Friday, August 15, 2008

The Egg Cream Lives

After last week’s egg cream controversy stirred up by the City Room’s article “Can the Egg Cream Make a Comeback?” in which the proprietor of Chocolate Bar offered to reinvigorate the lost egg cream for New York City by fancying it up with flavors like hazelnut and espresso, many people replied that the egg cream never died, so it isn't lost and doesn’t need any reinvigorating. An egg cream fan, I decided to embark on a tour of the Lower East Side to check in on the true state of this New York delicacy.

A map of the following can be found on Eater.


I talked with Fred Austin, co-owner of Katz’s, who assured me, “The state of the egg cream is good. But it has to be served by a middle-aged Jewish guy with an unlit cigar clenched between his teeth and a wet napkin draped over his arm. Otherwise, it’s not a real egg cream.” Traditionally, because they didn’t serve dairy, Katz’s didn’t do egg creams until about 15 years ago. Fred, who grew up on Grand, used to get them from kiosks on the street. “Those were the best.” What does he say to the claim that Chocolate Bar is bringing the egg cream back to life? “Not if they’re making them hazelnut they’re not.”

(As for those perennial whispers Katz’s might be vanishing, Fred says, “Every so often I drop the rumor we might be closing, just to boost our business, but I like this place too much. We’ll be around for a long while.”)

The Stats:
Fox’s U-Bet, seltzer from the soda machine, $3.50

russ & daughters

Next stop, Russ & Daughters. Here my egg cream was prepared in the most romantic way. The seltzer came out of a blue glass siphon bottle and was delicately poured over the basin of a long spoon. The lady asked, “Do you want it more seltzer or more sweet?” I like sweet.
Fox’s U-Bet, Castle brand seltzer from glass siphon, $3.50

At Yonah Schimmel’s, they give you the best presentation. Syrup is added in the back kitchen, milk and seltzer comes from a fridge in the dining room. It is not entirely mixed and a little swirl of chocolate graces the foam. If I were handing out points, they’d lose for the Canada Dry, but the finished product is lovely. Washes down a knish very nicely.
Fox’s U-Bet, Canada Dry seltzer from a plastic bottle, $3.00

yonah schimmel's

Veselka was the only place I went where you can get it in a glass, instead of a plastic or waxpaper cup. Tastes cold and frothy.
Fox’s U-Bet, seltzer from soda machine, $2.50.

The B&H Dairy does a fine enough egg cream, though they lose theoretical points for using Seagram’s seltzer from a can.
Fox’s U-Bet, Seagram’s, $2.50

The Stage restaurant was the only place I visited that didn’t use Fox’s U-Bet syrup. They used Hershey’s, a big faux-pas. Still, a good-tasting egg cream.
Hershey’s, seltzer from soda machine, $2.25.

gem spa

Gem Spa is known for its egg creams, but mine was a little too seltzer and not enough sweet. A good newsstand egg cream nonetheless.
Fox’s U-Bet, seltzer from fountain, $2.00.

While all of the above places offer only the traditional chocolate or vanilla, Ray’s Candy has 20 flavors to choose from, including Coca-Cola, Mango, and something frighteningly called Sky Blue Raspberry. These sound more like slushies than egg creams, but they’re so outlandish and low-brow, I can’t hold it against them. Besides, Ray’s is my usual egg cream source. They’ve also got the best value.
Fox’s U-Bet, seltzer from soda machine, $1.25 small, $1.75 med, $2.50 large.

ray's candy

Finally, I tried the egg cream from Chocolate Bar. I passed over the hazelnut and espresso for a traditional chocolate. I must admit, it was tasty, they prepared it well, and the price was surprisingly low. It won't reinvigorate the already thriving egg cream, but it shouldn't do it any harm, either.
Fox’s U-Bet, seltzer from a stainless siphon, $2.00 vanilla and chocolate, $3.00 hazelnut and espresso.

I'm sure I didn’t try every egg cream in the neighborhood and there are many others all over the city--please add your favorite in the comments--but even this short list should go to show that the egg cream is alive and well, and in no need of rescuing any time soon.


Anonymous said...

Ray's is not low brow--excuse me--the coffee egg cream is sublime--and the other ingredient not mentioned by you is cold milk-RAY'S ROCKS!!Best egg cream ever!

Anonymous said...

Ya wanna talk Vanishing?

Dissatisfied with the vagaries of locating Fox's U-bet at the local supermarkets, for years I used to buy it in 1-gallon jugs for about $15 from the kitchen wholesaler on the west side of Bowery, mid-block between Houston and Prince.
When I went to replenish about five years ago, there was no U-Bet in stock because they were liquidating all the merchandise because the landlord sold the building for development.

It was interesting to speak with the proprietor because he was bemoaning how the city had been changed (ruined) by Guiliani in his move to gentrify. It was reassuring to find that even a guy in the kitchen-supply trade was bemoaning a vanishing New York, not just us NIMBYs and activists.

It was then I realized there was a universal problem with this New New York.

Anyway, he directed me to the Bowery Mission across the street to whom he had donated his remaining gallons of U-Bet as a charitable deduction.

I went there, spoke to the director, and we negotiated a deal. I got one of the last cases, four gallon jugs, in exchange for a 'contribution' to the Mission for $60.

They lasted a few years, but, unrefrigerated, began to develop mold and lost flavor near the end.

Anyway, has anyone else ever gotten a tax-deductible deduction for buying U-Bet?

Jeremiah Moss said...

"low-brow" is a compliment to ray's! a high-brow egg cream would be oxymoronic. like an $80 hamburger.

and i love that story about tracking down u-bet. thanks for sharing it. i hope you found a new source.

Ken Mac said...

Great Egg tour and fantastic Katz's update.

Anonymous said...

As I mentioned before, egg cream is available all over Brooklyn. I think these city and lifestyle pieces from AMNY are written by 20-something interlopers who have lived in NYC from 3 weeks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I'll have to try Veselka because I must admit that even a decent egg cream is kind of ruined for me when it is in a paper cup. And I am a Ray's fan, but it is truly a dump. A lovable dump that I hope never changes!

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks! talking with fred about katz's was like being reassured by a santa-like grandpa that "everything's gonna be alright" and there's nothing to worry about. it really put my mind at ease. let's hope it's true.

Colonnade Row said...

Brilliant! Thanks! Coolest thing I've read all summer.
Somebody should have paid you for this story.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah- A friend of mine from Detroit recently asked me what an egg cream was, and if it still exists. I told him about Ray's, because I honestly thought that was the last place serving them. Thanks for the terrific update- great work! Glad to see the egg cream is alive and well!

Anonymous said...

I just found your website and I love it. I think I'm a fellow traveller in the world of progress for progress sake is not always the best thing for the community. Chicago is experiencing many of the same things NYC is. But of course, not at the same level or with the same speed. Unfortunately change isn't always the best thing. Community and people, and history are more important but the yuppies and the tax man refuse to see it as valid. You might want to create a book out of your I think it would be incredibly popular for those who love the true NYC.
Charles Bixx

Anonymous said...

There's no shortage of Ubet, how ludicrous.
You could probably buy it from the manufacturer, but I've never not seen it on shelves in Manhattan over the past 15 years.

JakeGould said...

shatteredmonocle, not really all over Brooklyn. Back in the 1980s when I was in HS, Brighton Beach and Coney Island were filled with more knish and soda fountains than pizza places. 2008? Not even close.

So if they are "all over Brooklyn" can I make a suggestion? Just list the locations? I can't for the life of me find a place that sells them other than Junior's in Downtown Brooklyn. Hinsch's in Bay Ridge?

Oh, Eisenberg's is the best in my book.

Anonymous said...

Low brow does not equate with high brow-low is low and high is high and I'd rather be high

Anonymous said...

Great piece. Not being the case when I grew up, I had no idea Katz's served egg creams. (Pretty sure R&D didn't either back in the day...)

Kudos in general to Ray's, but mango egg creams!?! That's the liquid equivalent of pineapples on pizza!

Anonymous said...

pineapple on pizza is a Caribbean thing-
they also sometimes use ketchup--aside from this Ray's Egg Creams Rocks!

Anonymous said...

I'm laughing to think that this is a revival drink in NYC. They make them right here in the oh-so-hip Hartford area. Guess what kids...its the same damn thing u get in NY.
Fox's U-Bet is readily avaliable and so is the seltzer. Reminds me again why I never go to NYC anymore.

Anonymous said...

but mango egg creams!?! That's the liquid equivalent of pineapples on pizza

or apples in martinis

pineapples pizza i believe is a Hawaiian thing, not a Carribean thing

I know some people put ketchup in their spaghetti (the poor man's spaghetti) -- don't know about pizza

and coming out to your nearest Pinkberry, Red Mango, or Jamba Juice -- egg creams

Anonymous said...

The best egg cream I've had in the last year was at Sammy's Roumanian Steak House. They bring a glass, a carton of milk, a jar of syrup, and a OLD FASHIONED spray bottle of seltzer to your table and make it there for you with style. PLUS, they leave you the seltzer, milk and syrup and you can manke yourself another one.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous from the "Hartford area":

The egg cream was invented here and never left.
No "revival" necessary.

Glad you've decided to stay put.

Ah Vay said...

order fox's u bet online! thanks for the great discussion. it's been nice to learn that others agree about nyc's awful gentrification, and the beauty, true beauty, of a delicious egg cream:

Antony said...

I order egg creams in every NYC coffee shop I go to and I have not yet been refused. I have witnesses. It is no longer (if it ever was) an exclusively Lower East Side phenomenon.

Some make it better than others, but they all use Fox's U-bet, which is pretty easy to locate (I get mine at the Westside Market on 15th St. + 7th Ave). Even Fresh Direct carries U-bet -- it's hardly rare.

Siphon is best, but a can is second best, because the big bottles lose fizz pretty quickly.

The best variation on an egg cream is at the Plaza Diner in Hudson, NY, where they serve it with ice cream, at $1.50. Apparently they didn't know how to make it (even though it was on the menu -- the same Greek diner menu they all have), and some wise guy from the City told them it was made with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. At 2.00, it's the cheapest egg cream float you'll find anywhere.

Anonymous said...

It's all in the taste.

NJ WarriorPrincess said...

So here I sit, a New Yorker in exile, out in the wilds of VERY rural northwest NJ (yeah, I said that too when I first heard of it, but it's real & I'm here - just minutes from the Delaware Water Gap) at 3:50 a.m. DYING for a beautiful egg cream.

Won't be finding one any time soon, so I consoled (or maybe tortured) myself with this great piece & the follow-up remarks. Anybody in the city reading this - have one for me.