I make it a point to have an egg cream whenever I can — as a lover of both chocolate and soda, what could possibly be better?
Invented in 18th century Brooklyn by candy shop owner Louis Auster — though, like every bit of culinary lore in this city, the origins are up for debate — the egg cream might not be as easy to find as it once was, but is still the subject of hot debate. Purists will argue about whether the syrup is poured in first or drizzled in later, the correct ratio of milk to seltzer, and whether you garnish the drink with a metal spoon or a pretzel rod.
In a quest to find the best chocolaty, fizzy mixture that the borough has to offer, GO Brooklyn took one for the team and tried out five of the most talked-about egg creams around.
Tom’s Restaurant, a Prospect Heights mainstay, retains a kitschy diner feel that augered a great egg cream. I ordered one ($2.50) and watched as it was made: first the syrup was pumped into the glass and then whole milk was added. These ingredients were stirred with a long metal spoon, and the mix was topped off with seltzer from a tap. Things were looking pretty good, until the can of whipped cream made an appearance. The foul foam was piled on top to look like a bouffant hairdo, and then showered with ground cinnamon. The drink was presented with a flourish and, while it looked lovely, the cinnamon and whipped cream quickly dissolved, imparting a chalky, saccharine taste that completely overpowered the fizz.
Anapoli, a “family restaurant and soda shop” in Bay Ridge, also has a classic diner feel despite only having been open for 11 years.
The restaurant is proud of its desserts, but the egg cream ($1.65) was mostly whole milk with seltzer floating on top. I wasn’t even given a spoon with which I could mix the concoction. It was like sampling a freshly made batch of Yoo-hoo.
Next up was Junior’s — a Brooklyn institution almost as famed as the egg cream itself. Though the waiter disappeared, and I didn’t see the egg cream ($2.95) actually being made, it came out in a glass painted with lines indicating how high to fill it with syrup, milk and seltzer. Mine was about an inch and half short of the seltzer line, but it was nice to see that the restaurant at least has a standard. The head was weak, but the syrup-to-bubble ratio was in check and the chocolate flavor was rich and consistent — it didn’t become overpowering as I neared the bottom of the glass. Junior’s egg cream was decent, but ultimately, it was nothing spectacular. My advice: order a milkshake.
Peter Pan Donut Shop in Greenpoint is best described as a retro Polish luncheonette. On my visit, I was the youngest person at the counter by about 40 years.
I ordered my egg cream ($1.75) and watched as two of the waitresses — dressed in matching turquoise and pink button-front dresses — made it together, quietly arguing about how much syrup to add and carefully measuring the whole milk. One of them poured the seltzer while the other stirred, and though they didn’t leave the spoon in the glass, the end result was delicious: bubbly and sugary with a nice, white foamy head and the perfect amount of chocolate flavor. Combined with three donut holes, it was the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time.
Hinsch’s, a soda shop and luncheonette in Bay Ridge, has been around since 1948. As I walked in, past the display of chocolates in the shape of firefighters, I thought the place had definite promise. “Stayin’ Alive” was playing on the radio — how Bay Ridge can you get?
The scene was right, but my egg cream ($2) was all wrong. The waiter filled a glass with seltzer, sloshed in some whole milk, pumped in a lot of syrup and then, just for good measure, even more seltzer to top it off. He gave it a halfhearted stir and plunked it down in front of me. It looked all right in the glass, but the head began to disappear almost immediately, the bubbles fizzling out like rapidly deflating balloons, and the flavor of the syrup was completely overwhelming. It wasn’t even properly chocolatey — just a pure, intense sugar flavor. The egg cream tasted super-concentrated, as if it had somehow been condensed and desperately needed to be reconstituted and lightened up.
In the end, it seemed that if I wanted to find the egg cream of the crop, I would have to venture as far as my own kitchen. As I rummaged through the fridge I hummed to myself, remembering what Lou Reed once crooned in his 1996 song, “Egg Cream”: “Some U-bet’s chocolate syrup / Seltzer water mixed with milk / You stir it up into a heady fro / Tasted just like silk.”
Fox’s U-Bet “chocolate” syrup is inferior when used in other sweets, but is essential for a good egg cream. Here’s the company’s official recipe:
Fox’s U-Bet’s Original Brooklyn Egg-Cream
Fox’s U-Bet syrup
In a tall, chilled, straight-sided, eight-ounce glass, spoon 1 inch of U-bet syrup. Add 1 inch of whole milk. Tilt the glass and spray seltzer (from a pressurized cylinder only) off a spoon, to make a big chocolate head. Stir, drink, enjoy.
Tom’s Restaurant (782 Washington Ave., at Sterling Place in Prospect Heights) is open Monday through Saturday from 7 am–4 pm. Closed Sunday. For information, call (718) 636-9738.
Anapoli Ice Cream Parlor (6920 Third Ave. in Bay Ridge) is open Monday through Thursday from 7 am–8 pm, Friday and Saturday from 7 am–10 pm and Sunday from 8 am–8 pm. For information, call (718) 748-3863.
Junior’s (386 Flatbush Ave., at DeKalb Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn) is open Sunday through Wednesday from 6:30 am–12:30 am, Thursday from 6:30 am–1 am, and Friday and Saturday from 6:30 am–2 am. For information, call (718) 852-5257.
Peter Pan Donut Shop (727 Manhattan Ave. at Norman Avenue, in Greenpoint) is open every day from 4:30 am–8 pm. For information, call (718) 389-3676.
Hinsch’s (8518 Fifth Ave. in Bay Ridge) is open Monday through Saturday from 8 am–7 pm and Sunday 10 am–5 pm. For information, call (718) 748-3412.