was when I was in the military, fresh out of boot camp. I stopped by a local soda fountain store in some God-forsaken burg somewhere and asked for an egg cream. The old cracker behind the counter gave me a weird look and said, “Pard’on?” I repeated my request. He stared at me myopically through thick lens glasses and said, “Yuh wan’ an a-i-ggh in yore cream?” I knew then I was in foreign territory, at least where egg creams are concerned.
Egg creams, in the north, and by that I mean the New York metropolitan area, are a rite of passage, a legendary elixir that defies imagination. I’ve had a love affair when egg creams since my early youth. Even in the Spanish Harlem of old, we revered egg creams. It transcended race, creed, nationality. It was, and still is to some of us, the ultimate good time drink—especially in you like chocolate.
Egg cream’s genesis is said to have begun in Brooklyn, N.Y. Yes, the same borough that gave the world Barbra Streisand, Neil Simon, Neil Young and William Bendix, gave us the egg cream, that immutable mix of cold milk (whole, not skim or partially skimmed), chocolate syrup and seltzer. Historians claims that is began in the Jewish community in the 18880s and 1900s. Yet, it does not have an egg. Some authorities state that initially, before World War II, it did contain an egg that was mixed in with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. I cannot say if this is true or not. The consensus behind this theory is that the egg was dropped from the drink because of wartime rationing.
What I do know is that in my part of the world there has been an ongoing discussion, some would say an argument, about what type of chocolate syrup to use. When I was a kid, it was divided into two camps: those who favored the traditional Fox’s U-bet Chocolate Syrup, and those who preferred Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup. In my neighborhood, there were some partisans who used Bosco as the syrup base. I have never tried it with that.
Sadly, egg creams are becoming a nostalgic entity. Back in my youth, there were neighborhood soda fountains all over, and each served egg creams. Today, they are harder to find. My favorite New York egg cream these days comes from Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, a diner that has been on 5th Avenue and 22nd street since 1929.
At home, I still make my own egg creams. And I still use the traditional small Coca-Cola glass for it. There are many variations to making a genuine New York egg cream, as you will see below. But in all cases it is imperative that you use a long spoon to mix the chocolate and the milk in order to get a foamy white head.
Here’s a traditional recipe. Oh, yes, very important, the classic egg cream should be drunk straight from the glass. I find that I lose something if I drink it through a straw; I just don’t get the taste of the foamy cream.
TRADITIONAL EGG CREAM
1/2 cup cold milk
1 cup bottled seltzer or club soda
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup (or more to taste)
Pour the milk in the bottom of a soda glass. Then drop the chocolate down the side of the glass and gently mix it with the milk, using a long-handled spoon. Now pour the seltzer down the center of the glass and stir with the spoon to generate a thick white foamy head. Some variations argue that you should stir the mixture only after everything has been added, being careful not to disturb the foam. And some say, first add some milk, then the syrup, then more milk and the seltzer. And still others claim that it tastes better using whipped cream instead of milk. You are free to experiment to see which one suits your palate.