Dessert Surveillance is back after a (rather long) hiatus. While my husband and I have had to modify our diets, thankfully, writing, reading, and thinking about desserts is carb-free!
For this post, I’m focusing on a dessert that’s a drink—Egg Creams.
So, how many eggs are in an Egg Cream, and what’s the quantity of cream? Guess what? These ingredients aren’t part of this magic elixir. Instead, it’s a delicious mixture of seltzer, milk, and syrup, and the syrup of choice is Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup. Strongly carbonated seltzer is vital. Chocolate is the traditional flavor, and while I believe Egg Cream tradition should be respected, let’s not get too hasty in condemning Vanilla or Coffee Egg Creams. (At the Brooklyn candy store I frequented, pretzel rods were served with Egg Creams, a surprisingly tasty pairing, but I digress.)
Egg Cream history is a little murky, but there’s consensus that this treat originated around the early 20th century in New York City (probably the Lower East Side of Manhattan or Brooklyn) and is tied to the Eastern European Jewish immigrant experience. Fountain drinks were typically served at candy stores, drugstores, and soda fountains, and a big appeal was social—being able to enjoy these beverages with others companionably. From the vantage point of the store owner, drinks “fancier” than plain seltzer commanded higher prices and were therefore more lucrative.
What’s the present-day egg cream situation? To get a (very, very) rough sense of how popular egg creams are now, I performed some (highly) unscientific web research, looking (well, sometimes drooling) at online menus of 112 ice cream parlors, soda fountains, delis, candy stores, and diners across the country. My results: out of 27 New York Metro area-based purveyors, 11 offered Egg Creams (41%). However, once you leave New York, Egg Creams are harder to find. Only 7 of 85 non-New York establishments listed this sweet treat on their menus (8%). Of course, we have to keep in mind that Egg Creams don’t travel well, and therefore, might not be listed on delivery/take-out menus. For example, I confirmed with Jake Dell, third-generation family owner of NYC-based Katz’s Deli, that Katz’s is still offering Chocolate Egg Creams in its restaurant, although you can’t order them from its to-go menu.
Are Egg Creams becoming more popular? I posed this question to a NYC-based luncheonette as well as a soda fountain based in Southern California.
Lexington Candy Shop (based in Manhattan)—John Philis, third-generation owner, believes Egg Creams are becoming more popular as a result of social media and thinks Egg Cream seekers fall into one of three groups: (1) New Yorkers who are old enough to remember Egg Creams (2) Younger New Yorkers who have heard about Egg Creams but haven’t yet tried them since they’re not so easy to find (3) Tourists who found out about Egg Creams and are eager to sample them when they’re in the Big Apple. Lexington Candy Shop was featured on a Travel Channel Food Paradise episode, and that’s led to more Egg Cream traffic to his store. Regarding flavors: While Chocolate reigns supreme, and Vanilla is second, Lexington Candy has regulars, coming in every day for Coffee Egg Creams. (Perhaps it’s a good thing Coffee Egg Creams weren’t popular when I was growing up. I’d be even more of a coffee fiend than I am now, but I’m digressing again.)
Soda Jerks Santa Monica Pier—owner Kevin McCafferty said it was hard to say if Egg Creams are becoming more popular. Most of his Egg Cream-ordering guests are from New York City, and they know about Egg Creams from their own research. At Soda Jerks Santa Monica, Egg Creams are competing with a wide variety of sundaes, ice creams, and other specialty drinks. Kevin McCafferty also reports that Chocolate is his best-selling Egg Cream, followed by Vanilla and then Coffee.
It will be interesting to see if Egg Creams follow what I’m calling the “Bagel Route” and become less tied to New York and more of a nationally available item.
A very healthy, happy, and sweet New Year to all!