In the early 20th century, there were more than 500 candy stores in Brooklyn alone. Patrons came for the sugar, but they stayed to use telephone booths, read the newspaper, and refresh themselves at the soda fountain. Sometimes, the neighbors just came by to hang out. And according to Elliot Willensky, author of When Brooklyn Was the World: 1920-1957, “A candy store minus an egg cream, in Brooklyn at least, was as difficult to conceive of as the Earth without gravity.”
For a couple pennies, young soda jerks could make you an egg cream in a few seconds. All they needed were seltzer, milk, and chocolate syrup. No eggs and no cream. So why the name “egg cream”? Theories abound. Maybe it once featured eggs and cream, but lost the ingredients after the Great Depression (plus, the drink does resemble those made with frothy egg whites, such as the Ramos Gin Fizz). Or perhaps it was a case of a young soda jerk misunderstanding a Parisian’s heavy-accented order for chocolat et creme. Others suspect the name is an American approximation of the Yiddish echt keem, meaning “pure sweetness.”
Candy shop owner Louis Auster is often credited with inventing the drink. Unfortunately, Auster took his original chocolate syrup recipe to the grave. Today, most classic egg creams come with Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup. Investigators (yes, there are egg cream investigators) agree that the drink has a Jewish background and was born in Brooklyn or Manhattan, but its actual origins are as murky as its frothy top.
One sip and you won’t care who invented anything. Serious Eats describes the perfect egg cream as creamy yet refreshing, with the “thick head of a stout and all the lively bubbles of Champagne.” It’s little wonder the soda fountain favorite became an instant classic. Just make sure you don’t dawdle—egg creams go flat in a matter of minutes, so drink it as soon as the glass hits the table.
Need to Know
Should you require a festive occasion to drink an egg cream, mark your calendar. March 15 is National Egg Cream Day.
Where to Try It
Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop174 5th Ave, New York, New York, 10010, United States
Pair a classic egg cream with a tuna melt on rye from this sandwich shop.
Gem Spa131 2nd Ave, New York, New York, 10003, United States
This long-standing convenience store is an egg cream institution in New York's East Village.